The pressure is on in the NHL qualifiers — especially for Toronto

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It’s a huge day in the NHL playoffs

By the end of the night, it’s possible that all eight qualifying-round series will be decided. Three are already in the books: Carolina swept the Rangers on Tuesday, Calgary closed out Winnipeg last night, and this afternoon the Islanders finished off Florida with a 5-1 rout.

The other five best-of-five series all stand at two games to one, and all the Game 4s are today. Better yet, the last four on the schedule involve Canadian teams. Here’s a quick look at the matchups:

Nashville vs. Arizona: This one was in progress at our publish time. The Coyotes can close out the qualifying round’s least-interesting series with a win. If the Predators prevail today, the deciding Game 5 is Sunday.

Pittsburgh vs. Montreal (4 p.m. ET): Heading into the playoffs, no team was disrespected more than the Canadiens. And not for nothing. They had the worst record among the 24 teams invited to the bubbles, and they finished the regular season eight points behind the East’s next-worst playoff team. In a normal year, the Habs would have had no hope of making the post-season. Talent-wise, none of their skaters can compare to Pittsburgh’s two superstars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And yet, Montreal is up two games to one. Carey Price is standing on his head in net, and goals are coming from unlikely sources (defenceman Jeff Petry leads the team with two, including the game-winning snipe on Wednesday). The 12th-seeded Habs can knock off the 5th-seeded Pens either today or in Game 5 on Saturday. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan announced a change in goal this afternoon, replacing Matt Murray with Tristan Jarry, who will make his first playoff start.

Edmonton vs. Chicago (6:45 p.m. ET): The Oilers are basically on the opposite end of the scenario described above. They’re seeded 5th in the West but find themselves down 2-1 to 12th-seeded Chicago. Like Pittsburgh, Edmonton has two superstars. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid finished 1-2 in the NHL scoring race this season, and they’re both near the top of the playoff leaderboard. But the Oilers find themselves on the wrong end of a wild, high-scoring series that has seen each team pot 13 goals in three games. If Edmonton survives tonight, the rubber match is Saturday.

Toronto vs. Columbus (8 p.m. ET): Oh, boy. The Leafs and their tortured fans are on the brink of their fourth consecutive opening-round exit after Toronto blew a 3-0 lead last night and lost 4-3 in overtime. At least in the last three years the Leafs could say they weren’t supposed to win — Boston and Washington were favoured to win those series. This time, Toronto is the higher seed and much more talented than Columbus. But the Blue Jackets seem to have a knack for this kind of thing: last year, they swept a juggernaut Tampa Bay team that had just completed one of the best regular seasons of all time. Pierre-Luc Dubois played the hero last night, capping a hat trick with the OT winner. Columbus is sticking with Elvis Merzlikins in net after he stopped all 21 shots in relief of Joonas Korpisalo. If the fragile Leafs can make it through the night, Game 5 is Sunday.

Vancouver vs. Minnesota (10:45 p.m. ET): The 10th-seeded Wild were a trendy upset pick against 7th-seeded Vancouver, which finished just one point better in the regular season. But after getting blanked 3-0 in Game 1, the Canucks have roared back with two straight wins — including a 3-0 shutout last night. Six different players have scored the Canucks’ seven goals, led by Brock Boeser with two. If Vancouver can’t finish it off, the deciding Game 5 is Sunday.

The West and East round robins also wrap up on Sunday. The stakes aren’t as high in these games, but they will determine how the top four teams in each conference are seeded for the round of 16. With one game remaining for everyone, Colorado and Vegas lead the West with 2-0 records, while Tampa Bay and Philadelphia top the East at 2-0. Boston, which finished the regular season with eight more points than anyone else in the league, can do no better than the No. 3 seed in the East. Same for defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis in the West.

The young Vancouver Canucks, with a mixture of veterans, are beginning to figure things out in the playoffs. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

It’s a big basketball weekend too

The NBA is more than a week into its restart — and about halfway through the completion of the final eight regular-season games for each team. The Raptors have an important one tonight at 9 p.m. ET. If they beat Boston, they clinch the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. That’ll probably happen anyway, but doing it with a win over the No. 3-seeded Celtics would be a strong statement. Toronto, which is 3-0 in the Disney bubble and has won seven straight games, also plays Sunday vs. Memphis.

The Raptors’ very slim hopes of catching Milwaukee for the top seed in the East were officially quashed last night when the Bucks beat Miami. The top seed in the West has been clinched by the Lakers.

One last Raps note: the team announced today that reserve guard/forward Patrick McCaw is leaving the bubble for treatment on a benign mass on the back of his left knee. It’s uncertain how long he’ll be gone.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is about a quarter of the way through its shortened 22-game season. Two interesting members of the Canadian national team are in action tonight. Minnesota’s Bridget Carleton hopes to build on Wednesday’s breakthrough 25-point performance, which nearly doubled her career WNBA total. And New York’s Kia Nurse will try to break out of an awful slump that has seen her shoot just 18.6 per cent from the floor since the season started. Minnesota and New York are both in action Sunday as well.

But the highest-stakes games right now are in the Canadian Elite Basketball League, which is heading into its championship weekend. In last night’s quarter-finals, the Hamilton Honey Badgers clipped the Niagara River Lions 85-83, and the Ottawa Blackjacks beat the Guelph Nighthawks 83-75. Read more about those games and watch highlights here.

Saturday’s semifinal matchups are Hamilton vs. the Fraser Valley Bandits at 1:30 p.m. ET, and Ottawa vs. the top-seeded Edmonton Stingers at 3:50 p.m. ET. The winners play for the title Sunday at noon ET. All three games will be broadcast live on the CBC TV network. They’ll also be streamed live here, on the CBC Sports app and on the CBC Gem streaming service.

If you’re just jumping into the CEBL now, you’ll notice an interesting twist late in games: the Elam Ending. At the first stoppage in play with four minutes or less remaining in the final quarter, the game clock is turned off and the teams play to a target score. That number is determined by adding nine points to the leading team’s total. For example, say the ball goes out of bounds with 3:57 left and Fraser Valley leading Hamilton 80-75. The teams now play to 89. So Fraser Valley needs nine points to win the game, while Hamilton needs 14. The beauty of this system is that every game ends with someone sinking a basket — either from the floor or the free-throw line. There’s no running out the clock by the leading team, and no intentionally fouling to get the ball back by the trailing team.

The Elam Ending has been a hit, and the CEBL has pulled off this tournament after it looked like its second season might be cancelled altogether due to the pandemic. Read commissioner Mike Morreale’s thoughts on the “roller-coaster” ride in this piece by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.


The No. 1 pick in the NHL draft will be awarded Monday — possibly to a very good team. One of the quirks of the interrupted season is that the NHL decided to split the draft lottery into two phases and to give the teams who get eliminated in the qualifying round a shot to win it. Sure enough, the first draw resulted in the top pick going to one of the placeholders for those future losers. So on Monday, the day after the qualifying round is completed, all eight teams eliminated in it will have an equal chance (12.5 per cent) of landing presumptive No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere. So far, we know Winnipeg, Florida and the New York Rangers are in the draw — not great teams by any stretch, but better than your typical lottery participants. Depending what happens over the weekend, the other teams with a shot at Lafreniere could include already-talent-rich Pittsburgh, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. Needless to say, Monday’s lottery will be more interesting than usual. It’s at 6 p.m. ET. Read more about it here.

A French soccer team is paying big bucks for rising Canadian star Jonathan David. Along with 19-year-old Alphonso Davies, the 20-year-old David is a big reason why Canadian soccer fans are excited about the future of the men’s national team. David has 11 goals in 12 matches for Canada, and this season he tied for the scoring title in the Belgian league with 18 goals in 27 matches. Several teams in the English Premier League were reportedly interested in acquiring him, but it looks like French club Lille won the bidding bar. They’ve reportedly agreed to pay €30 million (about $47 million Cdn) to acquire David from the Belgian team KAA Gent. That would be a record transfer fee for a Canadian player, easily topping the €11 million that German club Bayern paid the Vancouver Whitecaps for Davies two years ago.

Two more top-10 women dropped out of the U.S. Open. World No. 1 Ash Barty had already announced she’s out, and today No. 5 Elina Svitolina and No. 7 Kiki Bertens withdrew over coronavirus/travel concerns. Sixth-ranked Canadian Bianca Andreescu’s name was on the official entry list released this week, but the reigning champion remains conspicuously silent about her plans. Reigning men’s champ Rafael Nadal bailed this week, and Roger Federer is done for the season after knee surgery.

An unlikely player took the lead at the year’s first golf major. China’s Haotong Li (ranked 114th in the world) shot 5-under in the second round today to surge into top spot at 8-under. The tournament is taking place in the Pacific time zone at San Francisco’s Harding Park, so most of the first-round leaders had yet to tee off at our publish time. Those include two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, who shot 4-under yesterday, and Tiger Woods, who shot 2-under. The top Canadian at our publish time was Adam Hadwin. He was tied for 37th after shooting 1-over to fall to 1-under for the tournament. See the updated leaderboard here.

The final of the MLS is Back tournament is set. Orlando defeated Minnesota 3-1 last night to join Portland, which beat Philadelphia in the other semi, in the championship match on Tuesday night. Orlando is the hot team right now: they upset tournament favourite Los Angeles FC on penalty kicks in the quarter-finals. All three Canadian teams — Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal — were eliminated in the round of 16. MLS commissioner Don Garber said this week that the league hopes to announce a schedule for the resumption of the regular season “soon.” Reportedly, the plan is to start Aug. 22.

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