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Penguins Beat Sharks, Head Home with Chance to Win the Cup



Metallica started the night with an electric version of the American national anthem, but it was mostly downhill from there for the hometown San Jose Sharks.

The greying Bay Area rockers were there at the SAP Center, hoping to get the Sharks off on the right foot, and providing energy for a team that has started slowly in every game of the Stanley Cup Final.

But it didn’t work.

Nothing seemed to be working for the Sharks, who were out of sync again as the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to frustrate all of San Jose’s big shooters.

For the fourth game in a row, the Penguins scored first and ultimately skated off with a 3-1 victory, which gave them a 3-1 lead in the series and a chance to wrap up their first Stanley Cup championship since 2009 back on home ice on Thursday.

Pittsburgh has been on a weird karmic ride since about December, with one unlikely hero after another emerging during its playoff run.

None was more unusual than defenceman Ian Cole, who went exactly 104 games, regular-season and playoffs, without a goal before getting the Penguins on the board 7:36 into the first period.

The Sharks were guilty of massively botching a line change, which left Cole wide open, skating down the left wing and in perfect position to convert the rebound of a Phil Kessel shot past San Jose goaltender Martin Jones.

Cole’s early marker forced the Sharks to chase the game again, which was exactly the opposite of the game plan San Jose coach Peter DeBoer outlined during Monday morning’s press briefing. High on DeBoer’s to-do-list: Get on the board first, the way they did so many times in the first three playoff rounds – it’s why they’re in the Stanley Cup Final to begin with.

That they couldn’t do it had a lot to do with an energized game the Penguins received from centre Evgeni Malkin, who’d been in a deep scoring funk for the past three rounds, with only one goal in a 15-game span. But Malkin drew the second assist on Cole’s opening goal with a clever pass to Kessel, and then scored the Penguins’ first power-play goal of the series early in the second to push their lead to two goals.

On Malkin’s goal, Crosby made the play possible, even if he didn’t earn an official assist on the play, by winning a faceoff from the Sharks’ Chris Tierney cleanly back to Kris Letang at the point. Letang played pitch-and-catch with Kessel before Kessel threaded a pass through to Malkin, who was positioned at the goal post for an easy tap-in.

The goal came nine seconds after Melker Karlsson was sent off to interfering with the Penguins’ Eric Fehr, a play DeBoer clearly indicated he thought was a dive.

Karlsson helped the Sharks get it close, scoring his fourth of the playoffs just before the halfway point of the third period, after his line – with Tierney and Nic Spaling – controlled the puck in the Penguins’ zone for most of their shift. It re-energized the crowd, which had had little to cheer about after Malkin’s goal, and set the stage for a big Sharks push that was ultimately unsuccessful.

 Sullivan had been adamant through Malkin’s slump – that as long as he was doing the right things in other areas of the game, he wasn’t too worried about the lack of production on the score sheet, noting: “

Geno, he’s an elite player, a world-class player. He still has had an impact on this series even though he hasn’t scored. I know how much it means to him to help this team win, his care factor.”

Malkin’s goal left the Sharks reeling badly and they were lucky it wasn’t 4-0 within the next two minutes, with both Justin Schultz and Tom Kuhnhackl rattling shots off the post.

San Jose eventually settled things down, though the Sharks were still having a hard time getting shots through the net, with Joe Pavelski, their leading scorer and team captain, probably the most frustrated of all. Once they’d fallen behind by two goals, DeBoer loaded up his top line again, moving Logan Couture up with Pavelski and Joe Thornton, to try and break through the resolute Penguins’ defence.

Tomas Hertl normally plays on that top line at even strength, but he missed his second consecutive game with a lower body injury, and there’s speculation that he may be done for the playoffs.

San Jose needs more from everyone, and especially needs to see what might happens if the Penguins ever fell behind in the game. Even with edgy guitar riffs playing in their ears, San Jose could not match Pittsburgh’s start.

“The scores show that the team that scores first usually wins,” said DeBoer. “We get it. We’ve got to find a way to get it going.”

Sadly for the Sharks, it might be too late.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

Read more…

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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