7 takeaways from a weekend full of Game 7s

7 takeaways from a weekend full of Game 7s

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There’s a cliché that the best two words in sports are Game 7. Well, across the NHL and NBA this weekend, we witnessed seven of them — not to mention additional winner-take-all matches in soccer and tennis.

Some of the showdowns were good, old-fashioned classics, while others were duds. Some favourites advanced, and some underdogs did too. The only constant: heartbreak on one side — and jubilation on the other.

Here are seven takeaways from a wild sports weekend:

Maybe the Maple Leafs are just cursed. Unlike last season against Montreal, Toronto didn’t quite collapse against Tampa Bay. Instead, it was simply a loss where one team got one extra bounce. Of course, that bounce didn’t go the Maple Leafs’ way, because bounces never seem to go the Maple Leafs’ way. Their series against the two-time defending champions was scintillatingly close — the Leafs both outscored and outshot the Lightning by one over seven games. But for the sixth straight year, Toronto is going home after the first round. That makes nine consecutive potential series clinchers that the Maple Leafs have lost. Maybe this team needs major changes to shake up the mojo. Or maybe they’re just cursed.

Sometimes in the playoffs, you need superstars to step up. Hockey might be the ultimate team sport, and sure, anything can happen in the playoffs. But thanks to a pair of true gamechangers, hockey fans will get the first Battle of Alberta playoff series since 1991. For the Oilers that gamechanger was unsurprisingly Connor McDavid, whose tenacious individual effort was the dagger in Edmonton’s 2-0 Game 7 win over Los Angeles. Per stats guru Meghan Chayka, McDavid was on the ice for 20 of the Oilers’ 26 goals in the series, recording 14 total points. Meanwhile, Johnny Hockey came through for Calgary, picking a corner in OT to send the Flames past Dallas and goalie Jake Oettinger, whose 64 Game 7 saves were somehow not enough.

WATCH | Memorable moments from the Battle of Alberta:

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Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs will feature one of the oldest and most heated rivalries in hockey.

But the playoffs are also where stars are born. McDavid and Gaudreau were expectedly great. Florida’s Carter Verhaeghe? Not so much. Verhaeghe was a third-round pick of his hometown Maple Leafs in 2013 who bounced around the minors before finally getting a chance with the Lightning a couple years ago, when he scored nine goals in 52 games. That was enough for the Panthers, who poached him from their state rivals in free agency. The move paid off in their six-game series victory over Washington, where Verhaeghe, per ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, was on the ice for a McDavid-like 13 of Florida’s 20 goals, and earned a point on 12 of them, including his Game 6 OT winner.

What now for a trio of surefire Hall of Famers? In many ways, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrice Bergeron have defined the salary-cap era of the NHL. But after each met a first-round exit, their futures are less certain than usual. The Penguins were up 2-0 in Game 5 of a series they led 3-1 when Crosby was injured, forcing him to miss the rest of that contest as well as Game 6. Pittsburgh eventually lost in OT of Game 7, despite Crosby’s return. “Sid the Kid” remains excellent, posting 10 points in the series, but at 34 he’s certainly no longer a kid, and he’s surrounded by a similarly aging core with co-star Evgeni Malkin headed to free agency. In Washington, Ovechkin produced a vintage 50-goal season, but the Capitals seemed to sputter all season before falling to the Panthers. And Bergeron, also a pending free agent, made a point to hug each and every teammate after the Bruins’ Game 7 loss to the Hurricanes. Could that signal the end of an era? The 36-year-old said today he wouldn’t play anywhere but Boston — that is, if he continues to play.

Both of last year’s NBA finalists flamed out of the playoffs. The reigning champion Bucks, missing all-star Khris Middleton, simply ran out of steam against an impressive Celtics team in a 28-point Game 7 loss, despite Giannis Antetokounmpo’s best efforts. But while Milwaukee shot a paltry 12 per cent on three-pointers against Boston’s stout defence, that wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as the Suns’ stunning defeat to the Mavericks, in which the 33-point margin was flattering to top-seeded Phoenix. At halftime, the Suns, who owned the NBA’s best regular-season record, had managed just 34 points — as many as Dallas superstar Luka Doncic scored on his own to that point. The Mavs now meet the rejuvenated Golden State Warriors in the West final, while the East final features the Celtics and Miami Heat. Read more about both games here.

Canadian women aren’t done collecting soccer hardware. In a winner-take-all match across the pond, Canadian Olympic champion Jessie Fleming came on in the 80th minute and proved crucial to Chelsea’s FA Cup victory. Fleming ran alongside star Australian forward Sam Kerr on a two-on-one in extra time, acting as a decoy for Kerr to fire home the game winner. The play capped a breakout year for the 24-year-old, who was even handed Canada’s captain’s armband at an international tournament recently. Meanwhile in France, fellow gold medallist Ashley Lawrence scored twice and Jordyn Huitema saw action too as Paris Saint-Germain won the less-heralded Coupe de France with an 8-0 rout over underdog Yzeure.

Novak Djokovic is back, and Iga Swiatek has arrived. Djokovic bageled Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening set of their Italian Open final en route to his sixth Italian Open championship. It’s a return to form for the controversial Serb, who heads to the French Open for his first major of the season next week. Meanwhile, Swiatek claimed the women’s title, marking her stunning 28th straight victory and fifth straight championship. Ranked No. 1, Swiatek should be a clear favourite at Roland Garros. In women’s doubles, Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Giuliana Olmos missed out on a second straight victory of their own, falling in the Rome final. Read more about all the clay-court action here.

Published at Mon, 16 May 2022 22:03:30 +0000