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Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks among big early NHL playoffs exits

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THE Stanley Cup Playoffs are just getting started but already some top teams have been eliminated.

The NHL postseason is down to eight teams with the St. Louis Blues hosting the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Edmonton Oilers to start the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEST).

After the two Western Conference series get going, the Ottawa Senators host the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals host the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night (Friday morning AEST). Washington versus Pittsburgh is a showdown of the top two teams in the league during the regular season. The Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens and Central champion Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated in a first round that set a record for the most overtime games with 18. It was the first time a first round didn’t feature a Game 7 in any series since 2001.

OTTAWA SENATORS DOWN BOSTON BRUINS

Clarke MacArthur scored a powerplay goal 6:30 into overtime to give Ottawa a 3-2 victory Sunday at Boston that advanced the Senators into the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs.

Ottawa won the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series 4-2 and booked a second-round showdown against the New York Rangers, who ousted Montreal in round one.

MacArthur only returned to the Senators on April 4 after an 18-month absence following a concussion suffered in October 2015 against Columbus.

The 32-year-old left wing missed 156 games and played only four regular season games this month but netted two precious goals in six playoff contests against Boston, the biggest the series winner. The Senators won three games of the series in overtime on the way to capturing only their second playoff series triumph in a decade.

Boston’s Drew Stafford opened the scoring with a powerplay goal just 1:47 before the end of the first period. But Ottawa answered in the second period, Bobby Ryan tipping in the equaliser on the power play just 3:26 into the period and Kyle Turris netting his first goal of the sires just 5:06 later to give the Senators the lead. The Bruins answered 1:57 into the third period on Patrice Bergeron’s wrist shot, pulling Boston level at 2-2.

Bobby Ryan #9 of the Ottawa Senators celebrates after scoring against the Boston Bruins.Source: AFP

WASHINGTON HOLD OFF MAPLE LEAFS

Marcus Johansson stuffed his second goal of the game past Frederik Andersen at 6:31 of overtime, lifting the Washington Capitals to a series-winning 2-1 victory ove the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6.

Johansson pulled Washington even at 1-1 with less than eight minutes to go in the third period after Auston Matthews broke a scoreless tie with his fourth goal of the series for Toronto. It was the fifth overtime game of the series, and the record-setting 18th in the first round of the playoffs. Holtby made 37 saves for the Capitals, who will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Andersen was sharp with 34 saves.

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) hits Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) during the second period.Source: AP

BLUES BUMP MINNESOTA FROM PLAYOFFS

Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a series-clinching win over the Minnesota Wild. The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round. Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 5 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi’s first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago. Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period.

Joel Edmundson #6 and Magnus Paajarvi #56 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Paajarvi’s winning-goal against the Minnesota Wild.Source: AFP

NASHVILLE ELIMINATE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The Nashville Predators finally get a new opponent in the postseason after their surprising sweep of the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks. Their reward? The St. Louis Blues, fresh off downing the West’s second-best team with a 4-1 series victory over the Minnesota Wild that was as stunning as Nashville’s sweep. St. Louis coach Mike Yeo said he is well aware of the Blues’ next challenge.

“It’s pretty easy for us to look at what happened in the last series and not underestimate that opponent,” Yeo said after St. Louis clinched its opening- round series over Minnesota.

“So they’re a great team and that’s life in the Central Division for you, and the Western Conference for you. You get to advance from one good team and you get to go play another.”

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette gave his team Friday and Saturday off, a precious commodity this time of year, after finishing its 4-0 sweep of Chicago on Thursday night. The Predators returned to the ice Sunday morning for a high-tempo practice.

Nashville won three of its five regular-season match-ups against the Blues. The Blues won two of three games played in St. Louis, and they will have home-ice advantage in this semi-final after edging out Nashville for third in the Central. That left Nashville with the second wildcard as the No. 8 seed. This semi-final ensures one Central Division team will be playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals, just not the teams expected in the first postseason series between these franchises.

P. K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators chigh fives teammate Yannick Weber #7 after a 4-1 victory in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round against the Chicago.Source: AFP

NEW YORK RANGERS OUTPLAY MONTREAL

Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period as the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face Ottawa in the next round of the playoffs.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals.

Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrates in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.Source: AFP

EDMONTON OILERS BEAT SAN JOSE 4-2

After a more than a decade-long playoff drought in Edmonton, the Oilers are in no hurry to leave the NHL’s postseason party. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on breakaways in the opening minutes of the second period as the Oilers advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a 3-1 victory in Game 6 over the San Jose Sharks.

“I think we’re a little bit more mature than people give us credit for and I think we showed that tonight,” said captain Connor McDavid, who sealed the game with an empty-net goal in the final second.

The three goal scorers in the clincher are among the nine skaters on the Oilers who are younger than 25 and had been almost entirely untested in the rigours of the postseason. But they managed to bounce back from a blown lead and overtime loss in Game 1 and a 7-0 shellacking in Game 4 to beat a veteran team that had gone all the way to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. Not that it came easy in their first postseason trip since 2006. The Oilers frantically tried to hold on after building the 2-0 lead and had to survive a tense power play after a penalty for too many men on the ice that included Joe Pavelski hitting both the cross bar and post on a shot that nearly tied the game.

“We were anxious. I’m not going to lie to you. There were anxious moments, there were mistakes, too many men on the ice, you get a little over excited,” coach Todd McLellan said.

“There were lessons learned for us. We’ll be better the next time we get in that situation, but the good thing is we came through it.”

Anton Slepyshev #42 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates with teammates.Source: AFP

ANAHEIM SWEEP CALGARY FLAMES

Patrick Eaves, Nate Thompson and Ryan Getzlaf scored, and the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Wednesday night for a sweep of their first-round playoff series.

Anaheim became the first team to advance to the conference semi-finals. It was the Ducks’ first four-game sweep since they eliminated Winnipeg in the first round in 2015 and just the fifth in franchise history. John Gibson made 36 stops for Anaheim, which will face the Edmonton Oilers or San Jose Sharks in the second round.

Sean Monahan scored a powerplay goal in the second for Calgary, which qualified for the postseason as the first wildcard in the Western Conference. It was a short night for Flames goaltender Brian Elliott, who was pulled for Chad Johnson after giving up a soft goal at 5:38 of the first period. Johnson allowed a goal on the second shot he faced, but finished with 20 saves. Monahan’s redirection of a Kris Versteeg feed made it 2-1 at 16:07. Johnson was pulled for an extra attacker with almost two and a half minutes remaining, and Getzlaf converted an empty-netter in the final seconds.

A sharp-angled shot by Eaves slid under Elliott’s pads on Anaheim’s third shot of the game. The Ducks quickly scored on Johnson at 6:46, with Thompson banging in a rebound.

The Ducks opened the series with a pair of 3-2 wins at home before storming back from a three-goal deficit to win 5-4 in overtime at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Game 3. The Ducks haven’t lost in regulation in 18 games dating to March 10. Led by Getzlaf and Corey Perry, holdovers from Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup win, the Ducks were a poised team that prevailed in the big moments of the series.

Patrick Eaves #18 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates.Source: AFP

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS TO FACE WASHINGTON/TORONTO

Sidney Crosby and Scott Wilson scored 51 seconds apart in the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 win in Game 5 of their first-round series on Thursday. Bryan Rust scored twice for Pittsburgh, Phil Kessel added his second of the playoffs and Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 49 saves. The defending Stanley Cup champions will face the winner of the Toronto-Washington series in the conference semi-finals.

William Karlsson and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets, but Sergei Bobrovsky stopped just 27 of 32 shots to finish a forgettable series. Columbus trailed by three in the second period but had a potential tying goal waved off in the third for interference. Pittsburgh responded immediately. Crosby’s one-timer on the power play restored a two-goal lead and Wilson’s backhand less than a minute later finished off the Blue Jackets.

And once again, they were able to get away with it thanks to Fleury. He fended off 15 shots in the first period alone, several of them from point-blank range. It gave the Penguins time to find their legs, and Kessel’s wrist shot from the top of the circle 9:07 into the first put Pittsburgh in front. When Rust scored twice less than three minutes apart early in the second — both of them on backhand rebounds — the Penguins appeared to be in control. The Blue Jackets, trying to extend a breakthrough season that included a franchise-record 108 points and the sixth-best record in the league, showed one last flash. Karlsson and Jenner beat Fleury twice in 2:54 at the game’s midway point and Columbus was right back in it.

The surge ended when Fleury flopped to the ground after Alex Wenneberg clipped the goaltender as he fought off a check in the crease five minutes into the third. Columbus coach John Tortorella and the rest of the Blue Jackets bench erupted in anger. Things only got worse for Columbus when Crosby powered a shot from just above the goal line by Bobrovsky. Wilson pushed the lead to three when he casually tapped a backhand by a woefully out of position Bobrovsky. It’s become old hat in Pittsburgh, which will have some time to rest before beginning the next step in its title defence.

Scott Wilson #23 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his third-period goal.Source: AFP

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Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers, trade news, practice, Travis Kelce slams Simmons, NHL, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles,

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The Ben Simmons saga has become so bad that other sports are getting dragged into the fray. Now the Australian has received a brutal reality check from one of Philadelphia’s most beloved NFL stars on earning the respect of Philly fans.

Jason Kelce played a key role as the 2017 Eagles won that season’s Super Bowl – their first ever – then dressed up as a ‘Mummer’ (a participant of a unique Philadelphia parade) and gave an inspired speech during their trophy parade.

Now he’s taken aim at Simmons, explaining the fans who are notoriously tough on their own players are simply asking for accountability and hard work.

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“You write your own narrative,” Kelce said, per NBC Sports Philly. “What’s going on, I don’t want to crush any other players, but what’s going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that. All that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things.

“If all that got corrected, you fix the free throws, if you’re getting better as a player, none of this is happening. Everybody can b***h and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”

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He added: “This city really appreciates accountability, appreciates people being very honest, real, emotionally invested, caring.

“There’s a lot of people who say it’s a hard place to play. I think it’s pretty f***ing easy, to be honest with you. You just go out there, play hard. Want to be loved in this city as a baseball player? Run to first base. They’re going to f***ing loving you. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. If you go up and make a bunch of excuses, if you come up here and try to lie to them and act like they don’t know what they’re talking about — which, sometimes they don’t — when you act that way or when you aren’t accountable if you’re making mistakes, or when you’re not getting better or anything like that, they’re going to crush you.

“Everybody’s going to get crushed at some point. Everybody’s going to go through a downturn or struggle, right? At all times this city is going to keep you accountable to be doing your job and performing. But if you stick to it, if you fight through it and you get better and everything like that, they’ll respect the hell out of you.

“Even if you’re struggling and you’re fighting and really trying, they’re still going to respect you. That’s what I think most guys miss.”

A former New England Patriots assistant coach also slammed Simmons. Michael Lombardi, who also worked as an executive with four other NFL franchises, tweeted: “Ben Simmons is embarrassing himself now —not even his ardent defenders can support his behaviour. Believe what you see.”

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It’s not just NFL where Simmons’ situation is making a mark. In the NHL, “F**k you Simmons” chants rang out during the Philadelphia Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night (local).

TNT’s broadcasters at Wells Fargo Center even took digs at Simmons being booted from practice during the game.

As Flyers fans left the game, more “f**k Ben Simmons” chants were yelled.

But the biggest impact is still being felt by Simmons’ Sixers.

Despite Simmons missing the season opener, Philadelphia smashed New Orleans 117-97. But that didn’t stop the Pelicans fans from delighting in the Australian’s absence.

The crowd at Smoothie King centre repeatedly chanted “Where’s Ben Simmons?” during the game. And whenever a 76ers player took a free throw, those chants became louder – a reference to Simmons’ woeful 34.2 per cent shooting from the charity stripe in the 2021 playoffs.

On one occasion, Sixers star Joel Embiid was on the receiving end of sarcastic chants by fans declaring: “We want Simmons.”

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What made ‘The Great One’ great? Wayne Gretzky arrives in Sydney for USA v Canada Ice Hockey Classic, NHL

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WAYNE Gretzky was never the biggest, strongest or fastest guy on the ice. A lanky figure with a gentle smile, he didn’t look much like his NHL counterparts. But somehow Gretzky ascended to become a legend of the sport. So what is it that helped make ‘The Great One’ great?

In a career spanning twenty years Gretzky stacked 61 official NHL records, (60 of which he still holds), including the most goals (1,016) and most assists (2,223). He’s won the Stanley Cup four times with the Edmonton Oilers and won the Hart Trophy, the league MVP award, on a record nine occasions.

When it comes to ice hockey, there’s Wayne Gretzky — light years — and then everyone else.

The word ‘legacy’ is sometimes overused when reflecting upon the achievements of our sporting heroes, but few compare to the legacy left by Gretzky.

Wayne Gretzky in his infamous #99 jersey of the Edmonton Oilers.Source: Supplied

Looking back, it’s not his records or accolades he’s most proud of though. It’s the effort he put in.

“People ask me all the time, if someone said ‘How would you like to be remembered?’ I always say the same thing: I played a lot of bad games but I know in my heart that I played hard every single game,” Gretzky told Fox Sports Australia.

“People came up to me and they said ‘You worked hard out there,’ and to me, that’s the biggest compliment I can get.”

Canada’s favourite son had many great mentors throughout his playing career, like his father Walter, and ‘Mr Hockey’ Gordie Howe — who tragically passed away just this month.

However Gretzky credits his grandparents for instilling in him the grit and determination that would make him a legend.

“I probably got that from my grandparents,” Gretzky said.

“My grandfather [Tony] was from Belarus, part of the Soviet Union at the time. In 1920 he came over with my grandmother [Mary] who was from Warsaw, and they both went to North America.

“They both worked through to their early 80s. They had a farm, and they did all their own farming, so I think the work ethic that I had as a player was inherited from my grandparents.”

Wayne Gretzky touched down in Sydney on Thursday. Picture: Stephen CooperSource: News Corp Australia

That farm is where a young Gretzky would watch ice hockey on TV with his family. It’s also where he first pulled on the skates and picked up his stick.

Greatness would soon follow as he rocketed through the junior ranks and made his professional debut at the age of 17 in the WHA (now defunct), before joining the Oilers in the NHL the very next year and creating NHL history playing for Edmonton, the Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Even after his playing days, he continues to be an ambassador for the sport, currently visiting Australia for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic that bears his name.

“Hockey has been so good to me in my life and everything I have is because of hockey, so I think that we can help promote the game and get everyone to see how great of a sport it really is,” Gretzky said.

“The game fares well in colder climate places. Kids in Canada can skate on lakes and ponds in the winter and it doesn’t cost parents any money. But we’re getting much bigger now with San Jose, LA, Anaheim, more kids are playing, and the first pick in the NHL Draft this week will be from Phoenix, Arizona [Auston Matthews], which nobody ever thought would be possible.

“So it’s growing, it just takes time and hopefully twenty years from now, people over here are going to say ‘Wow, this is a fun sport’.”

Wayne Gretzky meets junior ice hockey players from the Canterbury Eagles. Picture: Stephen Cooper.Source: News Corp Australia

Gretzky said getting more kids to watch and play ice hockey is what will help it grow Down Under. He also praised Australia’s first (and only) NHL draftee Nathan Walker for helping that cause.

“I heard he plays hard and he has some great abilities, and had a strong season [with Washington Capitals affiliated AHL team Hershey Bears]. It only helps our sport,” Gretzky said.

Sydney fans will be in for a treat Saturday night when Gretzky takes to the ice in a four-on-four exhibition prior to the main event.

The five-stop Australian tour has already been a hit in Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide, with Sydney and Brisbane the final games left on the schedule.

Wayne Gretzky and his son Ty (then 14, now 25) in 2004.Source: Getty Images

Gretzky has also brought along his 25-year-old son Ty, a keen player himself who now works for his dad’s hockey camps and is expected to play in Sydney.

As for what ‘The Great One’ will get up to in his downtime while in town, just don’t expect golf to be on his itinerary, despite his son-in-law Dustin Johnson’s triumph at the US Open last week.

“I don’t get any golf tips,” Gretzky said.

“My golf upside is about as good as his hockey upside… which is not very good.”

Wayne Gretzky will be at the Qudos Bank Arena for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic.

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne: Friday 17 June, 2016

Perth Arena, Perth: Saturday 18 June, 2016

Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide: Friday 24 June, 2016

Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney: Saturday 25 June, 2016

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane: Saturday 2 July, 2016

Team USA line up for the national anthem before the match between Team USA and Team Canada at Rod Laver Arena on June 17, 2016 in Melbourne.Source: Getty Images

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Toronto Maple Leafs select Arizona-born Auston Matthews as no. 1 pick

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ON the heels of the NHL expanding into Las Vegas, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pinning their future on Arizona-born centre Auston Matthews.

Amid chants of “Go Leafs, Go!” the 18-year-old from Scottsdale was selected by Toronto with the first pick in the NHL draft Friday night. Though the Maple Leafs had kept their decision under wraps since winning the draft lottery in April, Matthews was the expected choice.

Auston Matthews reaches for his mother Ema Matthews after being selected first overall.Source: AFP

NHL Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-2, 210-pound playmaker as its top draft-eligible project, and he’s also a natural centre, a top-line position that’s difficult to fill. Matthews already has pro experience after spending last season with Zurich in the Swiss Elite League.

WHAT MADE ‘THE GREAT ONE’ GREAT?

Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi rounded out the three top prospects.

Matthews, who grew up a Coyotes fan, became the seventh American selected at No. 1, and first since the Chicago Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane with the top pick in 2007.

Auston Matthews puts on a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.Source: AFP

For Toronto, Matthews represents a significant piece in general manager Lou Lamoriello’s extensive rebuilding plans to restore relevance to one of the league’s most high-profile franchises. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 years, and spent last season purging high-priced contracts and veteran talent with a focus on rebuilding through youth.

Matthews arrives at a time when the Maple Leafs usher in the 100th year of professional hockey being played in Canada’s largest city.

Winnipeg was set to select second, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, whose general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he’s considering trading the pick depending upon which two players are taken ahead of him.

Auston Matthews celebrates after being picked first overall.Source: AFP

Two trades were announced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before the second pick.

Montreal traded forward Lars Eller to Washington for the Capitals’ second-round draft picks in 2017 and ‘18.

Also, Chicago traded forward Andrew Shaw to Montreal for the Canadiens’ two second-round picks — No. 39 and 45 — in this year’s draft.

Numerous Maple Leafs fans made the two-hour drive to Buffalo to be on hand for their team selecting first for only the second time in the draft. Toronto selected Wendel Clark first in 1985. Each time Maple Leafs began cheering, their rival Sabres fans began booing.

Before the draft began, Bettman announced that the league’s annual pre-draft rookie combine will return to Buffalo for a third consecutive year.

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