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EDMONTON, Alberta — The defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues were managing their pursuit of a repeat well, carrying the best record in the Western Conference with largely the same roster.

Then, with less than a month remaining in the regular season, the global pandemic put the NHL on pause. When the Blues reconvened in Edmonton, they found nothing but trouble in the bubble.

St. Louis was eliminated in six games in the first round by the younger, faster and apparently hungrier Vancouver Canucks.

“You can’t win in this league unless you have every guy ready to go and give you his best, in the playoffs. You have to have that,” coach Craig Berube said. “Our team was successful last year because we had everybody on board every night.”

The Blues went 0-2-1 in the seeding games, playing with a touch of disinterest. They rallied from two games down against the Canucks to tie this series, but then they squandered a 3-1 lead in the second period of Game 5, lost 4-3 and never recovered.

Jordan Binnington took the net for Game 6 on Friday night at Rogers Place and fell behind 4-0 before the midpoint of the second period, pulled for Jake Allen.

“At times we looked like a junior team out there, the way we just turned the puck over, not playing the right way,” a dejected center Ryan O’Reilly said after Game 6. “Yeah, it came back to bite us.”

Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Troy Brouwer, Tyler Bozak and defenseman Carl Gunnarrsson were all hurt, or reinjured, during the series. None of them suited up for Game 6.

“We missed some guys that give us a real identity when they’re in the lineup,” said Berube, who took over early in the 2018-19 season when Mike Yeo was fired and wound up leading a turnaround from last place to the franchise’s first title in a matter of seven months. “Nothing was easy here for us.”

Tarasenko, who missed most of the regular season after shoulder surgery, aggravated the previous injury and was sent home before Game 3 against the Canucks. He had no points and just 10 shots in four games in Edmonton, after totaling 11 goals and six assists during the postseason last year.

Binnington was the rookie star of the Stanley Cup run, going 16-10 with a 2.46 goals against average and a .914 save percentage in the playoffs — giving up a total of three goals in three elimination games. He led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage during the regular season, but his follow-up performance wasn’t quite as sharp. Allen outperformed him in a smaller sample size and was in the net for the wins in Games 3 and 4 before losing Game 5, but Berube went with a “gut feeling” and sent Binnington back between the pipes for Game 6.

“He’s done a lot for us, and we won a championship with him, so that was my decision,” Berube said.

The defeat on Friday night could have been the final time in a Blues uniform for defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who will be an unrestricted free agent after averaging 47 points per season over the last seven years.

Brouwer and defenseman Jay Boumeester are the other notable unrestricted free agents. Boumeester collapsed on the bench during a game on Feb. 11 and had a defibrillator implanted in his chest.

“It’s not a fun situation to be in, especially when you’ve been somewhere your whole career,” Pietrangelo said. “I guess really my only thought is to get home, see my kids, and see where the future takes us.”

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South Africa v England, 2nd T20I, Paarl

Eoin Morgan credited England’s experience of holding their nerve in close games as a key factor behind their four-wicket win in Paarl.

For the second game in succession, England clinched a last-over victory after South Africa had appeared to be in the stronger position deep into the run-chase. It gives them an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

But although it looked in both games as if England were falling behind their required run-rate, Morgan suggested there were deep reserves of confidence in the dressing room that enabled them to sustain belief even under pressure.

While England have rarely played anything like a full-strength T20 side since the 2016 T20 World Cup, they have enjoyed great success in 50-over cricket utilising a squad with the same nucleus of players. Over the last four or five years, they went to No. 1 in the ODI rankings before sealing their legacy “by the barest of margins” in the 50-over World Cup final.

At the same time, more of their players have gained experience in the top T20 leagues – there were 10 England-qualified players at this year’s IPL – providing them with greater familiarity of the pressures that come with playing on the biggest stages.

“The experience helps,” Morgan told Sky Sports. “Knowing how to win is one thing, but having that experience in our playing XI helps massively. Having been there before, we can hold our nerve.

“We weren’t up with the run-rate but, with a long batting line-up and a short boundary, you’re only one over or two maximums away [from catching up] the whole time. We have guys who can hit boundaries down the order.”

Dawid Malan made a similar point. Malan claimed the player of the match award for his well-paced half-century in a relatively low-scoring match and afterwards expressed the view that England’s experience in white-ball cricket should bode well for their T20 World Cup campaign in India next year.

“The core of the team has played together for the last five years,” Malan said. “They won that World Cup, they have experience of playing white-ball cricket, they play in the IPL and other big tournaments. They’re used to playing on the big stage and getting over the line. That’s a great habit to have as a team.

“There are so many match-winners in that side. If you look at the batting line-up, everyone can win you a game.”

On this occasion – as so often in his recent rise to the No,1 T20I ranking – it was Malan who won the contest, largely by keeping faith in his ability to catch up later in the innings after a tricky start to England’s run-chase, particularly against the wristspinner Tabraiz Shamsi. With five overs remaining, he had made 25 from 30 balls but then turned up the tempo to crack 30 from his final 10.

“I found it really hard,” Malan said. “Especially against the spinners. You’re not used to them bowling that slowly in T20 cricket and, with a big boundary to one side and the wind, it wasn’t really an option to take them on.

“But with the short boundary on one side, you back yourself to be able to catch up. You’re always one over from catching up.

ALSO READ: Jason Roy’s spin struggle could prove test of Eoin Morgan’s loyalty

“The core of the team that played in the 50-over World Cup are well-versed in winning. If we can keep winning these tight games, it will put us in good stead ahead of the T20 World Cup.”

The match also represented something of a happy homecoming for Malan. While he was born in Surrey, he was brought up and schooled in Paarl. He made his debut in first-class and List A cricket on this very ground in 2006 and his parents still live in the area.

“I made my first-class debut here,” he said, “so it’s nice to come home and win a game for England.

“Funnily enough, when I was fielding on one side of the ground, my high school coach was one of the guys throwing the ball back. And there was a guy the stands who helps me out by throwing me balls when I come back to South Africa and visit my parents. So there were two guys who have played quite a big role in my cricket at the ground in some capacity.

“It would have been fantastic to get a crowd in. And it would have been nice to have my parents here.”

Both Morgan and Malan also praised England’s bowlers who restricted South Africa to a total Morgan described as “a long way under par”.

“Our bowlers set that game up for us,” Malan said. “And because they set it up, we could take a bit of time.”

“Everyone in the changing room will applaud the bowling unit which helped keep South Africa to a total that was a long way under par,” Morgan said. “Everyone contributed and the wickets were shared around. The bowlers did an excellent job.”

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Recent Match Report – New Zealand vs West Indies 2nd T20I 2020

Toss West Indies chose to bowl vs New Zealand

Grey skies greeted both teams at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui — with showers in the earlier part of the morning delaying the start of play by 15 minutes, and the toss by 25 — as West Indies captain Kieron Pollard handed a T20I debut to allrounder Kyle Mayers, replacing Kesrick Williams from the team that played the first match on Friday.

New Zealand effected one change as well, with leg spinner Ish Sodhi replacing Hamish Bennett. Sodhi has taken 10 wickets in T20Is at the Bay Oval, more than any other bowler, and joins compatriot Trent Boult (9) and Rubel Hossain of Bangladesh (6) among the three bowlers with more than five wickets at this venue.

New Zealand had won the first T20I in Auckland by 5 wickets, chasing a DLS-adjusted target of 176 in 16 overs, after West Indies put up 180 for 7 off their 16 overs, shortened from the original 20 after three rain interruptions, the last of which took place after they had reached 96 for 5 off 10 overs.

New Zealand: 1 Tim Seifert (wk), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Glenn Phillips, 4 Devon Conway, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 James Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Tim Southee (capt), 9 Kyle Jamieson, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Ish Sodhi

West Indies: 1 Andre Fletcher, 2 Brandon King, 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Rovman Powell, 7 Fabian Allen, 8 Kyle Mayers, 9 Keemo Paul, 10 Oshane Thomas, 11 Sheldon Cottrell

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Texas Tech levels score with Oklahoma State, 14-14, thanks to SaRodorick Thompson’s second TD of the day

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