Lightning Game 7 favourites at home against Islanders

A berth in the Stanley Cup Final will be on the line on Friday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning play host to the New York Islanders in Game 7 of their semifinal series as -165 favourites on the NHL odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Tampa Bay was forced to return home after blowing a 2-1 lead on their way to a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 6 that leaves the series knotted at three games apiece going into Friday’s matchup at Amalie Arena.

This semifinal clash has developed into a seesaw battle. The Lightning’s victories in Games 2 and 3 mark the only consecutive wins by either team during this series, while home teams have earned the win in four of the past five games.

And while contests played on Long Island have tended to be low-scoring affairs, things have been more wide open when the scene shifts to Tampa Bay. The Lightning tallied a lopsided 8-0 win on home ice in Game 5, and in addition to marking their third victory in their past four home dates that contest was also the third time during that stretch that the OVER had prevailed at betting sites.

However, the Lightning may be without one of their most potent offensive weapons for Game 7. Forced to leave Game 6 with an undisclosed injury, Nikita Kucherov’s status for Friday night’s contest remains uncertain.

Riding high after Wednesday’s stunning comeback victory, the Islanders hit the ice for Friday night’s game as +145 road underdogs. While the Islanders have turned in heroic performances in their past two dates on home ice, they now find themselves riding a two-game losing streak on the road for the first time during this postseason.

A sputtering offence has not helped matters for the Islanders, who have mustered just 11 total goals through the first six games of the series after averaging four goals per game over the final five games of their second-round series with the Boston Bruins. That extends a worrisome trend for New York, which has claimed victory in just two of its past eight road dates with the Lightning during the playoffs, scoring just 10 total goals during that stretch.

The Islanders also sport a checkered record when playing in Game 7 situations on the road, going 4-4 all-time, and being limited to two or fewer goals in five of those contests. That has not helped lift the club on the Stanley Cup odds, where they now lag as the +300 underdogs.

Phillip Danault brings Cole Caufield pizza during postgame presser

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Canadiens fans erupt after Montreal clinches spot in Stanley Cup Final

It’s official, the Montreal Canadiens are Stanley Cup Finalists.

With Artturi Lehkonen’s overtime goal in Game 6, the Canadiens sealed a meeting with either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Islanders, who will play their series-deciding Game 7 on Friday.

As well, for the first time in Montreal’s 103 year history, the club won the Clarence Campbell Bowl, traditionally given to the winner of the Western Conference champions. This will be the Canadiens’ 35th trip to the Stanley Cup Final, which begins on Monday.

The crowd outside the arena was so enthusiastic about the win that the Bell Centre was placed in lockdown for a short period of time as Montreal Police intervened.

With their first time back to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993, Canadiens fans had lots to celebrate on Thursday, whether that was in the streets of Montreal on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day or on social media.

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George steps up to lead offensive charge as Clippers take Game 3 over Suns

Paul George scored 27 points collected 15 rebounds and dropped eight assists, Reggie Jackson scored 23 and Patrick Beverley played terrorizing defence locking down Devin Booker as the Los Angeles Clippers got right back into their Western Conference final series with the Phoenix Suns with a 106-92 Game 3 win Thursday to see them trail just 2-1 in their series.

George struggled from the field, shooting 9-of-26, but still managed to help impact the game in a multitude of ways, redeeming himself from a horrible night at the free-throw line in Game 2 when he was just 5-of-10 (including two key free throws that helped set up Phoenix’s game-winning play in that contest) with a 6-for-7 performance from the line.

In a close game during the first half that saw the Suns carry a 48-46 halftime lead, the Clippers were able to break the game open with a 21-3 run in the third quarter that ballooned their lead to 71-56 before Devin Booker eventually ended the run with a layup with 2:59 left to play in the third.

The work Los Angeles did during this run proved to be the difference in the game, the built-up cushion helped the team cruise to a key Game 3 victory.

Here are a few takeaways from Thursday’s game.

Comeback Clippers strike again

For the third-straight series the Clippers have played this post-season, they dug themselves into an 0-2 series hole and looked like they were on life support, only to then enter Game 3 and play like a completely different team, take the game and get right back into the series.

This surely isn’t the way the Clippers want to do things, as the comfort of taking one of the first two games in a series would be kinder, but there’s something about the Clippers during these playoffs when they have their backs against the wall — and that thing appears to be George.

Coming into Thursday’s game, George was averaging 25.9 points per game on 42.4 per cent shooting from the field and 32.2 per cent shooting from deep in Clippers losses during the playoffs as a minus-21. In wins, however, he was plus-110 and averaged 27.3 points per game on 46.1 per cent shooting from the floor and 39.3 per cent from three-point range.

Whether it be coincidence or not, George has raised the level of his play during big games and it’s often resulted in wins, as was seen on Thursday night.

Suns stars struggle

The big storyline heading into the Game 3 was the return of Suns All-NBA guard Chris Paul after he missed the first two games in COVID-19 protocols.

But as good as Paul has been for Phoenix during this post-season, he looked very rusty returning as he finished with 15 points on dreadful 5-of-19 shooting.

Additionally, after getting stitches in his nose following a collision with Beverley in Game 2, Booker wore a facemask to try to protect his nose in Game 3. But he once again struggled, following up a 20-point, 5-for-16 night in Game 2 with a 15-point, 5-for-21 night in Game 3.

That’s just 30 points on 10-of-40 shooting from the Suns’ two most important players in a playoff game, and while Paul has the logical excuse of coming back into a high-leverage game after some time off, he did still at least manage 12 assists. Booker, on the other hand, doesn’t have any such defence he can fall back on.

For as great as Booker has been in just his first post-season ever, the difficulties he’s experienced over his last two games can be traced back to one reason and one reason only: Beverley.

The pesky Clippers guard is a classic annoy-the-hell-out-of-you perimeter defender – and we mean that in the best way possible. He’s often seen picking Booker up full court, hounding him and making him feel his presence, and during stoppages Beverley has constantly been in Booker’s ear, doing anything to get underneath the young star’s skin.

So far it looks like it’s been working, as Booker has appeared rushed and very uncomfortable whenever Beverley’s picked him up — to the point where, when the Suns manage to get a switch to get a player like Terance Mann or someone else onto Booker, he’s so out of rhythm he can’t hit the broadside of a barn.

For Phoenix’s sake, you have to think that Paul will get back on track in Game 4, but not even that will matter if Booker can’t untangle himself from the web that Beverley’s appeared to have trapped him in.

Clippers’ role players out-perform Suns’

All the major stars – George, Paul, Booker – struggled from the floor in Game 3, but that didn’t prove to be problematic for Los Angeles as its ancillary players managed to step up in George’s place while Phoenix’s “other” guys couldn’t get uncorked.

For the Clippers, it was the trio of Ivica Zubac, Mann and George who were most instrumental in that game-defining 21-3 run, while Jackson put the game to bed in the fourth, scoring 10 of his 23 points in the final period of the game.

On the flip side, the Suns’ Ayton, after having his way in the first two games, saw his impact limited thanks to a more active effort from Zubac as he finished a game-worst minus-25. Additionally, Mikal Bridges only scored 13 points and Jae Crowder only had nine.

Worse yet for the Suns was the performance of breakout playoff star Cameron Payne, who only had two points on 1-of-4 shooting after playing just a little more than four minutes in the game as an ankle injury knocked him out for the rest of the contest.

Without Payne, the Suns really struggled to find additional scoring. He’s emerged during this post-season as a reliable third option for Phoenix and his dynamism both going to the basket and as a shot-maker from outside was sorely missed.

His status will now loom large for the Suns as the series progresses.

Without him able to sort of cancel out the offensive production of Jackson on the Clippers with his own scoring, the Suns could be in some trouble.

Cubs pitchers combine for seventh no-hitter of the season to beat Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — Zach Davies and three Chicago Cubs relievers combined for the seventh no-hitter in the majors this year Thursday night, blanking the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0 and tying the record for most no-hitters in a single baseball season since 1900.

The Dodgers drew eight walks, getting at least one from each Cubs pitcher, but managed no other baserunners.

Davies (5-3) issued five walks and used 94 pitches to get through his six hitless innings against the defending World Series champions in the 16th start of his first season with the Cubs.

Chicago relievers Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin each walked a batter during their inning, but Los Angeles couldn’t capitalize.

Craig Kimbrel then walked Chris Taylor leading off the ninth, but the ferocious closer struck out Cody Bellinger, Albert Pujols and pinch-hitter Will Smith to end the 17th no-hitter in Cubs history — the team’s first combined no-no.

Craig Kimbrel เสร็จสิ้นการรวมกันแบบไม่ตีโดย Cubs

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Through long and testing road, Canadiens find way back to Cup Final

MONTREAL — It was a Saint Jean Baptiste Day celebration like no other, with the Montreal Canadiens playing for the first time ever on Quebec’s cherished Fête Nationale and punctuating it by stamping their 34th ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

Unique? How about unheard of.

This has been the year of the unexpected — for all of us, but most certainly for these Canadiens, who were given no chance against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 and even less of one in this semifinal against the Vegas Golden Knights. No team has had worse odds to make it this far in over 30 years, and it’s perfectly fitting this one defied them.

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These Canadiens fought through in six games, overcoming this challenge like every other one they faced before it: ferociously and all together. And this series-clinching win was a microcosm of that, with Artturi Lehkonen scoring 1:39 into overtime to end Game 3 at 3-2 and send them back to the Final for the first time since 1993.

Prior to that, the Canadiens allowed two one-goal leads to slip away and fell back on their heels to end the third period.

They stayed there to start overtime, but were lifted off their toes to celebrate Lehkonen’s goal after Brendan Gallagher cut through the neutral zone and fed the puck to Phillip Danault, who slashed through the middle and found Lehkonen’s stick.

The 3,500 fans at the Bell Centre erupted, handshake lines were formed, and then Shea Weber skated over to accept the Clarence Campbell Bowl — he didn’t touch it — for the first time in over 100 years of Canadiens history.

Weird? No, just more of the same stuff this year’s been made of.

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“We’ve been through a lot,” said the captain, who scored the opening goal — his first of the playoffs, a booming slap shot from the left point that made you almost forget he missed the final eight games of the season with a left-thumb injury.

The drama of the last six months could’ve filled a dozen soap operas.

This team started off on a tear and then played so badly it got its coach fired. This team came out of a break and then jumped into a pause when Joel Armia caught COVID-19. This team had to finish the season by playing 25 games in 44 nights, travelling across the country three times just to get it done. This team faced a salary-cap dilemma and a roster crunch that handcuffed its coach from dressing the optimal lineup when he desperately needed the flexibility post trade deadline. This team lost Weber, star goaltender Carey Price and every other key player to injury while a playoff spot hung in the balance. This team clinched with a loss in its second-to-last game of the season — one of 14 they endured over their final 21. This team was dead to rights down 3-1 to the Maple Leafs, shut out on home ice in what was expected to be their last game of the year at the Bell Centre. And this team left Vegas tied 1-1 in the series with the Golden Knights, returning to Montreal, where head coach Dominique Ducharme was diagnosed with COVID-19 and placed into quarantine for the remainder of this series — and possibly beyond.

This team prevailed.

“We wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t believe,” said Price, who made 37 saves in Game 6. “We’ve always stuck with it.”

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On Thursday, with a city’s worth of people flooding the streets outside the building and a few thousand more filling the seats within its walls, the Canadiens were the team who surrounded that Campbell Bowl for a picture and then left it right there on the table.

“Obviously there’s a bigger one out there that we’re chasing,” said Cole Caufield, whose goal in the second period featured every element of what will make him a special player for years to come.

The 20-year-old rookie pushed a stretch pass over Brayden McNabb’s stick in the neutral zone, double-clutched from second gear to fourth and ripped his wrist shot over Robin Lehner’s glove and under the bar of the Vegas net to make it 2-1 Canadiens 9:36 into the second period. It was the fourth goal of the series for the kid who started the playoffs watching the first two games from the Toronto press box.

Resilient.

After Lehkonen sealed the deal, Lehner shared his appreciation for the Canadiens’ determination.

“Hell of a team,” Lehner said. “Works really hard. Sticks with their structure, and they have a lot of great players. Everyone underestimates them. Good for them.”

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All of them.

You don’t get through everything the Canadiens have been through and pull off something entirely unexpected without every single person doing what’s expected of them — and some doing even more.

“It’s really fun to see the guys enjoying themselves in the dressing room,” said Ducharme’s stand-in, assistant coach Luke Richardson. “They deserve it. It’s really heartwarming to see a group of guys that work that hard together. I know every team is the same, it says the same thing, but these guys are a special group and a really good mix. It’s hard to put into words how proud we are of them, but they deserve it, and they’re not done yet.

“I saw a fire in their eyes. They’re already talking about it. We are shifting our focus right away. We’ll probably step away (Friday) and just take some rest and come back on Saturday and do a little work and Sunday, get right back at it. And we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Golden Knights caught in Canadiens’ destiny as latest playoff run ends

Sometimes you get caught in the path of destiny’s freight train. A fate train, if you will.

That’s where the Vegas Golden Knights spent the past couple of weeks, trying simultaneously to beat the Montreal Canadiens and a 28-year curse, where the country that cares the most about the Stanley Cup annually has watched it ship south for the summer each year.

Now, at the expense of the Golden Knights, Canada gets another shot.

And a town that has had nothing but a contender since getting their expansion team four seasons ago? They just watched hockey’s eldest franchise show them a thing or two about playoff hockey, closing off this series in overtime with a 3-2 win in Game 6.

“(Montreal) owned the key moments of the series,” said Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer, in the wake of another close-but-no-cigar season for the Golden Knights. “When they got a chance, they stuck it in the net. When they needed a save, they got a big save. They won the overtime battles. They won the special teams battles.

“If you’re losing those areas of the game, you’re putting yourselves in a tough spot.”

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Artturi Lehkonen was the unlikely overtime hero, “Finn-ishing” the Golden Knights with a dandy roof job off a slick pass from Phillip Danault. The goal came after Max Pacioretty had stared down Carey Price from tight, shooter’s range, but failed to beat the man who enters the Stanley Cup Final as Montreal’s Conn Smythe favourite.

It was a microcosm of the series: Perhaps Vegas’ most lethal scorer could not solve Price, and moments later Lehkonen — a third-liner who will give you 12 goals a season — pots his first of the series to drive the stake through the Golden Knights’ armour.

“It just came down to they did a better job scoring goals in the series,” said Reilly Smith, Vegas’ most dangerous forward in this series. “The opportunities were there for us. They got a breakaway or an opportunity and it ended up in the back of the net. We didn’t do a good enough job on our chances.”

Let’s face it: Vegas’ biggest shooters choked in this series.

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Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Alex Tuch all had zero goals versus Montreal. Pacioretty and Smith each had one.

The power play finished the series at 0-for-15, a crippling outage and likely the decisive failure in this series for Vegas.

“Their D play hard. They’re big, they’re strong. Their forward group is responsible,” Stone said of the Canadiens. “I can praise them all I want, but ultimately it falls down on myself and the top players on this team. We had some guys produce night in, night out, but as far as myself and a number of other guys…

“I got skunked this series,” he concluded. “That can’t happen. I’m the captain of this team. The leader of this team. I take a lot of responsibility for what just occurred.”

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Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki were miles better than any Vegas forward — two small, skilled Montreal players whose ability to pull you out of your chair is off the charts. That two kids could become the difference makers against a Vegas team with this much playoff experience is simply amazing, befitting of the tale the Habs are penning here.

How hard are these Habs to play against?

“They stick with their 1-1-3 structure,” said goalie Robin Lehner. “And they made it hard for not just us. The made it hard for Winnipeg and Toronto, with some of the best goal scorers in the world.”

“When you’re concentrating on defending and you have the ability to counter-punch with guys who don’t need multiple looks to stick a puck in the net, you’re a very dangerous team,” DeBoer said of Montreal. “That was the story here. They concentrated on defending, shutting guys down. And when the puck went the other way, on Caufield’s stick, Suzuki’s stick — they put it in the net. That’s playoff hockey.”

In their four seasons since joining a an expansion team, the Golden Knights have bowed out once as a Stanley Cup finalist, and twice more in the Round of Four. They have never missed the playoffs, small solace as they pack up their gear and head home to the desert as a failed semi-finalist for the second straight year.

It doesn’t have to get much better in Vegas, but it can’t stay the same either.

“There’s another door we have to find a way to barge through at this time of year,” agreed DeBoer. “Everyone. Coaches included.”

Paul George drops 27 points to lead Clippers over Suns in Game 3

LOS ANGELES — Paul George scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away in a dominant third quarter, beating newly returned Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns 106-92 on Thursday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers cut their series deficit to 2-1, ending the Suns’ franchise-record playoff winning streak at nine games.

Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again. After missing two crucial free throws in a one-point loss in Game 2, Paul had 15 rebounds and eight assists and played a game-high 43 minutes. He made 6 of 7 free throws.

The Suns got Paul back after he missed the first two games while being sidelined since June 16 because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The former Clipper, who was booed heartily during intros, had 15 points and 12 assists, but was 5 of 19 from the field.

Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 18 points.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and tied his career playoff high with 16 rebounds.

Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center.

After Phoenix won the first two games by a combined seven points, the teams played a close first half. Then the Clippers went to work in front of their raucous, Thunder Stix-pounding fans.

They took control with the biggest run of the game, a 21-3 spurt that left them leading 71-56 in the third. Terance Mann got it going with six straight points and Jackson scored four in a row before George scored inside. Zubac dunked off George’s pass and made a pair of free throws. The Suns were limited to a 3-pointer by Paul.

Devin Booker picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 42-second span during the Clippers’ run. Booker — wearing a clear mask to protect his nose that required stitches after he and Patrick Beverley banged heads in Game 2 — was 5 of 21 from the field, making only one of seven 3-point tries, and finished with 15 points.

Jae Crowder, who assisted on Deandre Ayton’s winning dunk on Tuesday, fouled out with 4:51 remaining. He had nine points, six rebounds and six assists.

George capped the third by banking in a 3-pointer from just inside midcourt, and it beat the buzzer, stunning the fans and sending the Clippers into the fourth leading 80-69. He nearly bobbled the ball along the right sideline, with Booker and Cam Johnson pressuring, before getting the shot off.

Luke Kennard opened the fourth with a 3 from the right corner, getting fouled and making the free throw. Marcus Morris hit a three before George got fouled. He confidently made both, keeping the Clippers ahead 89-71.

Cameron Payne, who so ably filled in for Paul in the first two games, went down with a left ankle injury after playing four minutes and didn’t return.

TIP-INS

Suns: Fell to 10-3 in the playoffs, losing for the first time since May 27 against the Lakers at Staples Center in Game 3 of the first round. … Booker and Beverley were called for double technicals in the third. … Paul and Booker each missed their first six shots of the game and were both 2 of 10 with seven points each in the first half.

Clippers: Zubac is the first Clipper with a double-double in the first half of a postseason game since DeAndre Jordan on April 30, 2017, against Utah. … Longtime fan Billy Crystal sat courtside.