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Canadiens dive on Stanley Cup odds heading into Game 2 vs. Lightning –



The Montreal Canadiens will be looking to rebound from their disappointing performance in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night in Game 2 as plus-180 road underdogs on the NHL odds at sportsbooks monitored by

Montreal came out flat in Monday’s series opener, spotting Tampa Bay an early 2-0 lead on the way to a lopsided 5-1 defeat. That marked just the team’s second loss in eight road dates going into Wednesday night’s matchup at Amalie Arena.

In addition to leaving Montreal facing a 1-0 series deficit for the second time in this year’s NHL playoffs, Monday’s loss also equalled the team’s worst defeat of the post-season. Not surprisingly, the Canadiens have taken a dive on the series prices ahead of Game 2, dipping to plus-475 longshots to rebound and claim their first Stanley Cup victory since 1993.

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While the situation looks difficult for Montreal, it is far from over for the team. Powered by their recent steady play on the road, the Canadiens have avoided consecutive losses in 14 outings since Game 4 of their first-round clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team has also shown resiliency in the wake of recent losses, surrendering just six total goals while responding with victories following each of its past three defeats.

However, unlike their recent comebacks against Toronto and Vegas, the Canadiens face a massive task to reverse their recent dismal road record against the Lightning. With Monday’s defeat, the Canadiens are now winless in each of their past seven road dates with Tampa Bay. That run features four losses by multi-goal margins, with the Lightning outscoring Montreal by a 29-13 margin during that stretch.

As the Canadiens search for answers, the Lightning look to win three games in a row for just the second time during these playoffs when they hit the ice on Wednesday as minus-220 home favourites at sports betting sites. While the Lightning have struggled to establish a lengthy win streak so far in the playoffs, they have been simply dominant on home ice. Their victory in Game 1 extended their current win streak at home to four games, during which they have outgunned opponents by a wide 18-3 margin.

Overall, the Lightning have now surrendered just 12 total goals in their past nine contests, and have been rewarded at the sportsbooks, where they have vaulted to heavy minus-750 chalk to raise the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row.

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Tokyo Olympics officially begin under spectre of pandemic – Al Jazeera English



The opening ceremony marks the beginning of the Summer Games, delayed by a year and held under unprecedented restrictions.

The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games has begun in Tokyo, with a blaze of white and indigo fireworks officially kicking off the quadrennial international sporting event being held under the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were followed by a small delegation carrying the Japanese flag as they entered Friday’s ceremony, which was initially scheduled to be held about a year earlier before its postponement due to surging COVID-19 infections across the world.

The procession was followed by a moment of silence for victims of the pandemic, as well as Israeli Olympians killed during the 1972 Munich games, before the first of an expected 5,700 athletes began streaming into the ceremony.

Only a few hundred dignitaries and special guests, including French President Emmanuel Macron and US First Lady Jill Biden, were allowed into the 68,000-capacity New National Stadium after games officials decided to largely bar spectators. International and domestic fans have been banned from all venues in Tokyo.

Top sponsors, including Toyota and Panasonic, also opted not to send their representatives to the opening event, with polls showing the Japanese public remaining largely against moving forward with the sprawling gathering in which about 11,000 athletes will contest 339 medal events across 50 disciplines in 33 sports over two weeks.

Japan’s flag is carried during the opening ceremony. [Leah Millis/Reuters]

Days preceding the ceremony have been defined by positive tests among athletes, officials and their small teams of support staff amid fears the games could become a super-spreader event.

On Friday, the number of Olympic-related infections since July 1 stood at 106, dashing the hopes of some athletes who have trained for years to qualify and forcing some events to already dip into carefully tailored contingency plans designed to assure the competition can proceed.

Concerns of further infection were on full display on Friday, with some country’s teams, notably Brazil, opting to send only their flagbearers as representatives at the ceremony.

Nevertheless, hundreds of people began gathering outside the Olympic Stadium on Friday hoping for a glimpse of what is usually an opportunity for the hosting country to offer an elaborate spectacle highlighting their history and culture to audiences watching around the world.

A small group of protesters also gathered outside of the event.

Anti-Olympics protesters gather outside the opening ceremony. ‘[Issei Kato/Reuters]

Reporting from outside the ceremony, Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson said, “There’s a sense of almost disbelief hanging around this stadium.”

“There has been so much talk about this over the last 12 months – but here we are,” he said, adding that the planners of the event have said the programme will be “sombre and in sync with the sentiment of today, what this country and the world is going through with the pandemic.”

“The opening ceremony has always been a pretty integral part of the Games in showcasing the country’s national identity, but I don’t think many host cities have had to pull off quite such a balancing act to win over such a sceptical public,” he said.

Performers are seen during the opening ceremony. [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]

Meanwhile, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sought to frame the games as the beginning of a return to normalcy after a year and a half of global uncertainty as he urged the athletes “to fully demonstrate their abilities and show us their very best performances”.

“The sight of athletes aiming to be the very best in the world gives dreams and courage to young people and children and deeply moves them,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.

Still, questions over the wisdom of moving forward with the games were not the only cloud to loom over Friday’s event.

In a last-minute scandal, the opening ceremony’s director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired on Thursday over jokes he made in the 1990s about the Holocaust.

Officials said the dismissal would not affect the programme.

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Tyler Pitlick Traded To Calgary Flames –



The Seattle Kraken have completed the first trade in franchise history, sending Tyler Pitlick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2022 fourth-round pick. Pitlick was Seattle’s selection from the Arizona Coyotes last night, but he’ll end up just a footnote in the expansion saga, never playing for the team.

The 29-year-old forward scored 11 points in 38 games last season for the Coyotes but brings a ton of physicality and versatility to the table. Known more as a bottom-six option, he has moved up at times throughout his career and even has powerplay experience. Pitlick scored a career-high 14 goals and 27 points in the 2017-18 season with the Dallas Stars, and averaged more short-handed ice time than any other Arizona forward this year.

That versatility will be helpful in Calgary, though where Pitlick fits in is still to be determined. The Flames are going through a transition period after losing captain Mark Giordano last night and could be involved in several other transactions this summer. Adding Pitlick’s $1.75MM cap hit shouldn’t change much, but it does give the team a potential replacement for some of the other bottom-six options that are set to hit free agency. Derek Ryan, Josh Leivo, and Buddy Robinson are all pending UFAs.

For the Kraken, this is the first of what could be several moves to add draft capital after last night’s event. Like Vegas a few years ago, many of the names picked through expansion will never play for Seattle, instead quickly packing their bags and heading to another North American city to continue their career.

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How safe are the Tokyo Olympics from COVID-19? – Al Jazeera English



After a year-long delay, the Tokyo Olympics is finally happening.

But there is little excitement in the Japanese capital, where an estimated 85,000 people – including athletes, officials and reporters – are expected to converge for the global sporting event’s opening ceremony on Friday.

With the world still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic and the Olympic host city in its fourth virus-related state of emergency, a largely unvaccinated Japanese public is worried the Summer Games could turn into a super-spreader event and overwhelm the country’s already strained healthcare system.

Adding to those concerns, at least 91 people accredited to the Olympics have now tested positive for COVID-19, while daily cases in Tokyo are currently at their highest in six months. The Japanese capital logged 1,979 new infections on Thursday.

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Public opposition to the Games is so fierce that top corporate sponsor Toyota has pulled Olympic-themed advertisements from Japanese television, while a growing number of politicians and business leaders are shunning the Summer Games opening ceremony. Even Emperor Naruhito is said to be considering omitting the word “celebrating” when he formally declares the sport tournament open on Friday.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, insists that the Games – where nearly all spectators, local and foreign, have been banned – will be “safe and secure”.

The for-profit sporting body, which stood to lose $3bn in broadcast rights if the Games were cancelled completely, said 85 percent of all athletes arriving in Japan are either vaccinated or immune and insists that its safety measures mean the athletes are “probably the most controlled population at this point of time anywhere in the world”.

‘Broken’ Olympic bubbles

The IOC’s COVID-19 playbooks state that Olympic visitors must have two negative test results in the 96 hours prior to their arrival in Japan and have another negative result on landing. They must also download location-enabled contact tracing apps on their phones and limit their movements while in the country to specific “bubbles”.

At Tokyo’s Olympic Village, which is hosting about 11,000 people, athletes are sharing rooms, but are undergoing daily coronavirus tests and being asked to wear face masks at all times – except when they are sleeping, eating or competing. Athletes who win gold, silver or bronze will also be asked to place their medals around their own necks, and those who complete their events are required to leave the country within two days of their last event.

Christophe Dubi, executive director at the IOC, described the sporting body’s rules on Sunday as “rigorous”, “thorough” and “very strict”.

“There is no such thing as zero risk,” he told reporters in Tokyo. “At the same time,” he added, “the mingling and crossing of the population is incredibly limited, and we can ensure that transmission between groups is almost impossible.”

Worries, however, are growing in Japan that the IOC’s measures are neither properly enforced nor adequate.

Japan Self-Defence Forces soldiers stand guard at the athletes’ village for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021 [Naoki Ogura/Reuters]
Athletes and people wearing protective face masks arrive at Narita International Airport before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

On Monday, the Mainichi newspaperreported “disarray” at airports receiving people accredited to the Olympics, “with some athletes coming close to general travellers and fans asking for autographs”.

The Asahi Shimbun also reported last week that several Olympic delegates stopped to take selfies and fist bump other passengers at the airports, adding that hotels in Tokyo were struggling to monitor the movements of those staying with them. Hotel workers are “exasperated by their supposed roles in maintaining the bubble around Olympic delegations”, the newspaper said, quoting one manager as saying, “It’s not even our job to begin with.”

Kenji Shibuya, a prominent Japanese health expert, said the IOC’s bubble system “seems broken” even before the formal start of the Games.

“The IOC playbooks are not perfect, and many visitors and delegates are not following the guidelines,” said the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s­­ College London. He warned that the IOC’s inability to monitor the movements of tens of thousands of visitors – combined with the border authorities’ use of antigen tests, which have “a higher probability of false negatives when compared with PCR tests” – could worsen the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant in Japan.

“The fundamental problem has been a lack of open, transparent and scientific discussion on the conditions under which the Olympics could be held in a safe and secure manner,” he said. “Japan is in its fourth state of emergency and the number of cases in Tokyo is increasing. Hospitalisation among those aged between 40 and 50 is also increasing. Globally, the Delta variant is spreading rapidly and the vaccine rollout is limited in many countries, including Japan – this is obviously not the right time to hold the Olympics.”

A majority of the Japanese public agree with that sentiment, while a staggering 68 percent of people surveyed by the Asahi Shimbun earlier this week also said they did not believe the Games could be held safely.

IOC ‘failed’

Annie Sparrow, assistant professor of health science and policy at the US-based Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the IOC could have avoided the “debacle now unfolding at the Tokyo Olympics” if it had listened to expert advice.

Sparrow, who reviewed the IOC’s playbooks in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said the organisation settled for “cheap measures that don’t work rather than scientifically proven ways that do”. What the IOC recommends is based on an outdated understanding of how COVID-19 spreads, she said – that the illness is transmitted only by large droplets that fall to earth quickly rather than small particles that linger and spread in the air.

The IOC and local organisers must immediately set in place measures that limit aerosol transmission, including placing hospital-grade air filters or “HEPA filters in every hotel room, every venue, every transport vehicle, every cafeteria and every shared space”, she said.

Athletes wearing protective face masks at the Athletes Village [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]
Protesters gather before International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach visits Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph on July 16, 2021, in Hiroshima, western Japan. The banner in the centre reads: ‘Bach, Do not come to Hiroshima!’ [Nuga Haruka/Pool via AP]

Athletes must also be housed in single rooms and given proper face masks.

“Face coverings won’t protect them,” she said, adding that athletes should use filtering facepiece respirators, such as the N95 respirators, while in close-contact settings such as transport vehicles.

“Test everyone, not just the athletes, everyone in the village,” she said, expressing concern about what she called inadequate protections for Olympic workers. “And vaccinate all of the workers, all the volunteers, all the officials.”

What also worries Sparrow is that the Olympics could become a mega-spreader event globally. The IOC and local organisers must “do real-time genomic testing so athletes don’t unwittingly take a variant home to unvaccinated unprotected populations with variable or marginal healthcare infrastructure,” she said.

Less than 24 hours remain for the Summer Games opening ceremony, but many in Japan say it is still not too late to call the event off.

“There’s no way to hold an event like this safely,” said Satoko Itani, associate professor at Kansai University in Japan.

“The IOC had one year to prepare, they failed. So, cancellation is the safest way to go.”

She added, “People’s lives are on the line. And as a host country, our utmost responsibility is to protect people’s lives. At this point, the best we can do is to cancel this Olympics as soon as possible.”

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