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Steven Stamkos made a surprising and dramatic return
Before last night, the injured Tampa Bay Lightning star hadn’t played since Feb. 25. That was 210 days, a core-muscle surgery and the declaration of a global pandemic ago. He’d finally started practising with his team again, but Stamkos still seemed very iffy to suit up before the end of the Stanley Cup final. And pretty much no one expected him to for Game 3.
So what a surprise when, about half an hour before puck drop, word arrived that Stamkos was taking warmups. And then he actually played. And then, on his third shift, he burned a Dallas defenceman along the boards, carried the puck in off the wing and zipped one into the top corner to put Tampa up 2-0. It was vintage Stamkos, and maybe the coolest moment of the playoffs. Watch it here as part of Rob Pizzo’s two-minute game recap.
Unfortunately, his comeback didn’t last long. Stamkos played five shifts for a total of 2:47 of ice time before appearing to be in discomfort on the bench and leaving the game. He didn’t play again, but he sat on the bench and took some quick twirls on the ice during stoppages. Tampa didn’t need him anyway: they led 5-1 after two periods and autopiloted to a 5-2 win that gave them a 2-1 series lead over Dallas.
We’re not supposed to glorify playing through pain anymore — as the NHL was reminded this week when it got dragged on social media for posting a (since-deleted) video showing guys blocking shots with the message that the “price” is “worth it.” There’s a dark side to that type of mythology. But there’s also beauty in what Stamkos did last night, sacrificing his personal well-being to help his team accomplish a goal they’ve been working their whole lives toward.
If the Lightning go on to win the Cup, Stamkos will join the pantheon of athletes who made dramatic returns from injury and helped their teams win a championship by playing hurt. Hockey fans who weren’t even alive at the time talk about the Leafs’ Bobby Baun scoring the OT winner in Game 6 of the 1964 Cup final on a broken ankle. Willis Reed is still revered for limping out of the tunnel to help the Knicks win Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Curt Schilling has become a problematic figure, but his bloody sock will always be part of Red Sox lore as a symbol of his pitching through an ankle injury to help Boston snap its 86-year World Series title drought in 2004. One of the greatest moments in Olympic history is Kerri Strug’s sticking her final vault on a sprained ankle to seal gold for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Kirk Gibson’s “I don’t believe what I just saw!” pinch-hit walkoff homer on one good leg in Game 1 of the ’88 World Series still gives me chills every time I watch it.
Today, we better understand and empathize with the physical, mental and emotional toll that moments like these can take on the people who performed them. And player safety is a much bigger concern than in decades past. Those are good things. But we don’t have to deny that witnessing great athletes push their bodies and minds to the limit is one of the things that makes sports so compelling.
WATCH | Stamkos strikes early for Lightning in Game 3 win:
Canada lost a French Open player, but also gained one. Milos Raonic announced today he’s skipping the final Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year, which begins Sunday. At 20th, he’s Canada’s second-highest-ranked men’s singles player, behind No. 10 Denis Shapovalov. Canada now has four players in the men’s tournament: Shapovalov, 21st-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime, 76th-ranked Vasek Pospisil and 179th-ranked Steven Diez. The latter got in today by winning his third consecutive qualifying match. Two Canadians are in the women’s singles draw: 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez and 168th-ranked Genie Bouchard. No. 7 Bianca Andreescu hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury 11 months ago and announced this week she’s taking the rest of the year off. Read more about the Canadians who are in or out of the French Open here.
The Blue Jays can clinch a playoff spot tonight. If they beat the Yankees in the finale of their four-game series, the Jays will officially be back in the post-season for the first time in four years. Even if they lose, a spot in this year’s expanded playoff tournament is still all but assured. The Jays’ magic number is 1, meaning they need just one more win or one more loss by the team right behind them in the wild-card standings (currently the Los Angeles Angels) to clinch. The odds of Toronto making the playoffs are 99.8 per cent, according to ESPN’s model. The regular season ends Sunday. Read more about the Jays’ 14-1 win over New York last night here.
Tyler Herro was the hero of last night’s NBA playoff game. The 20-year-old Miami rookie came off the bench to score a game-high 37 points (17 in the fourth quarter) in another narrow Heat win over Boston that put them up 3-1 in the Eastern Conference final. Only Magic Johnson has scored more points in an NBA playoff game at age 20 or younger. Tonight at 9 p.m. ET is Game 4 of the Western final between the Lakers and Nuggets. Canadian Jamal Murray will try to follow up his 28-point, 12-assist performance from Denver’s Game 3 win.
Both WNBA semifinals resume tonight. Minnesota, which is the only remaining team with Canadians on it, trails Seattle 1-0 in their best-of-five-series. Canada’s Bridget Carleton had 14 points and four assists in the Lynx’s 88-86 loss. Top-seeded Las Vegas and Connecticut are tied 1-1 after Vegas evened the series on Tuesday night.
A Canadian soccer international hopes their coming out will help young trans people. Quinn, who goes only by that name or Quinny now and no longer uses Rebecca Quinn, decided to share their true identity in an Instagram post earlier this month. Part of the reason, they say, was a desire to be “a visible figure for young trans folks or people questioning their gender, people exploring their gender. Because, unfortunately, when I was growing up, and even going through that process of figuring out myself in college, I didn’t have those people in the public sphere to look up to really.” Quinn also hopes to show others how “to be better allies” to trans people. Quinn, 25, has made 59 appearances for the Canadian women’s national team, scoring five goals. They were a member of the 2016 Olympic squad that won bronze, as well as the 2019 World Cup team. Read more about Quinn here.
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