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After season of growth, Oilers finally a team to be reckoned with in playoffs

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EDMONTON — X.

It has been inevitable for some time now, so it’s easy for hockey fans in other markets to see the Edmonton Oilers clinch a playoff spot and simply shrug their shoulders.

But for long suffering Oilers fans, whose team has made the playoffs exactly five times now in this 21st century — and just twice in the past 14 seasons — it is time to stop, maybe crack a beer, and enjoy a long slow pull.

With a 5-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks Monday night, the Oilers clinched only their second playoff appearance since Connor McDavid joined the team six seasons ago. Even though they were a playoff lock when the pause hit last March, a loss in the Qualifying Round does not qualify as a playoff appearance.

That loss to Chicago counted for only one thing: a hard, embarrassing lesson that this Oilers team took to heart.

“Everyone left the bubble in a bad mood. No one felt great about where we were at, or how that series went,” said McDavid, fresh off of lighting the Canucks up with two goals and four points. “It was a good moment to step back and learn from it. Learn what it takes to win.”

The first thing they decided was, it can’t be all about offence anymore.

And the first guys to make that decision? The players that had to do it before anyone else would.

The two top scorers. The Hart Trophy guys.

“In the past we tried to come back from (a deficit) by cheating on offence, and it was led by Connor and myself,” said Leon Draisaitl, early in the 2020-21 season. “Him and I, we figured out that, if you stay patient — if you continue to play good defence — you’re going to get your chances.”

It’s been a theme that has allowed the Oilers to climb up to ninth in the NHL in both goals against per game (2.68) and goals for (3.26). Take those numbers, combine them with a goaltending tandem that has a save percentage of .914 — ranked fourth in the league — and you have the ingredients for a pretty decent recipe.

“That’s the recipe for a playoff team,” said McDavid. “We’ve found ways to keep pucks out of our net, and offensively we’ve been pretty good.”

This was a team that got off to a 3-6 start. Since then they’ve gone 28-11-2.

Tyson Barrie, the UFA signing who is tied for third in points by a defenceman with 43, looked back to an early season meeting on Monday that stopped the skid.

“There were some new faces in here, myself included, and we were trying to figure out where guys fit in,” Barrie said. “After the (3-6 start) we had a little meeting and just realized, with the shortened season we could be out of it really quickly if we didn’t turn it around.

“I don’t think there’s an easy answer for it, but we did a pretty good job of digging out from that.”

Since Game 10, Edmonton had the three-game losing streak to Toronto in February, and back-to-back losses in March that were sandwiched between seven wins. Those are their only losing streaks. That’s it.

“The cool thing is,” Barrie said, “we’re winning high-scoring games, we’re winning low-scoring games. We’re finding ways to hold a one-goal lead in the third period, which isn’t easy. But that’s a sign of a mature and responsible team.

“Our ability to limit the losing streaks, the poor play, has been amazing.”

Ask the Winnipeg Jets how amazing that is. They’ve dropped seven straight.

So, what’s happened here?

They’ve stopped importing leaders, for one.

Of course McDavid and Draisaitl — the NHL’s two leading scorers with 91 and 73 points — are fabulous. But they now lead by example. The pair that led the NHL in scoring last season but combined to go minus-13, now lead the league in points once again.

But this time they are plus-58 combined.

“The leadership group with McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse, Larsson and Nuge, they really drive that room,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “Smitty getting healthy and coming in to have a heck of a year for us … the added depth has helped. Tyson Barrie has played very well for us. There are a lot of factors.”

With his 13th snipe of the year Monday, Jesse Puljujarvi gives pause to look back at the 2016 draft class. He now has more goals this season than Patrik Laine (12), Matthew Tkachuk (10) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (nine), all drafted in the Top 6 the year Puljujarvi went fourth overall.

Meanwhile McDavid became the first player to record 30 goals and 90 points within the first 50 games of a season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96.

Now, all that’s left for these Oilers in the regular season is to drag him to 100.

“I don’t know if we have to try and get him there. He’ll just get there himself,” laughed Barrie. “This guy — he’s proven very difficult to keep off the score sheet this year.

“He plays the right way every night.”

And as such, McDavid has led his team to the NHL playoffs. They are a no-doubt divisional contender, and a team to be reckoned with.

Finally.

“It’s the first step. We’ve given ourselves a chance at it now,” said Barrie. “Now we’ve got a shot to win the Stanley Cup. That’s what the goal is at the beginning of the year.”

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Westbrook ties Robertson for most NBA triple-doubles all-time

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Russell Westbrook of the Washington Wizards  (Getty Images via AFP)

LOS ANGELES – Washington’s Russell Westbrook notched the 181st triple-double of his career on Saturday, tying Oscar Robertson for the most in NBA history.

Westbrook  matched Robertson with his 10th assist of the night in the third quarter of the Wizards’ game against the Indiana pacers in Indianapolis.

Through three quarters Westbrook had 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, but the Wizards trailed 101-92.

It’s not the first time Westbrook has etched his name alongside that of Robertson, who played in the NBA from 1960-74.

Westbrook was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017 when he broke Robertson’s single-season record with 42 triple-doubles — recording double digits in three major statistical categories in a feat that has become a measuring stick of all-around excellence.

Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson is third on the NBA’s all-time triple-double list with 138 and Jason Kidd is fourth on 107.

Current Lakers superstar LeBron James is the only other active player in the top five with 99 career triple-doubles.

gsg



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Raptors cannot wait to get out of Tampa?

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The Toronto Raptors have not exactly gotten the warmest welcome in their temporary home this season. Now it sounds like they are itching to get the heck out of Dodge.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports reported this week that there are Raptors players and other members of the organization who cannot wait to leave Tampa, Fla. They are said to be counting down the days until they can pack their bags, take their families and leave on May 17.

The Raptors have their last regular-season contest on May 16. They are four games out of the play-in tournament zone with five games left, meaning they are all but certain to miss the playoffs and see an early end to their season.

Tampa has played home to the Raptors this year with Toronto unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions. The partnership has been frosty at best with the Raptors even recently getting booed by the local fans. It is probably safe to say that there will not be any NBA basketball in Tampa after this season.

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Manchester United planning £70m double sale to fund Erling Haaland move – Reports

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Manchester United are hoping to raise funds from player sales to help finance a move for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland.

According to We All Follow United via Express, the Red Devils are planning to sell Jesse Lingard and either David de Gea or Dean Henderson, to raise £70m in the summer. The money will then be invested in bringing the Norwegian striker to Old Trafford.

Manchester United have reportedly made Haaland their number one target ahead of the summer, but Dortmund have slapped an astronomical fee on the player. The Norwegian has been on a brilliant run of form since his move to the Bundesliga side. Haaland has scored 47 goals in 48 games since joining Dortmund from RB Leipzig in January of 2020.

Haaland is the target-man Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desires at Old Trafford, even though the player has already rejected Manchester United on two occasions in the past.

However, the Black and Yellows want a fee of over £100m for the Norwegian, which could be a problem for the Red Devils. Interestingly, Haaland’s £70m release clause will only come into effect in the summer of 2022.

Solskjaer has already revealed that Manchester United will not be able to spend freely in the transfer market due to the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the Red Devils are planning to raise funds from the sales of Jesse Lingard and one of their goalkeepers.

The Englishman has impressed while on loan with West Ham United and could be allowed to leave for around £20m. The Hammers are reportedly desperate to sign the player on a permanent deal, which will work in Manchester United’s favor.

The Red Devils could also sell one of De Gea and Henderson in the summer, with the Englishman currently valued at £50m. Paul Pogba could also be allowed to leave unless he signs a contract extension at the end of the season. Manchester United, however, are eager to retain the Frenchman.

Funds raised from player sales will help the Red Devils compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, who are also monitoring Haaland.

Manchester United want to end the season on a high note

Erling Haaland
Erling Haaland

Manchester United are currently second in the Premier League and are also in the final of the UEFA Europa League final, where they will face Villarreal on 26 May. The Red Devils have five games remaining in the Premier League and will want to end the season on a high nite despite their congested fixture list.

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