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Lightning book ticket to Stanley Cup final after OT win knocks out Islanders –



Five years after socially distancing from the Prince of Wales Trophy and losing in the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning got their hands on and arms around it to embrace their Eastern Conference championship.

Anthony Cirelli scored in overtime and Tampa Bay beat the New York Islanders 2-1 in Game 6 of the East final Thursday night and go back to the Cup Final for the first time since 2015, where it’ll face the Dallas Stars. Injured captain Steven Stamkos, who wouldn’t even stand near the trophy then out of superstition, walked on to the ice to accept it along with the Lightning’s entire travelling party.

“It didn’t work last time, so we tried obviously touching the trophy this year,” alternate captain Victor Hedman said. “That was a no-brainer for us. We’re not superstitious but obviously didn’t touch it last time, so this year we did. That’s the end of it. We won one trophy and now we’re going for the next one.”

Stamkos, Hedman, Alex Killorn and Ryan McDonagh were the first players to shake deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s hand inside the NHL bubble that has had zero positive coronavirus test results. It mattered to the team’s leaders to have Stamkos there even though he hasn’t played since February.

WATCH | Cirelli’s OT goal lifts Lightning over Islanders:

In his daily recap, Rob Pizzo break down an event-filled Game 6 in the East, and previews the Dallas-Tampa Cup final. 3:40

“We wanted all the team captains up there and wanted Steven a part of it,” McDonagh said. “He’s been a huge part of this run even without playing. Definitely a special moment for that group and then to get the whole team involved: great moment.”

Players and coaches screamed with joy after taking a team photo with Daly. That came minutes after they streamed on to the ice to celebrate Cirelli’s goal 13:18 into overtime.

Tampa Bay ended each of its three series victories in overtime. Winger Patrick Maroon, the only player in the final in back-to-back years after winning with St. Louis in 2019, deadpanned, “My finger nails are gone.”

Only New York lasted more than five games, pushing the Lightning to their limits before their talented core got them into the final.

“We got close,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We could see the mountain top, but we couldn’t get to the mountain top.”

‘Emotions are so high’

Now the Lightning are four wins from that mountaintop despite being without Stamkos all post-season and missing top centre Brayden Point for two games against the Islanders. They can thank defenceman Hedman for scoring his ninth goal of the playoffs, Nikita Kucherov for playing 28:22 and Andrei Vasilveskiy making 26 saves while his teammates peppered Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov with 48 shots.

And Cirelli, who came back from an injury scare to score the Lightning’s biggest goal in years.

“The emotions are so high,” Cirelli said. “We worked all year. Our goal is to be playing for the Stanley Cup. We’re here now. I think it’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation. I think we’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

Cirelli appeared to injure his right knee on a collision with Islanders captain Anders Lee in the second period. He returned in the third, and coach Jon Cooper said Cirelli was “doing it basically on one leg.”

“Trying not to disclose injuries but it was pretty clear on that,” Cooper said. “For him to come back was pretty remarkable.”

WATCH | Stars eliminate Golden Knights to reach Stanley Cup:

In his daily recap, Rob Pizzo breaks down a crazy game 5 in the Western Conference Final.  3:02

Tampa Bay is trying to win its first championship since 2004. It’s the first time in franchise history the Lightning didn’t play a seven-game series in the conference finals.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point against an opponent willing to rope-a-dope, block shots and wait to pounce on chances. The Islanders got their break in Game 5 to prolong the series when Tampa Bay defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk fanned on a shot to pave the way for Jordan Eberle’s double-overtime goal, but they were on the wrong side of it Thursday.

“We had a chance to win,” said Varlamov, whose 46 saves were a single-season playoff career high. “Disappointing, of course. We want to go to the final and I think we had a chance to go to the final and play there, but we lost. Season’s over.”

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Jones explains viral fall: 'I tried to run faster than I was running' – theScore



What tripped up Daniel Jones?

The indelible image of Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles was the New York Giants quarterback racing toward the end zone without a defender in sight, only to trip over his own feet eight yards short of a touchdown.

He was asked postgame about the tumble and couldn’t pinpoint a culprit.

“I just … I don’t know,” he said. “I tried to run faster than I was running and I got caught up.”

Though few will let Jones forget the viral gaffe, the Giants did manage to punch the ball into the end zone four plays later.

“We finished the drive and scored a touchdown. So that was a relief to me for sure,” Jones said.

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Rays in for a tough test with Walker Buehler’s fastball gaining speed –



Any good scouting report on Walker Buehler will tell you that he’s got five pitches in his arsenal: a four-seamer, cutter, sinker, slider, and curveball. While that’s a factual way to describe what Buehler brings to the table, it might be more accurate to simply say that he brings the heat.

During the regular season, Buehler’s four-seamer averaged 96.8 m.p.h. It also had 97th percentile spin, the third-best vertical movement on any four-seamer, plus hitters managed a .102 batting average and .119 slugging percentage against it. It was nothing short of an unstoppable pitch.

In the playoffs, it’s gotten even better.

Whether it’s the adrenaline, or an increased distance from the blister issues that plagued Buehler throughout the summer, the right-hander has taken things up a notch. In his four post-season starts he’s seen a slight uptick in velocity, a slight improvement in vertical movement, and significantly more success with missing bats.

The best example of this phenomenon came in Game 6 of the NLCS when Buehler got into a bases-loaded, no-out jam, but worked all the way out of it on the strength of his fastball alone. Against Austin Riley he threw three straight 98-plus m.p.h. heaters and got him chasing at a beauty on the corner.

Then he fed Nick Markakis six consecutive fastballs, finishing with a triple-digit flourish well within the zone that the veteran simply couldn’t react to.

He even got 0-2 on the last man, Cristian Pache, with two fastballs and a cutter, before finishing the inning on a slider that the outfielder was well out in front of — leading to a groundout. The sequence was a showing of pure dominance, and the type of display we rarely see in a league where fastball rates have been dropping for years.

Buehler can overpower teams in a way that few starters are capable of, which is particularly disconcerting for the Tampa Bay Rays because they haven’t handled fastballs very well at all this year.

Sixteen Rays took at least 25 trips to the plate this season, and here’s how they did against fastballs according to Statcast’s Run Value metric:

Only Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena, Willy Adames, and Kevin Kiermaier, produced above-average results against heaters this season. If you want to poke holes in that quartet you could also point out that the duo of Adames and Kiemaier went 2-for-18 with 14 strikeouts against fastballs 97 m.p.h. or harder — the type they’re liable to see from Buehler.

One third of the lineup they’re likely to roll out in Game 3 (Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi, and Mike Zunino) had both real and expected batting averages below .200 against four-seamers. Neither Yandy Diaz nor Manuel Margot got a single extra-base hit against one.

The sample sizes here are undoubtedly small, and many of these players — like Choi and Meadows — have not had this issue prior to 2020. If we’re talking about true talent, these guys can probably do better against the hard stuff. Choi, for instance, has had a great deal of success against Gerrit Cole, which indicates that he’s not intimidated by an elite fastball.

Unfortunately for the Rays, while true talent and regression to the mean wins over the course of a full season, in a single game (or two if Buehler’s spot comes around again), how players are performing in the moment takes precedence. Right now, the Rays are rolling out a lineup that’s struggled with fastballs this year. Buehler always has one of the best in the business, and it looks especially dangerous at this moment.

That makes this a tough matchup for Tampa, and their best hopes for a breakthrough in this game belong to Arozarena — hardly a surprise considering his record-breaking October — and Lowe, who finally woke up from his post-season slumber on Wednesday night. Beyond that, they might have a lot of guys waiting on Buehler to throw anything but a fastball.

It’s not a bad strategy in theory, but in practice the Dodgers right-hander is happy to dare you beat him on his best pitch. The Braves found that out the hard way in one of the highest-leverage moments of their season. In Game 3, the Rays could learn a similar lesson.

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Is Khabib Nurmagomedov's speedy scale at UFC 254 the latest UFC weigh-in controversy? – MMA Fighting



At the UFC 254 official weigh-ins, Khabib Nurmagomedov looked nervous.

He was the first man up Friday morning, but the UFC’s lightweight king took his time stepping to the scale, appearing to be slightly agitated as he called for a towel to cover him so that he could remove the excess poundage of his clothes. He delicately stepped up and then brought his hands to his face in relief as he got the all-clear signal for Saturday’s main event.

155. Championship weight. Nothing to be nervous about.

Or was there???

Keen internet sleuths have pointed out that the official checking the weight was quick to dismiss Nurmagomedov from the scale even as it appeared that the scale’s bar appeared to be tilting upward, indicating that something may have been amiss. It should be noted that Nurmagomedov was not the only fighter to have his weight measured with such speed.

Officially, Nurmagomedov made the mark for Saturday’s title fight main event opposite Justin Gaethje, but that didn’t stop the online discussion from brewing, which included a few of his peers who commented on the suspected miss, protocol, and Nurmagomedov’s overall demeanor.

While we wait to see if anyone from Gaethje’s team raises their concerns over the matter, we’ll leave it to you the reader to decide whether there was something fishy going on with Nurmagomedov’s weigh-in.


What do you think of the Khabib Nurmagomedov UFC 254 weigh-in controversy?

  • 40%

    He made weight

    (1790 votes)

  • 59%

    He had help

    (2582 votes)

4372 votes total

Vote Now

Nurmagomedov’s tense turn on the scale brought to mind past UFC weigh-in controversies, a couple of which also had championship stakes. Let’s take a look back and see how some of the UFC’s biggest names may have previously gamed the system.

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Probably the first example that comes to mind when weigh-in controversies are discussed, Daniel Cormier fooled everyone ahead of UFC 210 with a last-second weight cut that was truly mystifying.

Heading into his second fight against Anthony Johnson, Cormier initially came in heavy for his light heavyweight championship defense by 1.2 pounds. The repercussions of missing weight in this situation would be devastating for Cormier who likely would have been ineligible to retain his title even with a win. He was given the opportunity to weigh in again and no more than three minutes later, he returned to the scale and made weight.

Incredible, right?

Of course, in the footage above, Cormier can clearly be seen holding onto the towel the scale is being checked, an old school wrestling trick that allows a competitor to shift their weight just enough to pass the test. I’d estimate that about 1.2 pounds were shifted, give or take.

Afterwards, Cormier had this to say:

“It was crazy, I weighed in upstairs and I was like ‘Man I’m OK, I’m going to do this. It was harder than normally, but we figured we had it done, the scale was weighing different.”

He added that he was simply holding onto the towel to keep from being exposed and he denied making any kind of attempt to manipulate the scale. The following night, Cormier recorded his second consecutive defense of the UFC light heavyweight title, defeating Johnson by second-round submission.

While we’re talking towel tricks, honorable mention to Hakeem Dawodu who appeared to use a similar move at UFC 240 to make weight for a featherweight bout with Yoshinori Horie.

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There are layers to this one.

UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and lineal Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz was already a proverbial oil and water pairing before they finally arrived in Montreal for UFC 158. St-Pierre, the genial and ever-professional French-Canadian, had little in common with the brash, sun-baked, Stockton street style of Diaz.

The two were previously matched up at UFC 137, but Carlos Condit took Diaz’s spot when Dana White decided to punish the mercurial Diaz for neglecting his media obligations (St-Pierre would later face Condit at UFC 154). Still, there was no stopping this highly-anticipated duel from happening and they eventually met in March 2013, with St-Pierre sweeping the scorecards to successfully defend his UFC title for an eighth straight time.

Their beef didn’t end there. Shortly afterwards, controversy arose when it was suggested that St-Pierre was actually a few ounces over the championship limit of 170 pounds. According to the Quebec commission, it is a rule that they ignore decimals when calculating weights.

Here is how then-UFC vice president Michael Mersch explained the situation to Diaz’s team:

“Here, they’re going to allow you and Georges to have an extra hour. Just in case somebody doesn’t make it. But the good news is, they don’t count the decimal. If you’re 170.2 it’s 170. If it’s 170.9. it’s 170.”

That explanation apparently didn’t sit well with Diaz, who told Chael Sonnen in a 2015 interview that he believes St-Pierre actually came in three pounds heavy and that St-Pierre was on steroids for their fight.

Years later, St-Pierre would shockingly admit to all of the above as well as poisoning Diaz and receiving alien gamma ray treatments to enhance his strength for the championship clash.

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It’s no secret that Kelvin Gastelum had struggled making the welterweight limit in the past, but after returning to middleweight pounds in 2016 it appeared that the Ultimate Fighter 17 champion had straightened out his issues at the scale.

However, those old problems reared their ugly head again at the weigh-ins for UFC 244. With an important co-main event fight against Darren Till ahead of him, Gastelum couldn’t take any chances and he called for the towel before weighing in. His trusty coach Rafael Cordeiro was by his side to provide moral support and lo and behold, Gastelum not only made weight, he came in at 184, two pounds under the non-title middleweight limit.

Kelvin Gastelum at the official weigh-ins for UFC 244 in New York on Nov. 1, 2019
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Upon closer inspection, it seems that Cordeiro may have been their for more than just moral support. Gastelum and Cordeiro were later accused of cheating the weigh-in, with observers pointing out that Gastelum appeared to be gingerly resting his elbow on his coach’s shoulder.

The New York State Athletic Commission found no evidence of wrongdoing and Cordeiro was incredulous at the accusations of mischief.

“People are tripping,” Cordeiro said. “I went there to check his weight. How am I going to lift him two pounds with my chest? They are crazy. They are tripping. It’s drama to sell the fight. There’s no way. There’s no way.

“There were two athletic commission officials there, I was in front of the whole world… That’s impossible. It doesn’t even cross my mind to try to break the law. The kid made weight, two pounds under. He did his job. He was the last one, he was sweating, running like a maniac, working hard, and got the job done. Everyone has a mouth and can say whatever they want.”

On fight night, Till won a close split decision over Gastelum, so things worked out for Till even if the bout was possibly made official through nefarious means.

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