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Luongo, Wade Luongo still feel anguish a year after Parkland

PARKLAND, Fla. — Manuel Oliver has not seen a Miami Heat game in almost a year.

Truth be told, he never was the biggest basketball fan in the first place. He watched a lot of games, was even coaching a team at this time last year, and did all that because of the joy his son got from the sport.

And his son is gone now.

Thursday marks one year since Joaquin “Guac” Oliver and 16 others took their last breaths, all shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a massacre that only heightened the gun-control debate in this country. Manuel Oliver, an artist, only watched and took part in sports because of the bond it allowed him to forge with his son.

“I miss my son every single day,” Manuel Oliver said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m not counting the days. I just miss him. And I decided to defeat that feeling by empowering myself to get out there and make statements through art or speeches. Thursday, to me, is just another day. It will close the loop of the year, one loop of special occasions where we won’t have him. And then a new loop starts, where we won’t have him.”

Joaquin Oliver is the teen who was buried in the jersey of his favorite player, Heat star Dwyane Wade. The boy’s mother Patricia was the one who decided her son should be put to rest in the No. 3 jersey, and when Wade — who lost a cousin to gun violence in 2016 and had been traded back to Miami from Chicago less than a week before the Parkland shooting — learned of the gesture he was moved to act.

He met the Olivers. He learned about their son. He made a surprise appearance at the school on the day it reopened. He made kids laugh and smile and perhaps forget for a brief moment that their school was a crime scene, that their lives were forever changed and certainly not for the better.

“I still don’t have the words to express how much all that meant to me,” Wade said. “I mean, in that moment of grief, in a moment of ultimate sadness and a moment where you know so much was going on the thing that family decided to do was to bury him in my jersey because he was such a fan of mine. It’s still, I don’t know … I’m still very emotional.”

Sports, more often than not, can be a healing influence in times of tragedy.

Such was the case after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, when baseball and football resumed a week or two later and the Olympics five months later in Salt Lake City became a celebration tinged in the U.S. colors of red, white and blue. When 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, the Orlando Magic decided to retire the number 49 months later in tribute. The Florida Panthers have never hoisted the Stanley Cup, but they made sure the Stoneman Douglas hockey team did last year in a private on-ice ceremony. Even Stoneman Douglas’ football team, when it won its first game of the season, prevailed by exactly 17 points — the same number of lives lost, a coincidence not lost on anyone.

“Sports bring people together,” Wade said. “Sports bring races together. Sports bring communities together. What this game we play, and the games other people play, can do is special. Not many things or people can bring a community, different races, people of different shapes, sizes, ages together the way sports does. And after Parkland, we saw that. We needed that.”

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo lives in Parkland, not far from the school. He still feels the anguish of his adopted hometown.

The Panthers’ first home game after the shooting was eight days later, and Luongo took the unusual stance of speaking to the crowd for about three minutes before the opening face-off. The jammed arena hung on his every word. The Panthers rallied in the final minutes for a 3-2 win over eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington.

The Panthers will be paying tribute again in the coming days to those who were lost, with moments of silence and other gestures at games this week.

“Whatever little we can do to help, you know, whether that’s just playing a game or taking the time to say ‘hi’ or whatever it is, I think those are the key little things that you want to try to do as much as possible,” Luongo said. “If we can be doing something that helps with their grieving, we should be doing it. It’ll never be enough, but we should still be doing whatever we can.”

Wade, for obvious reasons, has had Joaquin Oliver in mind often for the last year — especially in recent days, as the anniversary nears.

The Oliver family started a foundation called Change The Ref, with a mission of raising awareness about gun-control laws they want changed and the effect of mass shootings. Even the name has ties to the boy’s love of basketball: As the story goes, he got ejected from a game last year by a referee whose call he didn’t like, and Manuel Oliver — the coach — also got ejected for complaining.

On the way home, Joaquin told his father that their only way of winning that game would have been to change the ref.

“And when I remembered that, I knew what we had to do,” Manuel Oliver said.

With that, the foundation was born.

In a year of anguish, little moments of joy mean more than ever. Manuel Oliver couldn’t watch the Super Bowl this year, because it’s something he and his son usually did together. He doesn’t watch sports on television anymore, for the same reasons. But when he needs a smile, he can look at the trophy in his house from Joaquin’s last basketball season.

In the days after the shooting, Joaquin’s team finished its season without him. The team won its league championship. The Heat were there to help them celebrate.

“I always thought Joaquin was overreacting when he talked about Dwyane Wade,” Manuel Oliver said. “But he wasn’t. I’m not even a basketball fan, but he’s a great dude. Not just him: his mother, his sister, his dad, they’re all great. This took our son, but we’re still here. Joaquin’s parents are still here, fighting for him.”

Bruins hope to have a healthy Chara for Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — The Bruins were able to sweep Carolina in the Eastern Conference final without captain Zdeno Chara.

Now they’re hoping 10 days off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final will be enough time for the defenseman to return.

The title round begins May 27 when Boston will face San Jose or St. Louis, with that conference final 2-2. The Bruins completed their sweep Thursday with Chara out with an undisclosed injury.

”We have a lot of time to make the absolute right decision to give him the proper time to get over something that’s been nagging him,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday. ”And we’ll cross our fingers that will be the case. But we’re confident it will be.”

Sweeney stopped short of guaranteeing Chara’s return for Game 1.

”I’m not living in how or where Zee feels. I expect he’ll be fine,” Sweeney said. ”But I’m not going to sit here and make a proclamation in terms of promises. I do believe that time will be used effectively and he’ll be fine. But sometimes those are out of your control.”

Defenseman Kevan Miller and forward Chris Wagner are doubtful for Game 1 of the Final. Miller hasn’t played since April 4 because of a lower-body injury. Wagner injured his right arm blocking a shot in Game 3 against Carolina.

Patrick Roy set to interview for Senators’ coaching vacancy: report

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Interested in seeing more of this?

Or maybe some of this?

Well, you just might be in luck.

Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch reports that Patrick Roy is set be the last interview done by Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion as the search for the next bench boss in Canada’s capital continues.

Roy has most recently been coaching the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He last coached in the NHL in 2016 with the Colorado Avalanche, a job he resigned from following that season. Two years earlier, he won the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s best coach after the Avalanche went from last to first in the Western Conference.

Roy is 130-92-24 during his 246-game coaching career in the NHL.

“Those close to Roy believe he’d like to return to the NHL in the right situation and initially the only pressure in Ottawa will be to develop the young players,” Garrioch wrote. “The Senators have the potential to have 17 picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts and finding the right fit is paramount.”

The Senators, according to Garrioch, have already interviewed several candidates, including fellow former Avalanche coach Mark Crawford, along with former Senators coach Jacques Martin and Dallas Stars assistance Rick Bowness.

Roy’s experience coaching young players, as Garrioch points out, would be appealing for a team as young as the Senators, who also have a litany of draft picks coming their way over the next three years.

Can Roy work under Senators owner Eugene Melnyk? Can he work with Dorion? Roy didn’t exactly have the best professional relationship with Joe Sakic and Roy would likely want some level of control of the direction of the team.

It remains to be seen, but Roy has a decent track record that is appealing, certainly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Has Erik Karlsson’s lingering groin injury resurfaced?

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It plagued him for most of the second half of the season.

A good chunk of January, a good chunk of February, and the entirety of March, to be exact.

And now Erik Karlsson‘s Game 5 status is up in the air after he appeared to aggravate a lingering groin injury, one Karlsson said had only progressed in the right direction throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

“I don’t have anything for you there,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer when quizzed on Karlsson’s health following a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues that evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 on Friday.

DeBoer quickly swept that question under the rug.

As did Brent Burns, who just said, “He’s doing good” followed by a “How’re you doing?” when a reporter probed Burns about his teammate.

You may not have noticed it, initially at least.

Normally guys who play 24:33 in a game don’t miss significant stretches. But from the 10:36 mark to 18:05 of the third period, Karlsson didn’t see the ice. With the Sharks trailing 2-1 at the time, you’d expect one of the game’s best offensive defensemen to be on the ice. Instead, Karlsson was grimacing in pain, coming out during commercial breaks to test whatever was ailing him.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Somehow, he played the final 1:55 of the game — nearly two minutes of madness where the Sharks tried, ultimately in vain, to find an equalizer. Karlsson bit down hard on his mouthpiece and bore the pain, but you could see its effects.

PHT’s James O’Brien wrote on Karlsson’s playoffs prior to Friday’s game.

Karlsson limped into the playoffs and said himself that he could barely move in Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, and as James pointed out in his story, it’s been hard to notice with two goals and 14 assists in 18 postseason games. Karlsson has played big minutes and produced at nearly a point-per-game pace in the playoffs, essentially everything the Sharks envisioned he would do when they brought him in last summer.

What they didn’t want was a nagging injury that force Karlsson to missed 29 games during the regular season and now, perhaps, some at a critical juncture for a team that’s hoping they’ve finally put it all together this year.

Maybe it’s nothing. But those painful faces that Karlsson wore in Game 4 weren’t exactly inspiring confidence in the “maybe it’s nothing” part.

If Karlsson can’t play, it’s only going to mean more minutes for guys like Burns, who is already averaging nearly 29 minutes a night. Karlsson has played an instrumental role in these playoffs for the Sharks.

A loss, even for a game, would be a massive blow in what’s now a best-of-three series.

[MORE: Blues handling adversity like champions]


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues handling adversity like champions

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How many times have we thought the St. Louis Blues were dead in the water?

Was it in Round 1 when, after jetting out to a 2-0 lead against the Winnipeg Jets, they lost two straight as it appeared the Jets finally got their act together?

Was it after Games 4 and 5 in Round 2 where the Dallas Stars took a 3-2 series lead and we figured that was the end of their miraculous run?

Was it after the San Jose Sharks benefitted from a hand pass by Timo Meier that found the stick of Erik Karlsson to end Game 3 in overtime to give the Sharks a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final?

For a team that sat plumb last in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3, are we really all that surprised that they’re still alive and kicking?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a rookie goaltender is now 11-2 following a loss in the regular and postseason combined, throwing up an incredible .936 save percentage when his team needs a win.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be miffed when a team as resilient as the Blues, given all they’ve been through, have outscored opponents 14-9 after a loss in these playoffs.

Embrace the grind, as they say.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And the Blues have, particularly in Game 4 where they could have imploded after losing in such terrible fashion one-game earlier.

“We just talked about… you’ve got to just move on,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube, saying he went into the room after Game 3 to talk that loss over with the team. “The call, you can’t change it now. It is what it is. I think we talked in terms like that game we had a one-goal lead, we could have closed it out then and we didn’t. We let it go to overtime, and the only difference tonight, we closed it out with a one-goal lead.”

Indeed, the whole overtime crisis of Game 3 could have been averted if the Blues could have held onto a 4-3 third-period lead. They trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in that game but led after a four-goal second period. Only Logan Couture‘s magic 6-on-5 prevented the win in regulation and we all know what happened from there.

Resilience will only take a team so far. It’s an intangible. At the end of the day, that resilience needs to bend but not break and the players have to ultimately get the job done. It broke in Game 3. In Game 4, however, the Blues adjusted.

They didn’t have to play from behind — an Ivan Barbashev goal 35 seconds in solved that issue in short order. Tyler Bozak‘s game-winner was scored later on in the same frame.

The Sharks certainly attacked, finishing the game with 73 shot attempts — more than double that of St. Louis.

But St. Louis held the line.

The final 1:55 of the third period was frantic — madness, as Jordan Binnington put it following the game. A big save from Binnington was followed up by a big block of Alex Steen. Brayden Schenn then did the only thing he could do amidst the onslaught as he iced the puck. With no times outs, the Blues couldn’t get a breather until Joel Edmundson‘s desperate attempt to clear was just short of being an icing call.

The Sharks came back, only to have a shot blocked by Bozak and eventually cleared. Ryan O'Reilly then won a key draw in the neutral zone and Oskar Sundqvist thwarted the final attempt by the Sharks.

“We’ve fought through adversity all year,” Bozak said. “We usually play our best when we have to respond to something.”

Full buy-in from a team that’s done nothing but since Jan. 3. And a 2-2 series stalemate after four games with a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup on the line.

This is simply expected from the Blues at this point.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT Conference Finals predictions


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck