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Toronto has willed its way back into the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against Boston with consecutive elimination-game wins to force a decisive Game 7 in Boston on Saturday.

But the Leafs’ path from trailing the Bruins 3-1 into a do-or-die, winner-take-all outing might have been the easy part. What comes next — actually closing out Boston and advancing to the second round for only the second time since 2004 — will be an entirely different battle.

“All we’ve done is dig ourselves out of a hole that we created,” Sheldon Keefe said on Friday. “We haven’t accomplished nearly enough of what we set out to do. Now the real test comes, and the real opportunity.”

What’s less clear is whether Toronto’s best player will be back in the lineup for Game 7. Auston Matthews has been sidelined by what the Leafs deemed a “lingering” illness since being pulled from the third period of Game 4. He’s been skating with Toronto’s assistant coaches since then, but Matthews was ruled out for both Games 5 and 6. There appeared to be hope that Matthews might return for Game 7.

“There’s been progress,” Keefe said Friday. “He skated again here today, but no determination on his availability.”

Toronto has had to shuffle its forwards throughout the series already to accommodate William Nylander missing Games 1, 2 and 3 with an undisclosed injury. It was Nylander who powered the Leafs to a 2-1 victory in Game 6 Thursday by scoring both goals.

Keefe noted how the Leafs haven’t faced an opponent that’s desperate to keep their own season alive. When he reflected on Toronto’s situation Thursday, Keefe said it felt like the Leafs had just played two Game 7s to reach the real thing. And when they actually do, for once, the Bruins would have no excuse not to match Toronto’s level of urgency.

Boston coach Jim Montgomery has been vocal with his frustration over how the Bruins came out in Game 5 and Game 6, being outshot by a combined 23-3 in those first periods. The Bruins’ top skaters have also been quiet, prompting Montgomery to publicly call out star winger David Pastrnak after Game 6 for needing to “step up.”

There’s pressure — and painful history — for both teams entering Game 7. Toronto is 1-4 against Boston in series that have gone seven games, including back-to-back first-round defeats in 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, the Bruins would live in infamy with a loss on Saturday as the only NHL, MLB or NBA team in history to blow consecutive 3-1 series leads in the playoffs (Boston was up by that margin over Florida in the first-round last year before eventually being jettisoned in Game 7).

While Montgomery can acknowledge the issues Boston has dealt with, he’s adamant the Bruins are taking steps to address those problems.

“We’re doing some things already to change what we hope [will create] a different start,” Montgomery said. “I’m an opportunistic, positive person. Even though I’m mad and frustrated at times, I look for ways to get better and to come out of it. How are we going to get better?”

That’s exactly the question he’s put toward Pastrnak and the rest of Boston’s premier players. Pastrnak has generated two goals and four points in the series but was missing from the scoresheet in Games 5 and 6. Brad Marchand has also failed to be the difference-maker he was earlier in the series — producing three goals and eight points — when Boston had a chance to send Toronto packing.

Montgomery said the message he relayed postgame Thursday about Pastrnak is the same one he brought to the Bruins’ room.

“I talked to [Pastrnak] right after the game about it,” Montgomery said. “I talked to him about it during the game. Pasta and I have a really healthy, communicative relationship, and he’s ready to go.”

Toronto’s power play has not been ready to go. It’s 1-for-20 in the playoffs.

Keefe made light of how ineffective the man advantage has been while declaring it still had time to make a comeback, too.

“We’re not going to decline the power play, no,” Keefe said jokingly. “We’ve changed things a lot. It’s a combination of giving the guys a really good recipe and a good plan and making adjustments, but also showing trust and confidence and faith and belief. As you’ve seen in our 5-on-5 game and our penalty kill the last two games. You see the confidence that comes through belief. The power play doesn’t have that right now. No better time for it to happen than Game 7. You talk about moments — the power play can come through for us at a moment like this, you can quickly forget anything that’s happened beforehand.”

What the Leafs don’t want is to lose their edge — more specifically, the tenacity that’s put the Bruins on the ropes with one last bout in Boston.

“We still have work to do,” Morgan Rielly said. “Not much changes to our approach or our mindset. We’re in a position where, if we win, we’re alive; if we lose, we’re dead. That’s where we’ve been the last two games and I think we’ve performed well under those circumstances.”

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th




Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

DETROIT — Matt Vierling homered twice, including a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Jordan Romano in the ninth inning that gave Detroit a wild 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday after the Tigers wasted a five-run lead and recovered from a two-run deficit.

Vierling had four hits and tied career highs with two homers and four RBIs.

“My brother and I in the back yard, we’d always be doing situations like that,” Vierling said. “It’s kind of cool when it actually happens.”

Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and Spencer Torkelson hit a solo shot for Detroit, which led 5-0 after three innings, 8-3 after five and 9-5 after six. The Tigers set a season high for runs and tied their high with 17 hits.

Torkelson had three hits and scored three runs.

“He’s really easy to root for,” Torkelson said of Vierling. “To see him come through, we had all the faith in the world and confidence he’d get the job done there. That’s exactly what he did.”

Toronto’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa homered in the seventh off Tyler Holton, and the Blue Jays took an 11-9 lead with a five-run eighth when Bo Bichette hit a two-run single off Jason Foley and Daulton Varsho hit a three-run homer.

Toronto manager John Schneider drew some consolation by the way his team kept fighting back.

“It’s easy to kind of quit after that and the guys did the exact opposite,” he said. “Chipped away and came back with huge hits from Bo and Varsh.”

Mark Canha tied the score with a two-run single against Yimi Garcia in the bottom half, his third hit.

Vierling, who hit a solo homer in the fifth off Zach Pop, drove a full-count slider from Romano (1-2) over the left-field wall for his first big league walk-off hit. A two-time All-Star, Romano has allowed three homers this year, half his total last season.

“I was ready for that pitch that he threw me 3-2,” Vierling said. “I was kind of looking for it 2-2, as well, but it was low and I was able to check my swing enough. The next pitch was the same pitch, just a little more up.”

Mason Englert (1-0) pitched a hitless ninth for the Tigers (26-27), who won the last three games of a four-game series against the last-place Blue Jays (23-29).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his second four-hit game of the season for the Blue Jays.

Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs and eight hits in 4⅓ innings. Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings. Mize and Kikuchi are 0-3 each in their six starts.

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Braves’ Acuna leaves game with knee soreness




Braves' Acuna leaves game with knee soreness

PITTSBURGH — Ronald Acuna Jr. left the Atlanta Braves8-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning Sunday with left knee soreness after his knee appeared to buckle.

The reigning National League MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuna started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee appeared to buckle. He remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

Acuna, a 26-year-old outfielder, is batting .250 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Adam Duvall shifted from left to right in the bottom half, and Jarred Kelenic entered the game in place of Acuna and played left.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Royals’ Massey again on IL with low back injury




Royals' Massey again on IL with low back injury

The Kansas City Royals placed second baseman Michael Massey on the 10-day injured list Sunday because of a low back ligament sprain.

In a corresponding move, the Royals recalled shortstop Nick Loftin from Triple-A Omaha.

Massey homered in the fifth inning of the Royals’ 8-1 victory over the host Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. He exited the game in the next inning and did not play Saturday.

He also missed the start of the season with a lower back strain.

“It’s more of the same, what he has been dealing with since the spring, just some tightness,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “We’re going to have to take his lead on it and manage it. He’s feeling better, moving around and exercising, but we’re going to have to manage it day to day.”

Massey, 26, is hitting .294 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 29 games. He has a .306 on-base percentage, .529 slugging percentage and .835 OPS.

Loftin hit .276 (8-for-29) in 13 games with Kansas City this season. He is batting .308 (28-for-91) in 32 career games.

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