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What to know for the Jets-Habs series

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The North Division final starts tonight

A few things to know for the first-ever Jets-Canadiens playoff series:

No one expected this. Even the most diehard Winnipeg and Montreal fans had to concede that it would probably be the Leafs and Oilers meeting in round two. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid had just completed a historic offensive season to win the scoring race by a mile, and Toronto’s Auston Matthews ran away with the goals title. You could sense the TV execs drooling over that second-round showdown. But the Jets held McDavid to “only” four points in four games as they swept the Oilers, while the Habs limited Matthews to just one goal in seven games, and here we are.

It’s a marquee goalie matchup. Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy last season and, while he wasn’t among the three finalists announced yesterday, he’s having another excellent year. The 28-year-old allowed only eight goals in four games vs. McDavid’s Oilers and leads all playoff goalies in save percentage (.950). Montreal’s Carey Price, a former Vezina winner himself, caught fire late in the Leafs series, posting a .945 save percentage in the final three games to help the Canadiens rally from the brink of elimination.

There’s more to these teams than just the goalies. Winnipeg’s blue-line is vulnerable, but the Jets make up for it with a deep forward unit led by Mark Scheifele (63 points in 56 games this season) and a talented supporting cast including Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler. All those guys had more points this season than Montreal’s leading scorer, Tyler Toffoli. But the Habs play hard and have a pair of top-notch defencemen in Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. Price described Montreal’s defence corps collectively as “warriors” who are “big and mean and poised with the puck.”

Fans will be in the buildings. If not for the pandemic, we’d be treated to two of the best crowds in sports. But at least the seats won’t be completely empty. The Manitoba government is allowing 500 fully vaccinated healthcare workers to attend Game 1, and Quebec let 2,500 fans go to Game 6 vs. the Leafs.

A tough opponent is next. The winner represents the all-Canadian division in the Stanley Cup semifinals, where it will face the winner of the Colorado-Vegas series. The Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular-season record and are 5-0 in the playoffs after sweeping St. Louis and taking Game 1 vs. Vegas. The Golden Knights actually won one more regular-season game than the Avs (they lost the Presidents’ Trophy on a tiebreaker) before beating a feisty Minnesota team in seven in round one.

Read more about the Jets-Habs matchup in this story by CBC Sports contributor Vicki Hall. Watch Game 1 tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, or stream it for free on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Same for Game 2 of the Vegas-Colorado series, which starts at 10 p.m. ET.

Carey Price and Connor Hellebuyck are front and centre in this series. (Composite/Getty Images)

Quickly…

Canada’s men’s baseball team moved one step closer to qualifying for the Olympics. Last night’s 6-5 win over Cuba clinched a spot in the “super round” at the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida. The teams in this tournament are split into two groups, and the top two in each advance to the super round. Canada and Venezuela (both 2-0) are guaranteed to move on from Group B, but their group-stage finale today is big because it’s effectively a super-round game. The way the super round works is you play the two teams from the opposite group, and the result from your group-stage game against the other team carries over to the super-round standings. The team with the best record at the end of the super round qualifies for the Tokyo Olympics. The second- and third-place teams get one more chance at the final Olympic qualifier in Mexico later this month. The Canada-Venezuela game was in progress at our publish time. Watch it live here.

There are no Canadians left in the French Open singles draws. Unseeded teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez ran into a superior athlete in No. 23 Madison Keys, who powered her way to a 6-1, 7-5 win in the second round today. Bianca Andreescu (the women’s No. 6 seed) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (men’s No. 20) both lost in the first round, while Milos Raonic (men’s No. 17) withdrew before the event started. Fernandez will stick around to play women’s doubles with fellow Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski. Canada’s Sharon Fichman and a Mexican partner are seeded ninth for that tournament and advanced to the second round today. Read more about today’s French Open results and watch highlights here.

The NHL draft lottery is tonight. Seems like they tweak this thing every year, so here’s how it works now: Two draws will be held, to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 picks. Then picks 3-16 will be filled out based on inverse order of how the non-playoff teams finished in the overall standings this season. That means last-place Buffalo will get no worse than the No. 3 pick. The Sabres have the best odds of winning the top choice (16.6 per cent). Anaheim (12.1) is next, followed by New Jersey and expansion Seattle (both 10.3). One wrinkle: Arizona was stripped of its first-round pick for working out prospects last year before it was allowed to. So if the Coyotes win either of tonight’s drawings, there will be a do-over (it’s unclear to me why the NHL wouldn’t just remove Arizona from the draws). This is a tricky year to have the No. 1 pick because of the dearth of junior-hockey games due to the pandemic. The top-ranked North American prospect is Owen Power, a defenceman from the University of Michigan. The top international prospect is William Eklund, a winger in the Swedish Hockey League.

The women’s hockey world championship will be held in Calgary this summer. Organizers had been mulling a new host and new dates since the tournament scheduled for Nova Scotia in the spring was cancelled for the second straight year due to the pandemic. It’ll now be held Aug. 20-31 at WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park. The United States has won five consecutive women’s worlds. Canada settled for bronze in 2019 — the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1990 that Canada and the U.S. did not meet in the gold-medal game. Read more about the rescheduled 2021 event here.

Damian Lillard had one of the best NBA playoff games ever — and lost. The Trail Blazers star scored 55 points (tied for seventh-most ever in a post-season game) and hit a playoff-record 12 three-pointers last night. But Portland fell 147-140 in double overtime to Denver, which now leads the first-round series 3-2. Read more about Dame’s big game and see one of his highlight-reel triples here.

And finally…

Kia Nurse sank a spectacular half-court buzzer beater to win a WNBA game. You don’t see many Eurostep runners from the logo, but the Canadian guard nailed one last night to give Phoenix an 84-83 victory over Chicago. Check it out:

Hamilton’s Kia Nurse hits a 3-pointer from just inside half-court to give Phoenix an 84-83 victory over Chicago. 1:35

Coming up on CBC Sports

In addition to tonight’s NHL playoff games, here’s what you can stream live on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app:

Olympic men’s baseball qualifying: Watch the final two games of the group stage at the Americas qualifier — United States vs. Puerto Rico and Cuba vs. Colombia — tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

Beach volleyball: Watch men’s and women’s centre-court matches at the World Tour event in the Czech Republic on Thursday from 3 a.m. ET to noon ET.

Indoor volleyball: Watch Canada play Iran at the men’s Nations League event in Italy on Thursday at 5:45 a.m. ET.

You’re up to speed.

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