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Maple Leafs bring familiar power-play woes to unfamiliar Round 2 territory

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TORONTO — For a game unlike any the Maple Leafs have played in decades, a game their city has been anxiously craving for 19 years, Toronto’s first steps onto this long-awaited second-round ground felt oddly familiar.

The Leafs on the wrong end of a winnable game, a playoff series started on the wrong foot, and, by no coincidence, the blue-and-white’s star-studded power play coming up with goose eggs when it needed gold.

Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena, where the home side dropped Game 1 of their Round 2 bout with the Florida Panthers, it was those familiar missed opportunities that, once again, stung the most.

“Offensively, for us, we didn’t get a whole lot happening at 5-on-5, I didn’t think,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the final buzzer had sounded on a 4-2 loss to the Cats. “Our power play, especially the first and third power play that we had, I thought we had a ton of really good looks, moved the puck very well.

“But we need to get one over the line. The power play could’ve made a real difference in the game here tonight.”

Trace Tuesday’s loss back to the opening puck-drop, and even further, to the scouting report on both of these clubs, and the goose eggs weigh even heavier.

Coming into Game 1 of this new test, there was no question of the biggest imbalance that could potentially tilt the ice, and the series, in Toronto’s direction. Florida entered the post-season as the most penalized club still playing. Through the first round, they found themselves shorthanded more than any other playoff club. What’s worse, they were exceptionally porous during those frequent trips to the box, checking into these playoffs having allowed the most power-play goals-against of any team in the mix, and holding onto that reputation through the first-round.

For a Maple Leafs power play that finished as the second-most lethal in the league over 82 regular-season games — and then added a Conn Smythe winner to its top unit — this should’ve been an opportunity to feast. And five minutes into Game 1, Florida served up a silver platter: two early trips to the box courtesy of a Sam Bennett elbow and a Gustav Forsling trip — two chances for Toronto’s best to get their touches, feel the rhythm of the game, and put Florida behind early.

Instead, double-zeroes.

“Obviously it would’ve been great to a score a goal on one of those,” Keefe said of the early chances. “Especially the first power play — we were moving it really well, and couldn’t get it to go in for us.”

It certainly felt, in those early minutes, like something was building for the Leafs. A power-play deflection from Auston Matthews nearly went, then another from Ryan O’Reilly. On the next man-advantage session, another big shot from Matthews, blocked by Radko Gudas, and then a puck bouncing just an inch away from an open Matthew Knies.

They had the crowd roaring in approval, the momentum seeming to be swinging their way, even without them fluttering the twine.

But by the time the period was up, it had all been for naught, Toronto held scoreless and Florida drawing first blood just minutes after time ran out on the Leafs’ second 5-on-4 chance.

What do Maple Leafs need to improve before Game 2 vs. Panthers?

“I thought the second half of the first period we definitely had a lull,” Keefe said of how the game turned on the heels of Florida’s penalty kills. “Which was partly a lull by us and partly [that] Florida went up a notch.

“They did to us what they did to Boston.”

They’d get two more tries before the game was through, both arriving just when a Maple Leafs goal could’ve changed everything.

The next one came moments after Knies got Toronto on the board in the second period with a spectacular move for his first big-league goal — a power-play follow-up would’ve allowed Toronto to even the score at 2-2, in one blistering three-minute stretch. They didn’t.

The last came in the final 40 seconds of the game. The home side trailed 4-2, this one seemingly done and dusted. But an errant stick from Bennett that got the blood rolling down O’Reilly’s face granted Toronto one last, wild chance to reclaim Game 1. Thirty-seven seconds, double-minor, two goals down. A quick one in the cage, and you can bet the Panthers bench would’ve been looking up at the clock with a touch of worry.

Instead, the Cats closed it out, and Toronto finished 0-for-4 on the man-advantage, losing by a pair of goals.

‘Got to do a better job of making it harder’: Marner says Leafs need to up intensity

“I mean, we’re trying to score on it,” Mitch Marner said of the power-play stumbles post-game. “We’re trying to make plays. We did pretty well getting things around the net — we’ve just got to do a better job of getting second opportunities.”

His coach saw it the same way.

“One of the big differences in our scoring chances that we had here tonight, whether you look at power-play chances or the 5-on-5 chances, 6-on-5 chances, I thought we had a lot more tonight in closer to the net than we had in the previous series,” Keefe said. “You know, we’ve got to make good on those. There’s a lot of stuff in tight — we’ve just got to get it up and over.

“We’ve got to finish those.”

It’s still early. Neither of these teams need any reminding of how long a series can stretch, how much can change after Game 1. If there’s a silver lining for the Maple Leafs, it’s that Florida gave them the opportunities everyone expected them to — right from the jump, in fact.

And according to head coach Paul Maurice, we shouldn’t expect that to change any time soon.

“We have just accepted the fact that we will be in the box more than the opponent. Only because it’s been true the last eight games,” the Panthers coach said of his club post-game. “So, we just tell Sergei to get lots of sleep.”

Maurice made clear his opinion that the Panthers are getting tagged with calls they might not deserve as a result of their reputation with the officials. But the only path forward is to simply work through it, he said.

Panthers’ Maurice on officiating: ‘We will be in the penalty box more than the opponent’

“It’s something we talk about in the room — we’ve been doing it all year,” Maurice explained. “It was exactly like when I went into Winnipeg — it was a team that previously had barked a lot, about everything. We were that team last year. So, we’ve got to take it on the chin a little bit, to earn the reputation that we’re right men. We can accept that.”

Whether the veteran coach is correct or not, the result is the same for the Maple Leafs. They’re going to get their chances. The question is whether or not they can make good on enough of them by the time this series wraps.

The only problem is the roots of Toronto’s power-play woes stretch back further than the first period of Game 1. After dominating for much of the regular season, the blue-and-white’s man-advantage stumbled down the season’s home stretch. In Round 1, it was anything but consistent, capitalizing in key moments early in the series, but going cold late.

Even as Toronto broke its first-round curse and ousted the Tampa Bay Lightning, they had to do it in spite of missing these same opportunities rather than by taking advantage of them, the club going 0-for-4 on the power play in Games 5 and 6 against the Bolts.

Tuesday’s result extends that to three straight post-season games — and eight straight power-play opportunities — without a tally. Trace it back even further, to the beginning of the Matthews-Marner era, and the club has seen its power-play numbers drop from the regular season to the post-season in five of the past six years.

The same trend is holding true now. Against this team in particular, though, there’s little doubt the Maple Leafs will get every opportunity to rewrite that story, too.

Their next chance comes Thursday.

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LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena

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LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

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UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap

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In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

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Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates

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Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

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