By Lori Bennett
The regular season has concluded for the NHL, with the final game played on Sunday afternoon, May 1. The post-season kicks off this week. Here are some of my predictions for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs may exorcise their inner demons and win the first round of the playoffs, but that is where their luck will most likely end. A second round exit is my prediction, but it will be enough to buy another chance for Kyle Dubas.
Phillip Danault will frustrate Connor McDavid for a second consecutive post-season, this time as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. It won’t be enough, and the Kings will be eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round while Goalie Mike Smith stands on his head and makes a fool of all of us.
The Calgary Flames will continue to impress in the post-season, but Nazem Kadri will hold it together and avoid a playoff suspension, and the Colorado Avalanche will eliminate the Flames to win the Western Conference and go on to claim the Stanley Cup.
On Wednesday night the Montreal Canadiens won the Battle of the Basement and sealed their last place finish for the 2021-22 NHL season. The Habs had a near miss, winning their game against the New York Rangers on the strength of two goals from Jeff Petry.
The Arizona Coyotes saved the day, coming from behind to beat the Dallas Stars to secure the two points that determined the Habs could not catch them for 31st place.
It’s a tragic outcome for the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last year, but the silver lining is they now have the highest odds of drafting first overall at the 2022 Amateur Draft, which is being held in Montreal. The farthest they can drop is to the third pick overall, which guarantees a strong young prospect will be added in July. The draft lottery is being held on May 10th.
With scoring up dramatically in the NHL this season, individual performances have been at centre stage.
This week, Auston Matthews became the first player to score 60 goals in a season since 2012. Can he continue to score beyond game 82?
Steven Stamkos reached the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career. Can the grizzled veteran continue to dominate and lead the workload-weighted Tampa Bay Lightning to yet another Stanley Cup?
The Toronto Raptors headed into Game 4 in their best of seven series against the Philadelphia 76ers down three games to nil. Things looked grim for the Raps as they took to the court in front of the Toronto faithful. After missing two games to an ankle injury, Scottie Barnes returned to the line up, but Fred VanVleet left the game in the first quarter with a hip injury.
Pascal Siakam was having none of our negative vibes. The six-year veteran went up against the 76ers big centre Joel Embiid all night and came out on top. Siakam pulled off the best playoff performance of his career scoring 34 points in a 110-102 victory over Philadelphia.
On Monday night, the teams were back at it in Philadelphia. VanVleet was still unavailable due to injury, so the Raptors responded with a big line up in his absence. Once again, Siakam led the charge 23 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Precious Achiuwa, Gary Trent Jr., and OG Anunoby all had strong games in support and frustrated the listless home team. With a 103-88 win, the Raptors moved from having their backs against the ropes to shifting the pressure to the 76ers.
Game 6 was to take place in Toronto on Thursday night. As of Wednesday, top-flight guard Fred VanVleet was considered doubtful to play in Game 6. VanVleet continued to deal with the hip flexor strain that forced him out of Game 4 and kept him out of Game 5. Having won two straight despite the absence of VanVleet, the Raptors were hoping for more magic in Game 6 and to force a Game 7 in Philly on Saturday.
On another note, on Saturday before Game 4 in Philadelphia, Scottie Barnes was named the NBA Rookie of the Year. Barnes is just the third player in Raptors history to win the award, with Damon Stoudamire winning in 1995-96 and Vince Carter winning in 1998-99. It’s been a long drought, but the future looks very bright in Toronto.
Blue Jays Babble
After winning two of three games in their road series against the Houston Astros last weekend, the Jays returned home for a four game series against the Boston Red Sox. They had won two of three in Boston the previous week.
On Monday night it was a grand slam off the bat of Bo Bichette in the bottom of the eighth inning that sealed a 6-2 victory for Toronto. Tuesday featured another dominant outing from Kevin Gausman and a 6-5 win in extra innings. On Wednesday night the Jays bats didn’t show up and they lost 7-1.
The Jays were due to meet the Red Sox again on Thursday before greeting the Houston Astros for a three-game weekend rematch. At press deadline, the Jays had a record of 12-7, and are sending a strong message that they intend to make some noise this season. It’s a good time to hop on the blue bandwagon!