Bettman: Playoff format works ‘really, really well’

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TAMPA — That most fans enjoy this series between the two-time Stanley Cup champions and Canada’s biggest market flies in the face of criticism of the Gary Bettman-endorsed playoff system.

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A staunch advocate of giving division leaders the advantage of playing wildcard teams while a second-place team often gets a tough ticket to the first round against another 100-point team is a blatant foul. Or wanting a return to one-on-eight, or something else that creates a better path for a deserving team after 82 games.

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“People always think, ‘What can we do differently to make it better?’ “The commissioner said Friday night at the Amalie Arena during an intermission media scrum. “What we’ve got is working really, really well. When you look at how many games you get in the playoffs, (the excitement) in the first round and our competitive balance in the regular season, it’s extraordinary.

“I’m going to compare it to anything that happens in sport.”

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Over five nights of playoff games and his tour of cities in Canada and the United States, Bettman said “normal feels pretty good” when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, hopefully in the rearview mirror .

As for league issues, Bettman said he was pleased that the league had put enough pressure on the issue of punishing Russia as much as possible for their invasion of Ukraine.

“We immediately condemned Russia, severed our commercial ties, waived several million dollars. It’s fair to point out that a lot of players play for NHL teams, they don’t play for Russia and they’re in a tough spot with families there.

“We are keeping an eye on the situation regarding the World Cup (scheduled for 2024) and on the road.”

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DYNAMIC DUO

After rejecting the idea that they couldn’t stay with the best teams in the Atlantic Division in the regular season, attention turned to whether the best Leafs Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner could lead their best years of career until May and become real difference makers in the playoffs. They both had a few hiccups after the season as the team was unable to get past the first round, with Matthews entering this series with three goals in his last 12 against Columbus and Montreal, Marner none. scored eight assists in the same time frame.

But heading into Game 3, both had five points, more reminiscent of Matthews’ productive streak against Boston in 2019 and Marner’s 13 points in 13 games against Washington and his first Bruins streak.

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“They’ve been great and great all year,” winger Wayne Simmonds said between Games 2 and 3. “(Playoff questions) that’s in the past and hopefully those first two games put that in bed. It’s up to the rest of us to match their intensity. Big shout out to those guys (in Game 2), who put their bodies on the line.”

Mark Giordano said he immediately understood when he arrived from Seattle that “these are the guys who run this team. It was quite enjoyable to watch.

“When you see things like Matty going back, breaking 2-on-1s and stuff like that, it’s been a lot for our group.”

Marner became the 26and player in franchise history to reach 30 playoff points in Game 2, Matthews has 29.

MARLEAU ON THE MOVE

Career NHL game leader Patrick Marleau is expected to announce his retirement on Tuesday after he and the San Jose Sharks scheduled a press conference. Marleau, who has appeared in 164 consecutive games for the Maple Leafs in a total of 1,779 appearances since joining in 1997, has been out of action until 2021-22, but there has been no confirmation that he has officially finished.

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In 2020-21, Marleau passed Gordie Howe for most career games and remained 12 ahead at the start of this year. Joe Thornton, still with the Florida Panthers, is sixth overall with 1,714, while Islanders defenseman Zdeno Chara is seventh with 1,680. Marleau was not just an ironman, amassing 1,197 points, mostly with the Sharks.

LOOSE LEAF

On Thursday afternoon, the Leafs took the unusual step of taking buses to Buffalo, NY, and flying from there to Tampa, bypassing mandatory COVID-19 testing for air passengers like other professional teams have done. . “The most important thing at this point is to do everything we can to avoid false positives or things that might come up that would impact our group,” coach Sheldon Keefe said… Marner correctly pointed out that the Leafs’ fluid offense had more to lose if caught. too many penalties that keep qualified players not on the PK anchored to the bench. “When that happens, guys lose their rhythm,” he said. Adds John Tavares “it takes us out of our rhythm. That’s why we want to be the ones drawing them and be on our front foot. Sometimes it won’t go perfectly, you’ll have to kill a few in a row”… Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh tied Brian Rafalski for the fifth-most playoff appearances by an American NHL player on Friday, reaching 165… Available at the Tampa Bay Sports Book Market, publications covering all three Stanley Cup championships since 2004. What the Leafs wouldn’t give to be the subject of just one.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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