Montreal pulled off the improbable Wednesday, riding another stellar effort from Jaroslav Halak and goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore to beat Washington, 2-1, in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. The Canadiens faced a 3-1 series deficit, but Halak stopped 90-of-92 shots in Games 5 and 6 to help the Habs even the matchup. The goaltender made another 41 saves Wednesday, and now the eighth-seeded Canadiens find themselves back in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2008. They will face the fourth-seeded Penguins in that round, and the matchup will begin Friday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are the only higher-seeded Eastern Conference team to have advanced out of the quarterfinals. The other semifinal will be between sixth-seeded Boston and No.7 seed Philadelphia, starting Saturday afternoon. For Washington, the series loss can be viewed as nothing but a disaster. Not only were the Capitals the Presidents' Trophy winners during the regular season with 121 points, they had three chances to close the series -- including two at home, where they were 30-5-6 during the season.
Montreal's victory capped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the conference semis are set to start on Thursday with Game 1 between the fifth- seeded Detroit Red Wings and top-seeded San Jose Sharks at the Shark Tank. These two teams have met three times in the postseason before, with the last coming in the 2007 conference semifinals, which the Red Wings won in six games. While Detroit has advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in each of the past two seasons, San Jose is looking for its first conference finals appearance since 2004.
Colorado's Joe Sacco, Phoenix's Dave Tippett and Nashville's Barry Trotz have been named finalists for the Jack Adams Award as the top coach in the NHL. Sacco, in his first season as an NHL head coach, led the Avalanche from the basement of the Western Conference to the eighth seed in this year's playoffs, while Tippett guided the Coyotes to a 28-point turnaround from last year and led the club to its first playoff appearance since 2002. Trotz, the only coach in Nashville's brief history, led the Predators to a record of 47-29-6 for 100 points, the third-best mark in the club's 11 seasons.
There were two NBA playoff games on the schedule for Thursday. In Game 5 of the Milwaukee-Atlanta series, John Salmons scored eight of his 19 points during a huge fourth-quarter run, as the Bucks rallied for a 91-87 win over Atlanta to grab the lead after five games. Milwaukee, after winning three in a row, is one win away from capturing its first playoff series since 2001. Utah, meanwhile, was unable to knock out the Nuggets in Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series, as Denver pulled out a 116-102 victory to extend the series.
Two Game 6s are on the NBA's schedule for Thursday, and the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs will both try to advance into the second round. The third- seeded Suns, coming off a home win in Game 5, will look to oust the upstart Portland Trail Blazers, while the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks will try to extend their series to a Game 7 with a win in San Antonio after posting a home victory in Game 5.
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard has been fined $35,000 for using his personal blog to criticize officials. Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations, announced the fine Wednesday, the second time this season Howard has taken a hit in the pockets for such an instance. Howard's comments appeared on April 27, a day after the Magic completed a first-round sweep of the Bobcats. The All-Star center and two-time reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year fouled out of the final two games in the set and committed five fouls in the first two contests. The limited playing time caused Howard to average just 9.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in the four games, well below his season numbers of 18.3 and 13.2. Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and forward Matt Barnes also were fined $35,000 apiece last week for criticizing officials.
Lookin At Lucky has been installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's 136th running of the Kentucky Derby. Sidney's Candy, who beat Lookin At Lucky in the Santa Anita Derby, is the second choice at 5-1. The two favorites will bookend the field of 20 three-year-olds, as Lookin At Lucky will start from the inside post position and Sidney's Candy will break from post 20. The trio of Awesome Act, Ice Box and filly Devil May Care will open at 10-1 in the morning line.
The Quail Hollow Championship is set to begin on Thursday, and plenty of storylines abound. First is Tiger Woods, who will make his second post-scandal start after tying for fourth place at the Masters. He won this event in 2007. Masters champ Phil Mickelson will also be in the field, while Sean O'Hair will try to defend his title after beating Lucas Glover by a stroke last year.
Rafael Nadal continued his strong play on clay this season with a 6-1, 6-3 rout of Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round of the Italian Masters. Nadal, who had a first-round bye, won the Monte Carlo Masters two weeks ago in dominant fashion as he prepares for another run at the French Open crown. The four-time champ on the famed clay at Roland Garros dropped only 14 games in five matches in Monte Carlo. Robin Soderling, who stunned Nadal in the fourth round at last year's French Open, also advanced today with a 6-1, 7-5 triumph over Italy's Paolo Lorenzi.