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Lecavalier, St. Louis thrilled to see Lightning win Stanley Cup again – NHL.com

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The two friends and former teammates were key cogs in the Lightning’s run to the 2004 NHL championship, which until this Monday was the only one in franchise history. They played the lion’s share of their careers in Tampa Bay, Lecavalier skating 14 of his 18 NHL seasons for the Lightning, from 1998-99 to 2012-13, St. Louis playing nearly 13 of his 16 seasons for the team, from 2000-01 deep into 2013-14. 

“I’ve sent text messages to a few players and told them, ‘Enjoy this, let it sink in, because you never know if you’re going to experience it again,'” Lecavalier said on Tuesday, having just golfed a round of 79 despite a cell phone that buzzed good wishes from tee to green. “I’ve told them, ‘You think now that you’re young and you might win another three or four, but things change quickly in hockey. Enjoy it while it’s here.'”

St. Louis is thinking of many of the same people. The 45-year-old played with a handful of those who formed the nucleus of the 2019-20 Lightning, including cornerstones Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, and he cherishes memories of those off the ice who tended to his health and cared for his equipment.

He spoke, too, of having gone to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final with defenseman Ryan McDonagh, when their New York Rangers were defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in five games. 

“We lost that year, so I’m happy that Ryan gets to win it now,” St. Louis said. “All the staff in Tampa when I was there, the trainers, they’re the same guys. The Stanley Cup is going to bring a lot of joy to so many people. It’s a good-looking trophy and it’s a hard one to win.”

Their careers ended elsewhere — Lecavalier with the Kings in 2015-16, St. Louis with the Rangers in 2014-15 — but both are best identified with the Lightning, revered in Tampa where St. Louis’ No. 26 was retired to the rafters of Amalie Arena in 2017, a year before Lecavalier’s No. 4 joined it.

With Tampa, St. Louis was a three-time Lady Byng Trophy recipient, twice won the Art Ross Trophy and won the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award once each. For his League-leading 52 goals in 2006-07, Lecavalier was awarded the Maurice Richard Trophy, named for the legend of the Montreal Canadiens, the team he worshipped in his youth.

They watched this week’s Cup-clinching Game 6 against the Dallas Stars miles apart in different ways. Lecavalier enjoyed the first two periods with a group of friends in the team’s dressing room at Amalie Arena, then went home to see the finish with his family. St. Louis missed the first period, on the ice in Connecticut for a son’s hockey practice, then drove home to watch the final 40 minutes with his boys.

Both men have indelible memories of winning the Cup in 2004, of the engagement of a rabid fan base as hockey took root in the market and grew to become the hottest ticket in town.

“In 2004, fans were drawn in to hockey because we were winning and they fell in love with the sport,” Lecavalier recalled. “Since then, the Lightning have been a building a good fan base. Football is huge in Florida but what Mr. Vinik (owner Jeff Vinik) has done with the organization, and in the city, has brought hockey to a new level. Minor hockey has gotten bigger. It’s a combination of everything. A lot has changed, but the feeling of winning is the same.”

St. Louis says the Lightning have been knocking on the championship door for some time. After last year’s stunning loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round, he believes Tampa Bay seemed almost destined to go all the way this year, general manager Julien BriseBois having tweaked the roster to put the team over the top.

“There’s been a building of a championship team but I feel they’ve had a championship-caliber team for many years,” he said. “This year they made some moves, added the pieces they needed, but every year they’ve kind of put themselves in that position and it just didn’t work out for them. 

“To win, a lot has to go right. You need a lot of bounces, you need to stay healthy, get timely goals and timely saves, maybe an upset in another round to give you something where you match up better against an opponent. I just felt that no matter who they played in the playoffs this year, they were going to win. They were dominant from start to finish. There weren’t many holes in their game.

“I think they learned from last year, a little bit of adjusting their style, playing less risky hockey. They’ve evolved into a team that can play any style. You want to open it up, they can. You want to play tight, they can. They have some physicality as well, so they won’t shy away from anything, and they’ve got the goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy). It was their year. I just hope next year they’re in a position to have continued success. They have some guys who are in their prime and will be in their prime for many years.”

Sixteen years later, vivid memories of winning the 2004 Stanley Cup remain, Tampa Bay having defeated the Calgary Flames in double overtime on the road in Game 6 to stave off elimination, then returning home to win a 2-1 nail-biter in Game 7. Both Lightning legends understand the emotions that the 2020 Lightning are feeling now and will forever.

“I wish I could have that feeling again because the night you win the Cup is something you will never feel again, unless you win it again,” Lecavalier said. “This is a dream come true for all these guys now, as it was for me.

“This year’s team is still running on adrenaline, which will last for two or three days, even longer. They have to think that you might win this only once in your life so you’ve got to take full advantage of it. And it’s funny, after you win it once, you say, ‘Wow, I want to win it again because it was so much fun.'”

Support for the team will soar to new levels, St. Louis said, the team’s second Stanley Cup placed on a solid hockey bedrock in Tampa.

“The Lightning have done so much for me as a player, raising my number,” he said. “I want nothing but the best for them. I’m glad that I’m part of the history of this team. That history will keep building and that’s another big step for them. You don’t have to be an Original Six team to build some tradition. I think Tampa is well on their way.”

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Dodgers rake in any count, and other takeaways from their Game 3 win – theScore

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The Los Angeles Dodgers retook control of the World Series on Friday, besting the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 in Game 3 behind a brilliant effort from Walker Buehler and more timely hitting from their potent lineup en route to a 2-1 series lead. Here are a few takeaways from their Game 3 victory.

Dodgers hitters excel in any count

The Dodgers’ preposterously deep and star-studded lineup excels in so many ways. No team, for instance, hit for more power than Los Angeles during the abbreviated 2020 regular season. No team made quality contact at a higher rate, either. And no team did a better job hitting with two strikes.

Highest weighted-on base average (wOBA) with two strikes, 2020

TeamwOBA
LAD.271
SF.268
ATL.253
SD.252
NYY.250

(Courtesy: Baseball Savant)

The club’s collective knack for two-strike hitting has been on display throughout the postseason – half of Mookie Betts’ hits through Game 2 of the World Series came in two-strike counts, as did Cody Bellinger’s go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the NLCS – but never more so than in Friday’s victory.

Of the Dodgers’ 10 hits in Game 3, all but three came with two strikes, including all four of their most impactful hits by win probability added: Justin Turner’s solo shot off Charlie Morton in the first; Max Muncy’s two-run single in the third; Betts’ run-scoring single in the fourth; and Austin Barnes’ unexpected, lead-padding homer off John Curtiss in the sixth. The bulk of that damage was done off Morton, who allowed just one run through his first three postseason starts, and, more germanely, held hitters to a .170/.207/.284 line in two-strike counts this year.

Ultimately, Game 3 further evinced how difficult the Dodgers’ lineup is to navigate for opposing pitchers, not only due to its abundance of All-Stars and former MVPs, but because the team’s hitters, almost to a man, are comfortable hitting while behind in the count. Even with two strikes on them, they refuse to expand the zone, continuing to get off quality swings and produce.

Turner gets his moment

No player embodies the Dodgers’ ongoing futility in October like Clayton Kershaw. But Justin Turner, their venerable third baseman, has also been around for most of the recent heartbreak. And just like Kershaw had his moment in Game 1, and his memory to savor should the Dodgers finally end their championship drought this year, Turner has made his mark, too, following a 2-for-5, two-run effort highlighted by that first-inning homer, which tied him with Duke Snider for the most (11) in Dodgers postseason history.

Prior to Friday, Turner’s postseason had been somewhat of a disappointment. Through his first 14 contests, the Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in each of those games had slashed just .216/.328/.353, a far cry from his robust regular-season numbers. Meanwhile, Turner had recorded a negative win probability added in all but four games, a byproduct of his struggles during run-scoring opportunities. To date, he’s hitting just .118 with runners in scoring position this postseason, and the veteran has driven in only three runs in 17 such at-bats.

Suddenly, however, Turner’s postseason is no longer a disappointment. He’s now poised, should the Dodgers pull this off, to be one of the heroes, which would be well deserved considering how important the 35-year-old has been to this powerhouse franchise.

Arozarena struggling with offspeed diet

Until the ninth inning of Game 3, the Dodgers had all but silenced Randy Arozarena, the rookie phenom who hit .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs through the first three rounds of the postseason. Much of that damage came off fastballs, and he’s generally experienced far more success against fastballs than any other pitch type throughout his nascent career.

So the Dodgers decided to feed the prodigious 25-year-old a steady diet of offspeed and breaking pitches. Through the first two games of the World Series, as Arozarena notched just one measly infield single in six at-bats (albeit with three walks), fastballs accounted for less than a quarter of the pitches he saw.

SplitFB%wOBA
WC + LDS + LCS41.5%.513
WS Gms 1+224.1%.281

That approach continued to pay dividends for the Dodgers in Game 3. Walker Buehler’s fastball is electric, but he threw Arozarena just four heaters over three plate appearances (and only two inside the strike zone), resulting in a three-pitch strikeout, a flyout to deep center, and another strikeout. And that fourth-inning flyout, which rocketed off Arozarena’s bat at 100.5 miles per hour and produced an expected batting average of .760, came off a fastball.

Yet, with two outs in the ninth inning and a four-run lead, deposed closer Kenley Jansen deviated from the plan that had been so effective to that point in the series, throwing Arozarena six straight fastballs while trying to secure the game’s final out. He failed.

Jansen opted to just let it eat, as he does – nine out of every 10 pitches Jansen throws is some kind of fastball, either a cutter or a sinker – and got burned for it, serving up a poorly located 3-2 cutter that Arozarena deposited into the left-field seats for his record-tying eighth postseason home run. It was also the game’s hardest-hit ball, with an exit velocity of 111.3 mph.

And as disheartening as it might’ve been for Jansen, it was an instructive at-bat for Los Angeles. Not only did it validate the Dodgers’ game plan and reinforce how untenable it is to throw Arozarena fastballs in the zone right now, but it also illustrated why Jansen is a poor matchup for the burgeoning star. His one-dimensional repertoire makes him particularly vulnerable against Arozarena, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts should avoid using him in high-leverage spots for the remainder of the series if the outfielder is due up.

Bold strategy, Dave

The vulnerability of the Dodgers’ bullpen looms large over this series. As such, it was a bit curious to see Roberts use three of his most trusted relievers – Jansen, hard-throwing rookie Brusdar Graterol, and ground-ball extraordinaire Blake Treinen – to close out a somewhat lopsided game, potentially limiting their availability (and/or reducing their effectiveness) over the next couple of games.

On one hand, neither Graterol nor Treinen had pitched since the NLCS finale, and Jansen hadn’t appeared since Game 6 of that series, so they were overdue for some work. However, one or more of them could now be asked to pitch on three consecutive days after not doing that during the regular season, which generally seems ill-advised, especially with the three-batter rule in place.

This may end up being a non-issue, but if any of those three falter over the next couple of days, it’ll be hard not to look back at Game 3 and wonder why, say, Victor Gonzalez, Jake McGee, and/or Dylan Floro weren’t asked to handle the late innings with the Dodgers staked to a comfortable lead.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

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Javier Mendez theorizes Justin Gaethje ‘second-biggest threat’ to Khabib Nurmagomedov after Conor McGregor – MMA Fighting

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Khabib Nurmagomedov faces a dangerous opponent this weekend, but the biggest challenge to his lightweight supremacy may already be in his rear-view mirror.

That’s how head coach Javier Mendez sees it, at least until he gets to see Nurmagomedov actually defend his title against Justin Gaethje this Saturday at UFC 254. Until then, any threat measurement is strictly theoretical and with that being the case, Mendez still considers Conor McGregor to have been Nurmagomedov’s toughest test yet.

“I thought when I looked at [Gaethje], I was thinking probably the second biggest threat [to Nurmagomedov] because I still to this day believe Conor was,” Mendez said at a media day in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. “And the reason why I believe Conor was is because of that precision striking. But Justin could easily prove me wrong and prove to be the toughest test we’ve ever had. We’ve yet to see that. But I know we’ve already seen Conor and that’s why I would say Conor.

“If you think about it, who’s won a round against Khabib? Conor. And whose given Khabib a tough time—The first round, he took Conor down, but how much damage did Khabib give him? No, Conor was very good there, so I have to give it to Conor for that. I haven’t seen Justin. Obviously, if I’ve seen Justin already and we fought him already and we are victorious like I’m hoping, then I can tell you 100 percent he was the toughest. Right now, I think in theory he’s number two.”

Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against McGregor at UFC 229 in October 2018, an event that stands as the most successful pay-per-view in UFC history. Despite McGregor becoming the first UFC fighter to take a round from Nurmagomedov, it was “The Eagle” that triumphed via neck crank submission in round four.

Mendez admitted that up until recently he hadn’t focused too much on Gaethje’s exploits. It wasn’t until Gaethje’s one-sided win over Tony Ferguson this past May that Mendez really took notice.

“Long story short, I didn’t really pay attention to him until he dismantled Tony,” Mendez wrote. “Because now he was real, now he’s in front of us. So then I paid attention and I saw how great he actually is and what a challenge he is. That’s when I really paid attention.”

Pundits have pointed to Gaethje’s striking, inhuman endurance, and grappling defense as factors to consider when picking him for a potential upset. “The Highlight” has only lost twice in 24 pro bouts and 19 of his victories have come by way of knockout.

Gaethje himself has suggested that he needs to keep the fight standing and in the center of the octagon otherwise he’s “screwed,” but Mendez isn’t convinced that it will be that simple. Based on what he knows about Gaethje now, he doesn’t expect that anything Nurmagomedov does will break Gaethje’s will.

“Absolutely not,” Mendez said. “That guy ain’t quitting for nothing. That guy’s a true warrior. He ain’t quitting. You’ve got to kill him to stop that guy. Both of those guys. No, it goes in the middle, it goes on the cage, he’s fighting, he’s giving it all. You’ve seen what type of person he is. You’ve seen what kind of great warrior he is, you’ve seen the mentality he has. How can you not love him? You have to respect him. If you don’t love him, you have to respect him.

“Obviously, my job is I’m Khabib’s coach and I love him and I want him to win and we’re doing everything we can, but Justin is as incredible as they come in every department. Mental, physical, how he approaches the fight game, how he acts, he’s great everywhere.”

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Buehler’s remarkable start in Dodgers’ Game 3 win puts pressure on Rays – Sportsnet.ca

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Walker Buehler shoved, Charlie Morton suffered a rare post-season misstep and the Los Angeles Dodgers had their bats going as they motored to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

With the win, the Dodgers take a 2-1 lead in the World Series and shift the pressure squarely on the Rays’ shoulders heading into Game 4. But before we get there, let’s look back at some takeaways from a commanding Dodgers victory.

Dominant

Buehler’s had a bit of a spotty post-season, battling his command at times and blisters at others. His results have been perfectly fine, with only four runs allowed over four outings. But anyone who’s been watching closely knows he hasn’t pitched as efficiently as he could’ve, walking 11 over those four starts and completing just four innings in two of them.

But you know Buehler’s on when he’s beating guys with high-90s fastballs:

Locating his curveball back door for strikes:

And getting awkward, off-balance swings like this:

And this:

We could really just display nothing but Buehler GIFs here, because the Dodgers right-hander was featuring truly devastating stuff Friday. He was flawless through his first two innings, going six up, six down on only 22 pitches while striking out four. He walked Kevin Kiermaier in the third, but quickly erased him with a double play, ensuring he’d face the minimum entering the fourth.

It was right back to automatic outs from there, as Buehler retired his next four consecutively to carry him through one out in the fifth. That’s when he faced trouble for the first time, as Manuel Margot shot a well-located, full-count fastball into left for a double, the first hit Buehler allowed on the night.

Buehler rallied to strike out Joey Wendle with a nasty curveball at the end of a long battle, but then he made one of his few mistakes on the night, leaving an 0-2 slider a little too far up to Willy Adames, who put the Rays on the board:

But that was all they’d get off him as Buehler completed six innings, allowing only that run on three hits and walk, striking out 10. He threw 67 of his 93 pitches for strikes, a ridiculous 18 of them swinging. His pitch chart demonstrates how effective Buehler’s stuff can allow him to be with a relatively simple game plan featuring fastballs up, curveballs to either side of the plate and sliders either down-and-away from righties or at the back feet of lefties:

That’s about as good as it gets and when you have a bullpen like the Dodgers do, six innings on 93 pitches is all you need. Buehler’s now lined up to start a potential Game 7 of this series on Wednesday, and the Dodgers have to feel pretty good about that should the situation materialize.

An unlikely outcome

Friday, the Rays turned to Charlie Morton, a veteran stater who’s defied the traditional athlete’s trajectory and gotten better with age. Since 2017 — his age-33 season — Morton has a 3.94 ERA over 97 starts with strong peripherals of 10.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9.

But the 37-year-old has done his best work in the post-season, pitching to a 2.81 ERA over 11 playoff outings in that span. He’s shoved in must-win games, he’s closed out a World Series clincher and he’s excelled in Game 7s, like last week in the ALCS against the Houston Astros.

Which is just one of the things that made his struggles Friday so curious. The other is how the trouble came out of nowhere. After two swift outs in the first, Morton quickly got ahead of Justin Turner, 1-2. But then he left a fastball up, right over the heart of the plate. And bad things tend to happen when you do that:

In the third, Morton again got two quick outs, both via strikeout on only nine pitches. But then he clipped Corey Seager’s foot with a splitter and got burned by Turner with two strikes again, as the Dodgers third baseman lifted a Morton curveball on the plate into left for a double, putting two runners in scoring position.

Max Muncy was next. Morton got to two strikes again. And another pitch was left over the plate:

This is extremely unusual. In two-strike counts this season, Morton held hitters to a .170/.207/.284 line. He gave up only six extra-base hits in 92 plate appearances that went to two strikes. Of the 53 batters he faced with two out in an inning, only three came away with extra-base hits. Friday night he was tagged for two through three innings.

But credit Dodgers hitters for a typically elite approach. Morton’s as good as he is because he doesn’t leave many pitches in hittable locations — especially when he’s ahead in the count. When he makes his rare mistakes, it’s imperative that you capitalize on them. And the Dodgers did just that.

Adding on

While the early damage was done with two-strikes, the Dodgers weren’t waiting around against Morton in the fourth. Cody Bellinger led off with a line-drive single to right that beat the four-man outfield the Rays deployed against him. And after Chris Taylor struck out on three pitches, Joc Pederson sent a first-pitch curveball up the line, pushing Bellinger to third and putting the Dodgers back in business.

No. 9 hitter Austin Barnes was next, in the lineup not because his OPS is off the charts but due to his rapport with Buehler. You won’t see the Dodgers sacrifice bunt often. But with Barnes at the plate, it made plenty of sense:

After all, the Dodgers had baseball’s second-best player coming up next in Mookie Betts. And he became the latest hitter to get to Morton with two strikes, rifling a full-count sinker back up the middle to cash another.

Morton’s five runs allowed were one more than he’d given up in his last five playoff starts combined. The seven hits he surrendered were tied for his most in a game since August 10, 2019 — a span of 22 outings. This isn’t how it’s usually gone. And if this series goes seven, the Rays will have to hope Friday was merely a glitch in Morton’s matrix.

Managing for tomorrow

Despite Morton’s struggles, Rays manager Kevin Cash needed as much length from his starter as possible with a bullpen day on tap Saturday. So he sent him back out for the fifth with five runs already in. But after Morton issued Muncy a one-out walk, Cash had seen enough.

From there, it was crucial that Cash got efficient, effective relief. You never know how many arms you’ll need on a bullpen day and it’s possible Sunday’s Game 5 could be an elimination game. The Rays needed to preserve as many bullets as possible.

John Curtiss was first out of the bullpen and did a serous solid for his manager, getting the Rays out of the fifth with only eight pitches. And he started the sixth similarly, retiring the first two batters on seven. But then he hung an 0-2 slider to Barnes, who doesn’t hit many homers but wasn’t missing that cookie:

As an aside: it really is unfair that a lineup as deep as the Dodgers gets a bomb like that from Barnes out of the nine-hole. He has three home runs in 348 MLB games. He entered the night a .194/.262/.247 career playoff hitter with exactly one home run in 103 post-season plate appearances. He’s in the game for his defence. But the Dodgers continue to be a cheat code.

Anyway, Curtiss then turned things over to Ryan Sherriff, who had yet to pitch in the post-season. And Sherriff gave way to Ryan Thompson, who hadn’t pitched since Game 3 of the ALCS. Thompson then passed the baton to Shane McClanahan, who made his MLB debut two-and-a-half weeks ago and has pitched only three times in these playoffs.

That usage tells you all you need to know about how Cash was managing the end of this one. It had more to do with tomorrow than today. The gambit he ran was that it’d be better to have a full stable of high leverage arms in Games 4 and 5 rather than marginally increasing his team’s dwindling odds of a comeback in Game 3.

Cash got what he was after. And now the pressure’s on him and his pitching staff in Saturday’s Game 4, as the Rays try to navigate their way through 27 outs in a series of short stints, while producing enough offence to avoid a 3-1 deficit.

Odds and ends

Randy Arozarena made history in the ninth with a solo shot off Kenley Jansen, tying an MLB record for the most homers — eight — in a single post-season:

Justin Turner made a ridiculous snag on a Mike Zunino grounder in the third, starting an inning-ending double play. It was impressive enough at full speed, but the super slow-motion replay demonstrates just how tricky the ball was to track:

Ji-Man Choi’s six-foot-one, 260-pounds and can do the splits. What’s your excuse?

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