Yet again, our swarthy men of virtue drop the gloves and face off on top stories from around the NHL.
LOS ANGELES -- At 7:48 PDT as dusk gathered over the City of Angels, the Stanley Cup finally had its Hollywood ending.
Fans celebrate in the streets after the Los Angeles Kings take home the Stanley Cup.
On the first page of the little blue book of hockey clichés, the Stanley Cup is referred to as a marathon and not a sprint, which is why the Los Angeles Kings' apparent 10K fun run to the first championship in their star-crossed history was as unseemly as it was improbable.
LOS ANGELES -- As they returned to Tinseltown for Game 6, the Devils desperately needed starring roles from Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, their ace forwards who combined for 68 goals during the regular season. Whether Kovalchuk has been hobbled by the bad back he downplays and Parise has been distracted by the impending free agency he won't discuss, the pair has been largely AWOL in losses and vital in victories.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Only two teams that trailed 0-3 in a Stanley Cup Final have ever pushed the series to six games: the Detroit Red Wings in 1945 and the famed '42 Toronto Maple Leafs, who won the championship with four straight wins. Now the 2012 New Jersey Devils can be added to that short list after defeating the Los Angeles Kings, 2-1, at the Prudential Center on Saturday night.
The New Jersey Devils fended off the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, winning 2-1 to extend the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup championship series another game.
NEWARK, N.J. -- In all sports, the 0-3 series hole might as well be the equivalent of an open grave. The number of times that teams have overcome such a deep deficit can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And yet, the Devils haven't made their beds in the soil quite yet.
Yet again, our intrepid scribes set aside their quills to chew on the week's top news from around the NHL.
LOS ANGELES -- On the road again. It's a ballad better suited for a team in a country and western city. It could work in Dallas or Nashville, but the L.A. Kings will at least feel comfortable breaking it out for Game 5. With a chance to clinch before the local glitterati, the Kings instead are licking their wounds after a 3-1 loss to the Devils and will head for the gritty confines of New Jersey, a place where they have already won twice.
LOS ANGELES -- The Stanley Cup playoffs are supposed to be a marathon, but for the Los Angeles Kings, the spring of 2012 had pretty much been a 10K fun run where the organizers pass out sponsored T-shirts. The Kings had just loped along past the water stations known as the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes and then put on a finishing kick that looked like it was going to sweep them past the New Jersey Devils and through the tape, ending the most soporific Cup final since the franchise entered the NHL 45 years ago.
The Los Angeles Kings will have to wait until at least Saturday to see whether the Cinderella skates fit.
LOS ANGELES -- In the 2012 Stanley Cup highlight film in a city that loves its movies, Game 3 will be a remake of the 1985 Bond opus, "A View to a Kill."
The math is bad in New Jersey. No, it has nothing to do with the environment, the tax rates or delays in the ferryboats across the river. Even the Path trains are running on time. But the 3-0 deficit the team faces in the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings seems much bigger than the numbers themselves.
LOS ANGELES -- You're the New Jersey Devils, looking for answers as you stare into the abyss of failed power plays, a goalie you can't beat, changing forward combinations that aren't generating goals and a 3-0 deficit against the Los Angeles Kings.
In a series that at times has had the necessary offensive antidotes -- strong goaltending, neutral-zone clutter and bad ice -- the Kings used bursts of offensive brilliance for a second straight game to topple the Devils in overtime. After Jeff Carter's goal at 13:42 of OT gave them a 2-1 win, the Kings now head back to Los Angeles with a perfect 10-0 record on the road and perfectly positioned to win their first Stanley Cup.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils met their enemies in their opening-game loss to Kings on Wednesday night and they were right in the mirror. After superb effort that allowed them to survive a seventh-game overtime against Florida, outskate hot Philadelphia and thwart the rival Rangers, New Jersey must now rebound from a well-earned defeat in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. "Honestly we didn't deserve to win," veteran Devils forward Patrik Elias said after his team's 2-1 overtime loss. "You need to have all 20 guys going in the Stanley Cup finals and we just didn't have that."
The NHL's lion in winter is back in the spring.
On his way out of the room at Media Day at the Stanley Cup finals, Alexei Ponikarovsky looked at the familiar silver trophy decorating the NHL Network set and blurted to no one in particular, "Is that the real Stanley Cup?"
Regular season series: Devils win 2-0
NEWARK, N.J. -- Forget the silver hairs, the gaudy résumé dragging along the floor, the questions about age and even the ghosts he thought he'd buried long ago; Martin Brodeur stood tall with a legend's prescience and saved his case of the yips for a postgame leap into a pile of teammates.
Once again, our intrepid hockey scribes have thrown down the gloves to take on some of the Stanley Cup playoffs' big issues and stories as well as each other. Click here for last week's thrilling installment.
Make no mistake: the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are rivals, bound by geography and defined by history. Their proximity is obvious looking across the Hudson, at the standings and in seeing the two teams battle six times annually during the regular season as part of the Atlantic Division. History is personal, made in the moment by the players involved and remembered throughout time by the fans on each side. It becomes the fabric that enthralls us all when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
NEW YORK -- At some point, it's time to expect the unexpected, to look at the player who entered the postseason with one NHL game this year and see not a fourth-line plug but an integral piece of a winning puzzle. On a team that boasts such offensive talent as sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and workhorse Zach Parise, it would be easy to see players like Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier as bit players -- perhaps heroes for an evening. But night in and night out this spring, their impact continues to be felt, and on the backs of their fourth line, New Jersey pulled within a win of the Eastern Conference title by defeating the Rangers 5-3 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
On Sunday J.J. Henry led the Byron Nelson Championship by a stroke on 17, at which time he hit his tee shot six yards over the green, double-bogeyed the hole, finished tied for third and told the press, "I thought I hit a good shot but the golf gods thought otherwise." And with that, responsibility lay not with Henry, nor even a single supernatural force -- a soft-spiked, hard-hearted golf god -- but with a whole panel of multiple gods subjectively critiquing his performance, like the judges on American Idol.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Zach Parise can usually be found sunny-side up, the kind of gentleman for whom every day brings a reason for optimism. So when the Devils' captain begged off his usual postgame obligations after the Rangers shut his team out in Game 3 Saturday afternoon, it was either a sign of frustration or a hint of fortitude and resolution to follow. On Monday night, Parise answered, lifting his team into a tie series and an entirely new posture. With two goals and an assist in the Devils' decisive 4-1 victory in Game 4 against the Rangers, Parise gave his teammates reason to smile anew. "Feels much better," said Devils forward Adam Henrique. "Zach pulled us up and it's a new series now."
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils figured out a way to get through the Rangers' vaunted defense; now they have to find ways to beat their goalie.
NEW YORK -- The New Jersey Devils' David Clarkson is now 3-for-3. When he tipped in a high point shot from Adam Henrique past New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the 27-year-old winger scored his third goal of the postseason -- incidentally, his third game-winner of this spring. Clarkson himself has no answer as to why his stick has a certain Midas touch this spring.
Does anyone get the feeling that this is 2004 all over again? It's the Stanley Cup playoffs, the pinnacle of NHL competition, yet there is such an unsettled feeling to this year's proceedings -- as was the case eight years ago. The similarities as I see them are: a collective bargaining agreement about to expire, unforeseen playoff runs by unlikely teams, and much ado about a boring brand of hockey. Let's debate, shall we...
If these playoffs have told us one thing, it's that rest is for wimps. For teams that had a lot of rest and relaxation coming in, the results the next series have been rusty and rotten.
Regular season series: Rangers win 3-2-1
John Tortorella was given the chance to counteract what Dale Hunter acted upon in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday night. And there is your difference as to why the New York Rangers are pushing on with their season, and the Capitals are all done.
Martin Brodeur was unstrapping his goaltending pads after another victory, about to be rushed to a TV interview, when a reporter on deadline made a request. Could he answer just one quick question?
Whatever John Tortorella said to his players before Game 6 Wednesday night, they totally ignored him. On a night when his New York Rangers could have eliminated the Washington Capitals and moved on the Eastern Conference finals, Tortorella's troops played a robotic, passion-free hockey game, with the thought bubble that seemed to say "It's OK, we can get 'em in Game 7 in our barn if we don't do it tonight."
Much sweat and blood has been invested in a playoff season that has surprised many. Certainly, parity has played a part in the exits of top seeds and favorites in the early rounds, where the work harder/give more mantra is enough to make a difference. The Western Conference is evidence of that, as both coaches of the finalists, Dave Tippett in Phoenix and Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles, have long subscribed to that coaching credo. Same in the east where John Tortorella's Rangers and Dale Hunter's Capitals are set for a Game 7 on Saturday night because both men have their respective teams sacrificing everything physically to an utterly jaw-dropping degree.
Behind two first-period goals and 27 saves by goalie Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils dropped the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night, taking the series and advancing to the Conference finals for the first time since 2003.
1. Marc Staal, Rangers. Staal had just two goals and five points on the season after his debut was delayed by long-term concussion issues, but after pounding home the winner in New York's I-can't-believe-that-just-happened 3-2 overtime win on Monday night, he's already matched those totals in the playoffs. The goal -- a laser from the blue liner that took full advantage of an Artem Anisimov screen -- is likely to go down as one of the greatest in Rangers lore, but it was the amazing defensive work in the third when he broke up a 3-on-1 twice on the same play that kept New York within striking distance and set the table for the remarkable comeback.
NEW YORK -- Call it the power of pessimism. With his team down in the waning seconds of a likely 2-1 defeat in Game 5, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was looking ahead.
The utter dominance of the Devils in their 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night wasn't captured by the 4-2 final score.
Ladies and gentlemen, for this afternoon's performance, the role of the New York Rangers will be played by the Washington Capitals. All shot blocking previously depicted by Mssrs. Girardi, Staal, Del Zotto and McDonagh will instead be handled by Carlson, Alzner, Green and Schultz. Especially Schultz. Big time Schultz. One man traffic snarl, that Schultz. Time to call roadside assistance to evacuate the impediment.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk did not accompany the New Jersey Devils to Philadelphia earlier this week, but that doesn't mean he didn't make a side trip to Lourdes when everybody was looking elsewhere. The restorative waters on the other side of the great un-Zamboni-ed pond are said to promote healing better than those of Upper New York Bay, which probably has more to do with public relations than with the purity of the wet stuff in north Jersey.
The game was over in the first overtime. Matt Hendricks crushed Ryan McDonagh with a clean hit, took the puck and fed Troy Brouwer with a backhand pass to the front of the Rangers' net. A shot into a wide open right part and the Washington Capitals would be going to Game 4 with a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Brouwer simply missed it, wide right.
MONTREAL -- In the coaching realm, when an organization hits the reset button, invariably it hires what it hasn't had: a players' coach is succeeded by a disciplinarian; a prison warden replaces a country club social director; Mr. Yin yields to Mr. Yang. But the storied Montreal Canadiens, who sashay down Ste. Catherine St. to a beat sometimes only they can hear, have extended one of sport's governing principles to the front office.
The game was destined to be about the Ilyas -- that is, the Devils' Kovalchuk and the Flyers' Bryzgalov.
NEW YORK -- Enough talk about role players, fourth-liners and character-gritty-unsung one-off heroes. With one laser strike, Alex Ovechkin righted the hockey hierarchy, the emoting superstar with his fists in the air and his team on his back. With the lethal suddenness that befits the sniper he still is, Ovechkin rifled a game-winning 45-foot missile past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 7:27 to play, giving the Capitals a 3-2 victory in what is now a 1-1 series.
NEW YORK -- Three weeks ago, Chris Kreider was a champion. With Boston College, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger helped the Eagles to their fifth NCAA title as the NHL regular season was coming to a close. Three days later, he signed with the Rangers, who drafted him 19th overall in 2009, and joined the top team in the Eastern Conference for a playoff run, getting acquainted with new teammates, a new coach and New York City.
For the first two periods, this game was Ambien mixed with Melatonin. For the final 43 minutes 47 seconds, it was a triple-shot cappucino mixed with Red Bull and steroids followed by a 50,000-volt chaser of electricity.
NEW YORK -- Thanks to a defense-turned-offense that was unexpected and timely goaltending that was presumed, the New York Rangers are alive to play another game, the remaining top-seeded team after a first round of playoffs that cleared out a number of favorites and left eight fortunate and resilient survivors.
What? You didn't know the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are set to meet tonight in a decisive Game 7?
It had been the closest series in NHL playoff history coming in, so did we already know that Wednesday's Game 7 between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins would go to overtime? Yup.
NEWARK, N.J. -- It came as no surprise that a game between the Devils and Panthers went to overtime. After all, Florida led the league with 25 extra sessions this season; New Jersey was close behind with 22. If anything, it's shocking the teams hadn't needed more than regulation before Game 6 on Tuesday night. At times, it looked like a marathon was in the making as they traded chances early in the extra frame.
Whether it was Henrik Lundqvist shaking with anger at the final horn, Chris Neil barking through his 7-10 split teeth, John Tortorella clearly mouthing one of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on TV or Paul MacLean heatedly saying ... something ... through that Wilford Brimley mustache, everyone it seems got their two cents in to the referees during the Rangers' 3-2 stayin'-alive win over the Senators at Scotiabank Place.
NEW YORK -- They didn't look all that different Saturday night, those Senators and Rangers. Both teams, backed by solid goaltending, undermined by impotent power plays, looked for any edge in a 2-2 series, however thin it might be. And in the end, it was Ottawa that found it, defeating top-seeded New York, 2-0, in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
The Penguins learned a tough lesson Sunday. You can only dodge a bullet for so long. Especially when you keep supplying the other guys with ammunition.
Zdeno Chara looked like the hapless extra in a Steven Seagal movie fight, Patrice Bergeron was playing with an "upper-body injury" that could have been a concussion, Brad Marchand had a bloodied mouth from a miscalculated Fosbury Flop and Tim Thomas looked just, well, pooped.
1 Craig Anderson, Senators -- The formula's pretty simple. For a No. 8 seed to even entertain the thought of rousting the top seed from the playoffs, it needs some clutch scoring, contributions from an unsung hero and some Ronnie Biggs-type thievery between the pipes. The Senators got all three tonight, including a pair of goals from Jason Spezza -- his first in the series -- and a stellar debut from Mark Stone, the Team Canada World Junior star who made the most of his chance with a physical presence and a slick pass to set up Spezza's game-winner.
It was a reverse-jinx theory that even some of the most superstitious types had finally abandoned, even as the playoffs began. The theory: Maybe it was the best thing for the Washington Capitals to enter the playoffs as a low seed this time around. No more "If this team doesn't win a Cup, the whole season will be a bust" beast of a burden expectations-wise.
On pure Flower power, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going back to Philadelphia.
Spontaneous, and mostly coherent, thoughts after watching New Jersey zip Florida 4-0 and St. Louis get past San Jose 2-1 on Thursday night ...
A hockey coach by the name of Bowman once told me -- and I'm paraphrasing here: "The best games of a playoff series almost always come at the very beginning and very end. The middle games, both teams get a little tired, take a little bit of a breather, especially the team up in the series."
This wasn't exactly the way the Ottawa Senators had game-planned it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins live on for another day, and so does the controlling narrative of their series with the Philadelphia Flyers: nobody can stop the puck.
Hey Boston and Washington, what took you so long? Welcome, finally, to the Postseason of Hate.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The laws of physics can explain just about everything about life on Earth. It can explain why a stone falls faster than a feather, why lightning strikes, why snow falls. So, of course, physics can shed light on what happens on 16,327 square feet of ice.
Let's just get the most obvious unbelievable statements out of the way first:
NEW YORK -- Before this first-round series began, the Rangers and Senators shared essentially nothing. No playoff history to speak of, no lingering animosity from years past, no bitter memories of defeat or grudges to be evened. But in 61 minutes and 17 seconds, all of that changed, and the eventful first chapter of the Rangers-Senators saga was written on the ice of Madison Square Garden Saturday night.
1. Claude Giroux, Flyers -- In my 17 years of covering this league, this was the best playoff performance I've personally seen by a forward. When you start mentioning the names Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, you know it was a pantheon performance, and it sure was for the Flyers' center Friday in Game 2 at Pittsburgh Friday night.
PITTSBURGH -- Like the little girl in the movie serials decades ago, apparently the Philadelphia Flyers don't really mind being tied to the railroad tracks, waiting until they hear the train whistle blow and ultimately making their escape.
NEW YORK -- It would barely warrant an entry in the legendary log of exchanges New York head coach John Tortorella has shared with reporters. But Thursday morning, just hours before his Rangers would open the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators as Eastern Conference favorites for the first time since 1994, the oft-irascible coach discussed his team's mindset going in as the Conference's top seed.
PITTSBURGH -- This is a playoff story of the Two Bears.
Season series: Senators win, 3-1
Regular season series: Capitals win, 3-1
In the misspent days of my television-watching youth in the 1950s -- this is so long ago that the remote control consisted of getting off the couch, crossing the room and turning the dial to one of the five other channels -- my favorite show was the after-school classic, The Mickey Mouse Club. (This Disney reference is only tangential to hockey, unlike Wayne Gretzky's 1984 off-the-cuff assessment of the Devils as a Mickey Mouse organization, and, of course, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but please stick with me.) The show's best day was Wednesday, known as Anything Can Happen Day. It's a memory, like Proust's madeleine, that flooded over me like hot Zamboni water recently during a chat with Predators coach Barry Trotz.
Let's be frank. The playoff races lacked drama this year. I blame too many three-point games. They cause too much head-scratching by fans over whether a bubble team actually has a shot to make it. Nobody wants to feel like they're back in Algebra II class again, trying to figure out if Team X loses -- but gets a point in overtime or a shootout -- do you have to root for Team Y to lose in regulation?
The ballots came on Thursday. Well, not real ballots. Like almost everything else that used to be on paper, the NHL awards that the Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes on are now part of the digital realm.
MONTREAL -- The circus finally left town.
NEW YORK -- This time was going to be different; it had to be. It would be impossible to hold even Sidney Crosby to the standards of last Nov. 21, when he scored two goals and four points against the Islanders in his first game back from a concussion suffered more than 10 months earlier. But if that November game was a reminder of Crosby's singular brilliance, then Thursday night at Madison Square Garden was a perfect demonstration of how Crosby, despite his status, still fits in a team.
This is a short story about the world's longest Band-Aid.
The movie Goon (here's Sarah Kwak's review from the Feb. 27 issue of Sports Illustrated) came out in Canada and the U.S. (video on demand until its limited theatrical run starts March 30) less than a year after the deaths of NHL tough guys Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. Filming took place prior to the trio's tragic demise, but Goon's release more closely coincides with news that the governing bodies Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are jointly looking at effectively ending fighting in their respective domains. Meanwhile, concussions continue to occupy hockey's headlines as the game's marquee player, Sidney Crosby, gets ready to return to game action after 14 months of dealing with the symptoms and related effects of head and neck trauma.
The history of the coaching change can be summarized, roughly, like this: bad cop followed by good cop, players' coach followed by a disciplinarian, yin followed by yang. Running a franchise is a little like life in that way. General managers, like the rest of us, invariably seem to want precisely what they don't have.
MONTREAL (AP) -- Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau had a stroke for the second time in two years and is being treated at a hospital.
It's a pre-deadline Mailbag, otherwise known as the "Let's Spin the Roulette Wheel and Guess Where Rick Nash is Going Mailbag." Really, is there any other suspense left this year?
How bad has it gotten for the Montreal Canadiens? Well, in Tuesday's must-have, bounce-back game -- after a dismal performance last Sunday in a 3-1 home loss to the New Jersey Devils -- the Habs came out flat, again on home ice.
VANCOUVER -- British Columbia is still beautiful, as one February walk through its largest city confirms. No burning cars, no broken store windows, no police officers with billy clubs held high, no foolish young men flexing phony muscles for pictures that probably will put some of them behind bars.
Opposed to what he called the "out of control" growth of the federal government, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas declined an invitation to join his teammates at the White House on Monday.
The Florida Panthers are one of those unfortunate "The last time they won a playoff game, the price of gas was (fill-in-the-blank)" franchises.
A 32-year-old man was arrested and charged Friday in the beating of two New York Rangers fans outside a landmark restaurant after the Winter Classic hockey game on January 2.
You get plenty of correspondence in this business, and my natural guilt complex makes me always want to give at least a sentence or two in reply. You take the time to write, I'll take the time to respond, even to the haters. Of course, when I blow up and become world famous (any day now, any day) that might change.
(Montreal) -- Listening to Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier speak is like reading the front page of The New York Times aloud. Publicly, he refers to defenseman Josh Gorges, who he signed this week to a six-year extension worth an average of $3.9 million annually, as Mr. Gorges. He calls Randy Cunneyworth, his interim coach, Mr. Cunneyworth. Whenever he mentions Andrei Markov, his injured star defenseman, it is invariably Mr. Markov or M. Markov, depending on the language of the question.
PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL's Winter Classic has become an unlikely showplace for fourth-liners and support players. Maybe there are just better body-heaters on the end of the bench.
This is the NHL's Little White Lie.
1. Sidney Crosby and the concussion epidemic. There are many years when you could argue that Crosby has been the focal point of hockey. This is another of those years, unfortunately for less than sanguine reasons. The Penguins' captain bracketed 2011 from Day 1 until the December reoccurrence of his concussion symptoms that have made this something other than a Merry Christmas season.
While you assuredly are aware of the Suck for Luck campaign being conducted with Swiss-watch efficiency every weekend by the feckless Indianapolis Colts, you might be less familiar with the Fail for Nail plan that could be in vogue in coming months in the NHL.
Mike Milbury, a former National Hockey League player, coach and executive, is accused of assault and battery on a child stemming from an incident at a youth hockey game.
Like Matt Damon and Bill Gates, Louis Leblanc dropped out of Harvard.
With the NHL Board of Governors in Pebble Beach, CA. on Dec. 5-6 to discuss the subject of realignment for the 2012-13 season, we asked SI.com hockey scribes Michael Farber, Sarah Kwak, Darren Eliot, Brian Cazeneuve and Adrian Dater -- to say what they would do if they ran the zoo. While addressing the question of where to place the Jets and a western team that must take Winnipeg's vacated spot in the Eastern Conference/Southeast Division, our writers were free to move teams at will, rename the divisions and conferences, and even reformat the schedule.
An otherwise lazy Sunday suddenly morphed into a manic Sid day.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The last-place Carolina Hurricanes fired coach Paul Maurice for the second time in less than a decade Monday and replaced him with former All-Star Kirk Muller.
The grand old man of the NHL's Southeast Division is now Guy Boucher, who is all of 40. The comparatively grizzled X-and-O maven of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been behind the bench for all of one season and a quarter, which makes him the longest-tenured coach in this wacky division. Gee, 100-plus games. Or as they say in the frenetic Southeast, from here to eternity.
PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins' practice on Tuesday ended with one of those shootout contests that HBO featured last year in its 24/7 series. Each skater takes shots on goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson, who take the opportunity to make flashy saves by, say, doing push-ups or bench-pressing their sticks as a shooter approaches. Last man standing this day would be the "Magazine Boy" responsible for picking up periodicals for the players' lounge.
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