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The Tampa Bay Lightning are the 2020 Stanley Cup champions, hoisting the NHL’s championship trophy Monday in a near-empty Rogers Place to cap off a surreal, bifurcated, bubbled hockey season for the ages.

Brayden Point and Blake Coleman scored the goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots for his first career playoff shutout in a 2-0 win, giving Tampa Bay a 4-2 triumph in the best-of-seven series.

The Lightning players exploded off the bench as the seconds ticked to zero, swarming Vasilevskiy, their whoops and hollers echoing off the empty seats and capacious tarps.

No fans have been allowed in to these so-called bubbled playoffs, with players isolated between contests to prevent contracting COVID-19.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman walked out to centre ice to award the trophy, but this time not accompanied by the lowing boos from fans that had become an unofficial league tradition.

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“To win in this place at this time under these circumstances is remarkable and frankly overwhelming,” said Bettman before he handed the silver barrel-and-bowl trophy to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who proceeded to lift it with two hands over his head.

In a twist on the usual Cup presentation, the players, coaches and staff gathered around Bettman, instead of standing off to the side as he officially awarded the Cup to Stamkos.

The players cheered, fireworks went off behind the players’ benches and other devices delivered bursts of flames, the heat of which could be felt high up in the arena.

Stamkos did not dress for the game, and played only 2:47 in the entire playoffs due to injury. He came out in his hockey equipment and jersey to accept the award and his first Stanley Cup.

“I’m speechless,” said Stamkos in an on-ice interview.

“I’m so proud of this team and everything that we’ve accomplished.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings, and to be able to celebrate with this group of guys is a dream come true.”

The traditional skate around the ice, hoisting the cup in front of rapturous fans, was altered to the players skating around centre ice, clapping and celebrating as each one in turn took a spin with the mug amid rock music pumped over the loudspeaker.

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Fans celebrating in Tampa were shown on all four sides of the video screen that hangs over centre ice.

Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman was voted the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

It’s the second Stanley Cup in the 28-year history of the franchise. The first was in 2004.

It’s the first Cup for every Lightning player except Pat Maroon. The burly, bearded veteran winger won it all last season with the St. Louis Blues.

It’s also the first Cup win for head coach Jon Cooper, in his seventh full season behind the Lightning bench.

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He defeated Dallas interim head coach Rick Bowness. Bowness had been hired by Cooper as a mentor in 2013 and served the next five years with the Lightning as his assistant. This was the first Stanley Cup where an assistant faced his former head coach.

Vasilevskiy was 18-7 of the post-season. The 26-year-old Russian played every minute of every game for the Lightning through 25 games.

Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 29-22.

Point scored on the power play midway through the first period, sailing through the slot untouched and putting his own rebound past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin. Coleman made it 2-0 by capitalizing on a turnover midway through the second frame, one-timing a cross-ice pass from Cedric Paquette.

Nikita Kucherov assisted on Point’s goal and was the NHL’s top scorer in the playoffs: seven goals and 34 points. Point was second at 14 goals and 33 points.

The Bolts had been knocking on the Cup door in recent years, making the final four in four of the last six seasons. In 2015 they lost to Chicago 4-2 in the Stanley Cup final.

Nine members of the current Tampa roster, including Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Vasilevskiy, and Tyler Johnson were on that Cup-losing squad.

It’s a capstone to bizarre season that began as normal in October 2019, but was halted, and ultimately cancelled around the 70-game mark, on March 12, due to COVID-19.

The NHL resumed play at the start of August in a 24-team, two-month tournament, held in hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, with players and staff isolated and tested regularly to prevent contracting COVID-19. The NHL reported Monday there had been no positive tests in the nine-week bubble.

The conference championships and the Cup final were held at Rogers Place, the players skating, shooting, and scoring to the sounds of canned oohs, ahhs and cheers.

This is the first time the Stanley Cup has been awarded in the Alberta capital since the Edmonton Oilers won it in the spring of 1988.

The Lightning finished fourth in the regular season (43-21-6) and were a model of consistency in the tournament.

They went 18-7, never lost two games in a row, and shut down the top three defensive teams in the league (Boston, Dallas, and Columbus).

The Bolts were overtime warriors, going 7-2 in extra-session games, including a marathon five-overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.

The Lightning played 221:14 total in overtime, more than any team in playoff history.

Hedman — all six-foot-six of him — was the rock, filling the leadership void when Stamkos went down in late February for core muscle surgery and then was re-injured before the playoffs began anew.

The 29-year-old Swede, in his 11th year in Tampa Bay, scored 10 goals, added 12 assists in the playoffs, ate up 26 minutes a night playing at even strength and on special teams, ignited the offence with seeing-eye tape-to-tape passes, and punished those who crossed his blue-line.

The Bolts were the top scoring team in the regular season (3.47 goals a game) and their best marksmen got the job done in the post season. The top line of Point, Kucherov and Palat delivered eight goals and 21 points against Dallas and accounted for about 40 per cent of all team points in the playoffs.

When the opposition got past the defence, Vasilevskiy was there to shut the door, compiling a .927 save percentage in the playoffs.

The Stars franchise is now 1-4 in Cup play, dating back to its Minnesota roots. The lone championship came in 1999.

Dallas made it all the way to its first final series in two decades due mainly to the storybook play of Khudobin, a career journeyman backup elevated into the starter’s role for almost the entire post-season run after Ben Bishop was injured.

The 34-year-old from Kazakhstan absorbed a shooting gallery of vulcanized rubber: more than 30 shots in 15 games and 40 or more seven times. He was the deciding factor in the third-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, saving all but nine of 161 shots over five games (.950 save percentage).

The Stars faced Tampa after being outscored 64-62 to that point in the post-season, but were the comeback kids of the playoffs, coming back to win nine times.

They won with stout defence and timely goals by committee, with veteran forwards like Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry stepping up when others flagged. First-line centre Tyler Seguin never found his groove, scoring just twice in 26 games.

The defence led the offence. Defenders John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen combined for 10 goals and 47 points.

Dallas was laid low by injuries to not only Bishop but also defencemen and key depth forwards: Stephen Johns, Taylor Fedun, Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz, and Blake Comeau. The Stars kept having to dip into their pool of Black Aces and ultimately the next man up became one injury too many.

For Tampa, the win will undoubtedly go a long way to washing away the bitter taste of last year’s humiliating playoff debacle. The Lightning won 62 wins in the regular season — tying an NHL record — then lost four straight games in the first round to the Blue Jackets.

Following that loss, Tampa decided its high-flying offence needed more edge, pushback, and just plain nastiness. General manager Julien BriseBois signed Maroon and defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk in the off-season.

At the trade deadline, BriseBois inked defender Zach Bogosian, and traded a top prospect and high draft picks for bruising two-way wingers Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

They proved to be the difference, with the new-look Lightning able to lock down late-game leads and, to paraphrase Conn Smythe, beat opponents on the ice and in the alley.

It was a year of firsts: the first time two teams from cities that never see snow battled it out in an empty arena on the Canadian prairie in late September for the Stanley Cup.

But in the year of COVID — where the only consistency has been contradiction and people must stay apart if they ever want to get together again — the Lightning fit right in, proving that if you want to polish the Stanley Cup, maybe just add a bit of grit.

 

 

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Facebook quietly debuts cloud-streaming service for Facebook Gaming – Gamasutra

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Facebook is working on a cloud-streaming service that will grant instant access to select titles via the Facebook app or in-browser.

The service will be integrated with Facebook Gaming, and is already available in beta form for a limited number of users. According to Facebook’s vice president of play, Jason Rubin, over 200,000 people have already played games through the nascent platform. 

As it stands, users can access five titles through the service including Asphalt 9: Legends, Mobile Legends: Adventure, PGA TOUR Golf ShootoutSolitaire: Arthur’s Tale, and WWE SuperCard, but Facebook plans to diversify that lineup as the platform continues to scale. 

“It’s critical for us to start with latency-tolerant games so we can deliver a good experience for players across a variety of devices,” commented Rubin in a blog post. “For the purposes of our beta, that includes genres like sports, card, simulation, and strategy games. 

“This is cloud gaming after all, so even with latency-tolerant games players may notice some glitches. We’ll occasionally show player rating cards and feedback forms to help improve the experience over time.”

Rubin also stressed that Facebook will build the service slowly to avoid overpromising and under-delivering, and noted that it isn’t designed to compete with or replace more robust offerings like Stadia and xCloud. 

“Cloud game streaming for the masses still has a way to go, and it’s important to embrace both the advantages and the reality of the technology rather than try to oversell where it’ll be in the future,” he continued. 

 “We’re [also] not trying to replace your favorite gaming hardware. We love console and PC gaming and both formats will be around for a long time. We believe cloud gaming will increase — not replace — the options to jump into great games.”

Notably, the VP also touched on the issue of bringing cloud-gaming to iOS, and suggested that while Facebook would like to venture onto the platform, Apple’s recently revised App Store guidelines could prove too big a hurdle.

“Even with Apple’s new cloud games policy, we don’t know if launching on the App Store is a viable path,” he continued. “‘Of course, there is always the open Internet,’ so mobile browsers may wind up being an option, but there are limitations to what we can offer on Safari.

“While our iOS path is uncertain, one thing is clear. Apple treats games differently and continues to exert control over a very precious resource.”

You can hear more from the Facebook VP over on the Facebook Gaming blog

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Microsoft quietly prepares to avoid spotlight under Biden – Kitco NEWS

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp, which has largely evaded Washington’s scrutiny of Big Tech companies and scored a lucrative $10 billion government contract under the Trump administration, has emerged as a significant backer of the Biden campaign.

The Redmond, Washington-based software company is the fourth largest contributor to Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s candidate campaign committee, according to data from OpenSecrets, a website which tracks money in politics and campaign finance records.

The company’s President Brad Smith is playing a key role behind the scenes, hosting a fundraiser for Biden last year in Medina, Washington. He is also a big dollar bundler – people who help raise more than $25,000 for the Biden campaign – and had a public role during the Democratic National Convention, similar to Amazon.com Inc policy chief Jay Carney.

Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott and his wife have contributed over $50,000 supporting committees helping Biden win, according to campaign finance records. And Microsoft board member and co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, and his wife have also donated generously to the Biden campaign. Hoffman’s wife has contributed over half a million dollars to the Biden victory fund.

Microsoft senior executives also have donated more to the Biden campaign during the primaries than any other large tech company, according to data from the Revolving Door Project, part of Center for Economic & Policy Research (CERP).

“Microsoft has been playing politics for much longer than the other large technology companies that are widely talked about,” said Max Moran, a researcher at CERP, noting it has been around longer than most U.S. tech companies.

“It knows how to play the game on both sides of the aisle,” he added.

Companies are prohibited by law from donating themselves. The contributions, according to OpenSecrets, were either made by the company’s political action committees (PACs) themselves, members of the PAC or their employees.

Microsoft spokeswoman said the company has a history of engaging with administrations on issues that matter to its business. “Our approach has been consistent: we’ll partner where we can, we’ll stand apart where we should,” she said, adding that the contributions were made by its employees, without offering more details.

Large technology companies including Microsoft have not emerged in the top 20 contributors list for the Trump candidate campaign committee. However, Microsoft’s Smith, whose donations have mostly helped Democrats, has made several contributions to Republicans, including a $15,000 donation to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to campaign finance records.

The Trump campaign’s top contributors include government employees from the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Defense, followed by companies such as American Airlines Group and banks such as Wells Fargo, according to OpenSecrets.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill did not comment on the story, but he pointed to an earlier statement shared with Reuters, which said: “Many technology giants and their executives have not only abused their power, but misled the American people, damaged our democracy, and evaded any form of responsibility. That ends with a President Biden.”

Microsoft has escaped escalating criticism from Washington lawmakers and probes by regulatory agencies – which has culminated into one of the largest antitrust lawsuits against Alphabet’s Google by the Justice Department.

In fact, the lawsuit has delivered a potential opportunity for Microsoft to increase usage of its Bing search engine, a win years after it abandoned a long campaign for legal relief.

The company’s other large competitors, such as Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc, are also grappling with various state and federal investigations.

Earlier this year, Microsoft also won a highly controversial $10 billion cloud computing contract from the U.S. Department of Defense after it defeated Amazon in a contest marred by allegations of political influence by President Donald Trump.

‘ADULT IN THE ROOM’

Microsoft has presented itself as an “adult in the room” to both parties on the topic of antitrust, a strategy that will continue to ensure attention is diverted to its rivals, CERP’s Moran said.

Smith and Microsoft, for example, have invested time and resources in staying in the good graces of Democratic lawmakers.

Earlier this year, Smith met with the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, which produced a scathing report on how Big Tech hurts competitors. During the meeting, Smith offered Microsoft’s perspective as a company that has faced antitrust regulation in the past and also discussed his company’s concerns about the way Apple operates its App Store, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Lawyers and antitrust experts said there are some challenges Microsoft still faces, even though they are not likely to result in any meaningful action in the immediate future under a Biden administration. For example, in February the Federal Trade Commission said it will examine prior acquisitions from Big Tech companies including Microsoft. The company also faces an antitrust complaint in Europe from Slack, which operates a product similar to Microsoft Teams.

“It’s the classic case of shiny objects,” said Andrew Gavil, a professor at Howard University School of Law. “Microsoft has succeeded in making sure the attention stays on everybody else even when they continue to be dominant in many areas they operate.”

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Edward Tobin

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5 video games for kids to while away the fall hours – that parents might like, too – Humboldt Journal

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With winter weather approaching and our social options limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids and teenagers might be tempted to fill their free time playing video games.

Here are five games released in 2020 that parents might be comfortable letting their kids play as they while away the hours this fall.

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MARIO KART LIVE: HOME CIRCUIT

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: E (everyone)

Suggested Retail Price: $129.99

The anticipated latest entry into Nintendo’s “Mario Kart” series literally takes the action into your house.

The “Mario Kart Live” kit comes with a real toy kart (Mario and Luigi are the characters currently available) mounted with a camera.

Players use the Switch to drive the cart around the house to create a racetrack. Once finished, players can race on the track in the game.

The “augmented reality” mix of real-world and virtual environments gives creative players a wealth of tools at their disposal to make challenging tracks. Standard Mario Kart elements such as items to boost speed or obstacles to impede karts can be mixed with everyday household items used as ramps or obstacles.

What’s more, the game is free of some of the limitations of similar toys like slot-car racetracks. Setup and takedown is a breeze, as the only items that needed to be placed on the floor is four gates for the kart to drive through.

There are, however, a couple of potential drawbacks.

To get the most out of “Mario Kart: Home Circuit,” you will need a large, well-lit space. It’s possible to make smaller tracks for more compact areas, but the scope of what you can do will be limited.

Also, multiplayer presents some problems. The game supports up to four players on a track, but each must have their own kart and Switch console. There is no online multiplayer option.

Not only can multiplayer be costly, but the pandemic makes it difficult to meet in the same space to race against someone not in your social bubble.

Still, as both a collectible and a game, there’s little doubt that this will be high on the wish list for any Mario Kart fan. Those with the space and the desire to create increasingly devious tracks should find enough replay value in the title for months to come.

ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: E (everyone)

Suggested Retail Price: $79.99

The latest instalment of the popular “Animal Crossing” game was released in March, just as households across the country were preparing for the lockdown in response to the spreading pandemic.

The lighthearted nature of the game, which tasks you with developing an island paradise for your anthropomorphic animal buddies, was a welcome contrast to the uncertainty of the time.

The charming title has grown since then, with Nintendo releasing a number of free updates to keep the game fresh.

The recently released fall update includes Halloween-themed costumes to wear and decorations to place around the island, giving players several creative options to make their habitat suitably spooky.

With a Thanksgiving/Christmas themed update announced for sometime next month, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” gives gamers of all ages a lot of bang for their buck.

ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: E (everyone)

Suggested Retail Price: $39.99

An action/adventure game in the style of the Nintendo classic “Metroid”, “Ori and the Will of the Wisps” game sees the light spirit Ori navigate a forest full of wondrous sights and treacherous traps in a mission to rescue a friend, and heal the land in the process.

The latest Ori adventure boasts beautiful art direction, clever level design and an empathetic tone that should resonate with younger players.

Some of the combat and puzzles could be challenging for inexperienced gamers, though that could be remedied by playing on an easier difficulty setting.

The sequel to the indie hit “Ori and the Blind Forest” received strong reviews for its gameplay and story when it was originally released for the Xbox One and Windows earlier this year. A version for the Switch was released last month.

NHL 21

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One,

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Recommended for gamers 10 and over)

Suggested Retail Price: $79.99

With the 2020 Stanley Cup already awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL’s Edmonton bubble, and the next season delayed until at least the beginning of January, “NHL 21” might help fill the hockey void.

“NHL 21” lets you lead your favourite hockey team to glory, or you can create your own player and take the journey from promising prospect to all-star.

Players can compete online against others, so friends can match skills while staying in a safe environment. Parents may want to monitor if their kids play online against strangers.

EA Sports releases a new game in its NHL franchise every year, and there is often not a lot to differentiate the titles on a year-to-year basis. If you have a recent NHL title, you may want to direct your entertainment budget elsewhere.

If you haven’t bought an NHL title in a while, or are looking to pick up your first game in the series, then “NHL 21” is a way to scratch the hockey itch while the pro leagues are on hiatus and minor programs are suspended.

MARVEL’S AVENGERS

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PS4, Google Stadia

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Suggested Retail Price: $79.99

It’s fair to say “Marvel’s Avengers” didn’t quite live up to its heroic hype when it was released last month.

Reviews were mixed, with praise for its short but excellent single-player campaign and a lukewarm reception for its directionless online component.

Still, superheroes are pop culture dynamos, and there is enough here for fans of Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow to enjoy.

Combat is fast and furious, and each of the six currently available Avengers have their own play style. Rampaging into a horde of the enemies with the Hulk or lighting them up with Thor’s hammer feels right.

While the Avengers are a force for good, the violence might be intense for very young gamers. Teen players who are into superheroes, however, will find a relatable protagonist in the delightful Kamala Khan, otherwise known as Ms. Marvel.

“Marvel’s Avengers” might currently be a bit thin on content for those who aren’t big fans of the genre, but that might change. The game’s developers have beefed up the multiplayer since launch, and new characters are on the way, with the Kate Bishop version of Hawkeye expected in the coming weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.

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