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Leafs’ Auston Matthews among finalists for NHL’s Lady Byng award

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews, Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon and St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly are the three finalists for the 2019-20 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.

The award is presented annually to the player best combining sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability.

Matthews finished third in the NHL with a career-high 47 goals, one behind Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy co-winners Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak, while also topping the Maple Leafs with a career-best 80 points in 70 games.

The 22-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., native also established a career-low with eight penalty minutes, tied for the fewest among the NHL’s top 100 scorers. He did so while sharing second place in the League in takeaways (78) and ranking eighth among NHL forwards in total time on ice (1,467 minutes 52 seconds).

“It’s not a fun place to watch the game, from in the penalty box,” Matthews said. “I prefer to spend my time not there. I’m not overly physical or an in-your-face kind of player. I try to use my body position and try to use my stick and little skills to win puck battles, win the puck back, and play my game.

“There’s lots of ups and downs … try not to get too emotional.”

Matthews’ exemplary on-ice conduct, however, came after an adverse start to the season when news broke in September that he was facing a charge of disorderly conduct and disruptive behaviour stemming from an alleged May incident outside his condominium Scottsdale, Ariz.

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Matthews issued an apology in November after the charge was dismissed following a settlement between the parties.

MacKinnon ranked fifth in the NHL with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games to lead the Avalanche into the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The 24-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., registered a career-low 12 penalty minutes, the second-fewest among the league’s top 25 scorers. No other NHL forward averaged more time on ice (21:13) in 2019-20 while taking fewer penalties.

O’Reilly led the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 71 games to power the team to the highest points percentage in the Western Conference. The 29-year-old from Clinton, Ont., topped the NHL in both face-off wins (880) and face-offs taken (1,556), ranking 10th among qualifying players with a 56.6 face-off winning percentage.

O’Reilly received five minor penalties, the sixth time in his 11 NHL seasons he has totalled 10 or fewer penalty minutes, while ranking seventh in the League in takeaways (69) and 10th among NHL forwards in total time on ice (1,460:45).

“It’s amazing to be nominated,” O’Reilly said. “It’s an honour and I look forward to finding who’s the winner.”

Ryan, Lindblom, Johns named Masterson finalists

Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan, Philadelphia Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom and Dallas Stars defenceman Stephen Johns are the finalists for the 2020 Bill Masterton Trophy.

The award is given out annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.

Ryan entered the NHL/NHL Players’ Assistance program on Nov. 20 to get help for alcohol addiction. After going public with his story in an effort to help others with addiction issues, an emotional Ryan returned to the ice Feb. 27 and scored three times in a 5-2 win over visiting Vancouver.

“My journey started in November, but the process of getting there began a long time before that,” Ryan said Thursday on a videoconference. “Wasn’t healthy, wasn’t doing the right things for myself and wasn’t treating a lot of things that were left unchecked by myself, my group around me for a long period of time.

“Once I started to identify those things, the sobriety part of it was the easy part. It’s about having conversations now and letting go of some things that have hindered me for a very, very long period of time that I put away and tried to get away from with alcohol with avoidance, with whatever it might have been.”

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Ryan said he still has tough days, but that the down times are farther apart.

“I feel like I’m in a much better place than I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “And that only comes with doing the work. I’ve been doing that and feel good.”

Johns missed all of last season and the first 47 games of this one with painful headaches due to post-concussion syndrome. He scored four games into his return on Feb. 3 against the Rangers, with his parents in attendance at Madison Square Garden.

“My journey was a long one. Throughout the first five or six months, I was doing anything I could possibly to get back on the ice as soon as possible,” Johns said. “I never in my wildest dreams [thought] it would take 22 months to fulfil that. But I think about a year in I started to lose a lot of hope because every doctor I was going to see or every specialist I was going to see they were telling me one thing and then the other was telling me a different thing. A handful of them told me that they would probably never tell me to play hockey again.

“I leaned on my support system a lot, probably too much at times. But that was probably the biggest thing that helped me get through.”

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Lindblom was diagnosed in December with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumour that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones. He completed radiation treatments on July 2.

The rising star had 11 goals and 18 points in 30 games this season. While he has recently skated at the Flyers’ complex in Voorhees, New Jersey, he has been ruled out of playing when the NHL season resumes.

“It’s incredible what he’s been through,” Johns said of Lindblom, who wasn’t on the call because he underwent a procedure as part of his recovery. “Very different from our situations. It was a story that everybody in the NHL was following.

“It’s just incredible to see how well he’s doing.”

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