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



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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Messi says he's joining MLS club Inter Miami despite Barca, Saudi interest – theScore



Lionel Messi is coming to Major League Soccer.

The Argentine superstar ended months of speculation about his future Wednesday by announcing his intention to play for Inter Miami.

“I’ve made the decision that I’m going to Miami,” Messi said in an interview with Spanish outlets SPORT and Mundo Deportivo, as translated by The Athletic. “It’s still not a done deal 100%. I’m missing a few things, but we’ve decided to keep going down the path.”


Messi, 35, will officially become a free agent when his contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires later this month. The Ligue 1 champions said last week that he wouldn’t renew his deal after two seasons in the French capital. Barcelona and Saudi Pro League side Al-Hilal were heavily linked with Messi for some time. Al-Hilal reportedly tabled the most lucrative offer, but Messi said he only considered returning to Catalonia. When it became apparent that reunion wouldn’t materialize, he decided on Miami.

“If the Barcelona thing didn’t work out, I wanted to leave Europe, leave the spotlight, and focus more on my family,” he added.

“I had a lot of hope that I’d be able to come back (to Barcelona), but after living what I lived through and the exit that I had (from Barcelona), I didn’t want to come back to be in the same situation: to wait and see what was going to happen or leave my future in the hands of another person.”

This will be the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner’s first experience playing senior club football outside of Europe following a decorated career at Barca and a brief stint at PSG. In 853 club matches in Europe, he scored 704 goals, recorded 303 assists, and collected 37 trophies.

Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Inter Miami, sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, weren’t alone in their quest to sign the most successful player in football history. Adidas and Apple, Major League Soccer’s top commercial partners, apparently contributed to getting Messi to the U.S., according to The Athletic.

Both companies are understood to have played a role in negotiations, with multiple sources telling The Athletic that MLS and Apple discussed offering Messi a portion of the revenue generated from new subscribers to the league’s streaming package on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+. Apple also announced Tuesday that a four-part documentary about Messi’s five career World Cup appearances will be exclusively available on Apple TV+ this year.

Adidas’ bid to convince Messi to move to North America includes a profit-sharing agreement with the German sportswear company, per The Athletic. Messi will reportedly receive a share of increases in the company’s profits pertaining to his transfer to Inter Miami. Messi signed a lifetime footwear sponsorship deal with Adidas in 2017 after initially partnering with the company in 2006.

The Athletic also reports that Messi’s contract is expected to include an option to purchase a stake in an MLS club after he’s finished playing in the league. David Beckham had a similar clause in his deal with the LA Galaxy that allowed him to purchase an expansion team for a discounted fee of $25 million. He and a group of investors were announced as Inter Miami owners in 2014 before the club began play in 2020.

Al-Hilal were in the running to make Messi the latest superstar to join the Saudi Pro League after Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Karim Benzema’s arrivals. The club reportedly offered Messi a more lucrative deal worth €400 million a year, which would’ve doubled the amount of the contracts his ex-Real Madrid rivals received.

But Al-Hilal, one of four Saudi Pro League clubs taken over by the country’s Public Investment Fund earlier this week, recently became worried that Messi lost interest and accepted that they were out of the race to sign him on Wednesday, sources told ESPN.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have repeatedly expressed their desire to re-sign Messi after his 2021 exit. But their efforts to reunite with the 2022 World Cup winner fell short due to the club’s financial constraints. Despite their best efforts to adjust their payroll and make a move for Messi viable under La Liga’s salary cap, the legendary forward didn’t want to wait any longer for Barca to get their house in order.

“Even though I heard that (Barca) said that the league had accepted everything and that everything was OK for me to come back … there were still a lot of other things missing,” Messi explained.

That led him to Inter Miami, who are without a permanent head coach after sacking Phil Neville last week amid the team’s disappointing season. Inter Miami have just 15 points after 16 MLS games.

Messi’s former Argentina coach, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, has held talks about possibly replacing Neville, The Athletic reports.

Messi could reportedly make his Inter Miami debut in the club’s Leagues Cup match against Mexican side Cruz Azul on July 21.

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Lionel Messi says he’s joining Inter Miami and coming to Major League Soccer




MIAMI (AP) – Lionel Messi has pulled off his latest stunning feat: He is headed to Major League Soccer and joining Inter Miami.

After months – years, even – of speculation, Messi on Wednesday finally revealed his decision to join a Miami franchise that has been led by another global soccer icon, David Beckham, since its inception but has yet to make any real splashes on the field.

That likely will soon change. One of Inter Miami’s owners, Jorge Mas, tweeted out a photo of a darkly silhouetted Messi jersey shortly before the Argentinian great revealed his decision in interviews with Spanish news outlets Mundo Deportivo and Sport.


It was widely believed that Messi eventually would choose to play for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, following longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo to a nation where some clubs now are funded by the state’s sovereign wealth fund. Going back to Barcelona, a storied franchise where he spent most of his career, was another possibility.

But in the end, he made the call that surprised many. Messi is joining MLS. He said in the interviews Wednesday that some final details still need to be worked out, but that he has made the call to “continue my path” in Miami.

“After winning the World Cup and not being able to return to Barcelona, it was my turn to go to the league of the United States to live football in another way,” Messi said.

He didn’t take the money. He didn’t choose the memories. He picked Miami instead. Messi’s next matches are likely to be exhibitions with Argentina against Australia on June 15 at Beijing and at Indonesia in Jakarta four days later – and then his Inter Miami debut figures to be sometime in July.

“We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and Major League Soccer this summer,” read a statement from MLS. “Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our league.”

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner – the trophy given annually to the world’s best player – makes his move after two years with Paris Saint-Germain. At 35, Messi has nothing left to prove in the game and filled the only significant unchecked box on his resume back in December by leading Argentina to the World Cup title.

Messi has more than 800 goals in his career for club and country, making him one of the greatest scorers in the sport’s history. In more than 17 years of representing Argentina on the international stage, he has scored 102 goals against 38 different national team opponents – 16 of those goals coming on U.S. soil. He scored twice in last year’s World Cup final against France, a match that ended 3-3 with Argentina prevailing 4-2 on penalty kicks.

He has been to the absolute mountaintop of the game. He is a four-time Champions League winner and his 129 goals in the top club competition are second to Ronaldo’s 140. Messi has won 10 La Liga titles and two Ligue 1 championships, seven Copa del Reys and three Club World Cups plus a Copa America and Olympic gold medal for Argentina.

And now he comes to MLS, and a team that is struggling – last place in the Eastern Conference, just a few days removed from the firing of coach Phil Neville (who was hand-picked by Beckham two years ago).

Messi’s decision to play in the U.S. might be the biggest boost ever for American soccer on the pro stage. Some of the game’s biggest names – Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Thierry Henry and Beckham himself – have come to the U.S. toward the end of their careers, but landing a player still no worse than near the pinnacle of his game and just a few months removed from hoisting a World Cup is simply huge.

“This is obviously the biggest signing that they’ve brought in,” said Nashville defender Walker Zimmerman, a U.S. national team regular. “It’s kind of reminiscent of Beckham when he came originally. You saw how the league has kind of changed in the 15 years since he arrived, and hopefully 15 years from now we’re seeing all the growth from this addition to the league. I think it’s a great thing.

“I think it’ll be great for the sport in this country, especially ahead of the 2026 World Cup. And I’m excited to play against him.”

It took months of negotiations with MLS, the Miami ownership, Adidas and even Apple getting involved in a creative pitch to bring Messi to Miami’s pitch. Apple – which is a broadcast partner of MLS – announced Tuesday that it will show a still-untitled four-part documentary series “featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes access to global superstar Lionel Messi. … In his own words, Messi tells the definitive story of his incredible career with the Argentina national football team, providing an intimate and unprecedented look at his quest for a legacy-defining World Cup victory.”

And now, his story will have a Miami chapter.

Inter Miami needed six years from inception to playing its first match, and its first four seasons have been less than stellar.

Messi is joining a team that sits last in the Eastern Conference and just fired its coach. It has made the playoffs in two of its first three seasons but has yet to finish a season with a winning record or even a positive goal differential.

Still, there have been hints for months that Miami remained very much in the Messi sweepstakes. Messi met with Inter Miami co-owner Beckham this spring, and that was shared publicly almost to ensure that everyone knew the sides were still talking. Messi and his family also own several pieces of luxury real estate in South Florida, and – almost as if to suggest something big was coming – the MLS club told fans the only way they could get tickets for the second half of this season was to purchase a season-ticket package.

He’s an enormous draw everywhere on the globe, including Miami. Two days after Argentina won the World Cup, Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry sat on his team’s bench for a game unable to play because of injury. He wore a Messi jersey that night.

Inter Miami still plays home matches in a temporary home in Fort Lauderdale, about 45 minutes north of the site in Miami where the team wants to build a permanent complex.

And even in an area where the population has a serious Latin flavor, and where more people might actually call the sport futbol than soccer, Inter Miami has struggled to generate the same attention as do the area’s primary pro teams – basketball’s Heat, baseball’s Miami Marlins, football’s Miami Dolphins and hockey’s Florida Panthers.

Messi could change that in an instant. In a flash, he becomes the biggest name in MLS and makes everything Miami does newsworthy. Barcelona released a statement saying Jorge Messi, the player’s father, told the club president Joan Laporta of the decision to go to Miami and wished him well.

“President Laporta understood and respected Messi’s decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subject to in recent years,” the statement from Barcelona said.

His decision ends what has been a wild saga. Barcelona made Messi a superstar, but the financial issues that forced the team to letting him go two years ago still remain an issue.

“I heard that they’d have to sell players or lower players’ salaries and the truth is, I didn’t want to go through that,” Messi said Wednesday.

There are no financial issues with Saudi Arabia, and speculation that he would end up there intensified when Messi made an unauthorized trip to the kingdom. PSG suspended him and some fans turned on him, serenading him with jeers toward the end of his season with the French club.

Everyone knew he wouldn’t be back with PSG. Few likely thought he was heading to Miami. But here he is, a move to Miami by a superstar that might even be more shocking than LeBron James arriving to join the Heat 13 years ago.

AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.



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McIlroy says PGA Tour merger with Saudis ‘good for game,’ still ‘hates’ LIV Golf



For the past year or so, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy took on a job besides golfer.

In addition to contending on Sundays, the Northern Irishman became the de facto spokesman of the PGA Tour in its rift with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League.

On Tuesday, the PGA Tour, the European DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced a merger — a move that took many, including McIlroy, by surprise.

On Wednesday, the 34-year-old took the podium at Toronto’s Oakdale Golf and Country Club, one day before his attempt to win a third straight Canadian Open was set to begin.


He said the merger was ultimately the best move for the PGA Tour.

“Ultimately … when I look 10 years down the line, I think this is going to be good for the game of golf,” he said. “It unifies it and it secures its financial future. So there’s mixed emotions in there. I don’t understand all the intricacies of what’s going on. There’s a lot of ambiguity, there’s a lot of things still to be sort of thrashed out.”


Rory McIlroy left feeling ‘somewhat like a sacrificial lamb’ in wake of PGA Tour merger


Professional golfer Rory McIlroy says he still has confidence in Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, adding that he thinks the future of the PGA ‘as a whole’ is looking brighter in the wake of the newly announced deal. But he says there are still questions about how things will work, and what the change means for professional golfers.

For the previous year, McIlroy railed against LIV — presenting both moral arguments in terms of Saudi Arabia’s questionable human rights record and legacy reasoning about how it means more to win on the PGA Tour, even without oil-fueled financial backing.

McIlroy was clear in saying the deal has “nothing to do” with LIV, even as the Tour gets into bed with the Saudis.

“I still hate LIV. I hate them. I hope it goes away and expect that it does.”


Golf feud ends as PGA Tour, LIV Golf announce surprise merger


The golf world is being upended again as the PGA Tour and its European counterpart, the DP World Tour, announced plans to merge with rival, LIV Golf — the Saudi-backed upstart that poached top players like Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman with the promise of massive paycheques.

The fallout from the shock announcement began Tuesday evening, when players met with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who explained the decision to suddenly merge with those funding their rival tour.

He added that one of Monahan’s points of emphasis in the meeting was that players who defected to LIV — including major champions Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka — wouldn’t just be allowed to walk back onto the PGA Tour.

“There still has to be consequences to actions. The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. We can’t just welcome them back in. Like, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, per reports, when one lower-level player spoke out against Monahan during the meeting, McIlroy retorted that he should “play better.” The player then reportedly told McIlroy to “f—- off.”


Rory McIlroy on how he heard about the massive golf deal


Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy says he knew there had been discussions about a deal between the PGA Tour and the backers of LIV Golf, but says the deal announced this week still came as a ‘surprise.’

“From where we were a couple of weeks ago to where we are today, I think the future of the PGA Tour looks brighter as a whole, as an entity,” McIlroy said. “What that looks like for individual players in terms of keeping a Tour card and bringing players back into the fold and then that sacrifices other people, that’s where the anger comes from. And I understand that.”

That player was reportedly not the only one to respond with rage to the PGA Tour’s sudden U-turn. One player said Monahan was called a hypocrite.

“I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said Tuesday. “Any time I’ve said anything I’ve said it with the information I had at that moment, and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players.”

McIlroy said he knew the lines of communication between the PGA Tour and Saudis had been reopened over the past months, but that he only found out that an agreement had been reached early Tuesday morning.


Adam Hadwin sad to see LIV overshadow RBC Canadian Open yet again


Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C. said he feels sad that news of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger has taken emphasis away from Canada’s national men’s golf tournament.

Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, like most people, found out via Twitter on Tuesday. Speaking a day later, he said he was “blindsided” by the news, but would wait for more details to cast judgment.

“Right now it obviously is going to feel different or feel not right or confusing and everyone’s got a lot of questions. But I do think that with time this could end up being a great thing. I just think people are very quick to jump on it being a really bad thing, but it’s too early to say one way or the other,” he said.

Fellow Canadian Corey Conners also said he was taken aback by the news, but added that his faith is in the PGA Tour.

“At first I was a little caught off guard, but trying to understand the situation, which again I really haven’t dove too deep into it. But I do trust the leadership of the PGA Tour and I think people just don’t like being surprised by things,” he said.

McIlroy said he still has confidence in Monahan as commissioner, noting his acumen as a business man. He also admitted to the hypocrisy of the merger.

“Of course. I said it to Jay yesterday, ‘You’ve galvanized everyone against something and that thing that you galvanized everyone against you’ve now partnered with,” he said.

“The one thing I would say is, again, whether you like it or not, the PIF and the Saudis want to spend money in the game of golf. They want to do this. And they weren’t going to stop. So… how can we get that money into the game, but use it the right way?

“And I think that’s what this ultimately will do, hopefully.”


Will a Canuck win the Canadian Open for the first time in nearly 70 years?


A strong Canadian contingent will be teeing it up at the Oakdale Golf & Country Club in Toronto this week.



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