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NBA's HORSE Challenge Airing Sunday, April 12th, Finals On April 16th – RealGM.com

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ESPN, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) today announced that Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks and newly elected Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings headline the list of eight NBA and WNBA players and legends who will participate in the new NBA HORSE Challenge Presented by State Farm, exclusively on ESPN and streamed via the ESPN App.

Beginning Sunday, April 12 at 7 p.m. ET, Paul, Young, Catchings, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, three-time WNBA All-Star Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky, Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr. and NBA Finals MVPs Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce will match shots against one another in a single-elimination HORSE competition from their respective, isolated home courts. ESPN NBA commentator Mark Jones will serve as the official host.

The semifinals and finals will air on Thursday, April 16th.

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How NHL could transition from paused to handing out Stanley Cup – Sportsnet.ca

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“There’s no magic to starting in October,” Gary Bettman said this week, but there may be some found in finishing then.

For it looks increasingly like that’s when the commissioner will be handing over the Stanley Cup if health conditions allow the NHL to go ahead with a 24-team tournament to crown a champion at the end of its coronavirus-interrupted season.

Bettman was reluctant to attach specific dates to his league’s return-to-play plan after Tuesday’s unveiling and said anybody who did would be “guessing.”

So let’s stick with the known facts, as best we can, in sketching out how the NHL might transition from paused to completing the playoffs.

The earliest players will be required to report to their teams for training camp is July 10. That was communicated to them in a Thursday afternoon memo. While there’s no certainty the league will be ready to transition to Phase 3 at that point — camps could conceivably open later in the month instead — let’s use the best-case scenario as a baseline.

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

Now the NHL is granting the players a fair bit of latitude in helping shape how the resumption unfolds, including final say on the length of training camps. The players on the “Return To Play Committee” have indicated a need for at least three weeks to get back in game shape, although there seems to be some flexibility on their part now that team facilities are expected to open late next week for small-group workouts.

Perhaps, with ice available to everyone for somewhere in the neighbourhood of five weeks before camps officially open, they won’t require as much time as initially thought.

“We really want it to be more on the cautious side than obviously kind of being aggressive,” said Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, one of five players serving on the ‘Return To Play Committee.’

“I really think we’re going to get a better sense … as we get into Phase 2: How guys are feeling, how long that phase is going to be, really what we’re going to need. It’s not an exact science.”

In sticking with an optimistic view, let’s say they end up needing two weeks on the ice together in their playing cities. That takes us to July 24. The next step will see teams travel to their hub cities to complete training camps and play two exhibition games apiece, which is expected to last another week.

Now we’re sitting at July 31.

How long the tournament itself takes to play is currently resting in the hands of the NHL Players’ Association as it decides on the remaining format issues. It could be completed in as few as 59 days if best-of-fives are used for Rounds 1 and 2 followed by best-of-sevens in the conference finals and Stanley Cup final.

An additional nine days are required to play four rounds of best-of-seven, like usual, following the best-of-five play-in series.

It’s not an easy choice given the concerns many players have about being separated from their families to complete the season. However, the signs seem to point to them electing to commit to the longer tournament to preserve the integrity of the Stanley Cup.

“I think anyone who gets their name on it wants to earn it like the players that did before them,” said Tavares. “I think the sense I got, and I think my own personal view, is it would be nice to play all four rounds of the playoffs as a best-of-7. As what we’re used to.”

Kris Letang, the NHLPA rep for the Pittsburgh Penguins, expressed a similar sentiment after discussing the matter with his teammates.

“One thing that comes up often is the fact that everybody is used to the best-of-7,” said Letang. “You know how it’s structured, you know how it feels if you lose the first two [games] or you win the first two. You kind of know all the scenarios that can go through a best-of-7.

“I don’t think there’s any players in this league right now that played back in the day in the best three-of-five. So I think it’s just an easier thing to just put a best-of-7 because everybody knows what to expect and you have no excuses of not being prepared for that.”

Should that end up being the case, a tournament starting Aug. 1 could see Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final played on Oct. 7.

And that’s assuming everything proceeds in a timely manner between then and now — far from a guarantee, despite the big strides already made by completing the playoff framework and getting a good handle on how the COVID-19 testing will be handled.

There’s still a lot of back and forthcoming on key issues that need to be negotiated between the league and players.

All of which points to one conclusion: If the NHL manages to complete this unusual 2019-20 season, it will have to do so more than a calendar year after it initially started.

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Predictions for all 8 Stanley Cup qualifying round series | Offside – Daily Hive

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They’re not technically the playoffs, but they’re not the regular season either.

When Gary Bettman announced the details of the NHL’s return-to-play plan earlier this week, he introduced us to a new term.

The eight best-of-five series will look and feel like the Stanley Cup playoffs (other than the lack of fans in attendance), but it will in fact be known as the “qualifying round.”

Call it whatever you want; for hockey fans, this is a godsend.

In what amounts to a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament, 16 teams will compete for a chance to play one of the top four teams in each conference. We don’t know exactly when or where it’ll take place yet, but we do know the matchups.

Western Conference

Edmonton Oilers (5) vs Chicago Blackhawks (12)

Are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enough to beat the Chicago Blackhawks? The oddsmakers certainly think so.

Perhaps that’s unfair to the rest of the Oilers, who played much better under new head coach Dave Tippett, but no other team in the league can boast two stars as dominating as Edmonton’s.

Prediction: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith won’t let Chicago get swept, but Edmonton’s star players are in their prime and will overpower them. Oilers in 4.

Nashville Predators (6) vs Arizona Coyotes (11)

  • Odds:
    • Arizona Coyotes +105
    • Nashville Predators -125

The Arizona Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs since 2012 and looked poised to qualify earlier this season. They traded for Taylor Hall but they didn’t exactly take off after the acquisition.

Nashville, conversely, has made the playoffs in five straight seasons. Are they a sleeping giant or a team that’s over the hill?

Prediction: The pause will help Arizona, a team that’s already used to playing in empty arenas. Coyotes in 5.

Vancouver Canucks (7) vs Minnesota Wild (10)

  • Odds:
    • Minnesota Wild +120
    • Vancouver Canucks -140

These two teams last met in the playoffs in 2003 when Minnesota overcame a 3-1 series deficit to upset the Canucks. Vancouver is favoured this time around, too, in a matchup of opposites.

The Canucks are led by young stars like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Brock Boeser. Conversely, many of the Wild’s star players, like Ryan Suter, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, and Mats Zuccarello, are in their 30s.

Prediction: Jacob Markstrom will outperform Alex Stalock in goal, and Vancouver’s young stars will excel while Minnesota struggles to shake off the rust. Canucks in 4.

Calgary Flames (8) vs Winnipeg Jets (9)

  • Odds:
    • Winnipeg Jets -110
    • Calgary Flames -110

Oddsmakers are split on a matchup between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. These two teams played just once during the regular season, a 2-1 overtime win by Calgary at the Heritage Classic in Regina.

Both teams have dangerous forwards, but the Flames have the unquestioned advantage on defence, as Winnipeg’s blue line was decimated in the past 12 months. But the Jets have the clear advantage in goal, where Connor Hellebuyck posted one of the best save percentages in the NHL (.922).

Prediction: Hellebuyck will keep Winnipeg in every game, but David Rittich will step up to minimize the advantage. Flames in 5.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs Montreal Canadiens (12)

  • Odds:
    • Montreal Canadiens +170
    • Pittsburgh Penguins -190

In the biggest mismatch on paper, instead of preparing for the NHL Draft, the Montreal are getting a shot at the Stanley Cup. They were 10 points back of a playoff spot when the season paused, while the Penguins are one of the best teams in the league, eyeing another Stanley Cup.

But in a short series, anything is possible, and the Habs have Carey Price. They’ve also got nothing to lose, and that might be a scary proposition for Sidney Crosby and company.

Prediction: This series will be competitive, but Pittsburgh’s quality will rise above the Canadiens. Penguins in 4.

Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs New York Rangers (11)

  • Odds:
    • New York Rangers +130
    • Carolina Hurricanes -150

After a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final last year, the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t exactly a Cinderella team this time around. They’re favoured to beat the New York Rangers, who have one player that should scare them: Artemi Panarin.

Panarin finished tied for third in league scoring with 95 points, but Carolina is deep up front and on defence, and should come out on top.

Prediction: With last year’s experience under their belts, the Canes know how to win in the playoffs and they’re still a team on the rise. Hurricanes in 3.

New York Islanders (7) vs Florida Panthers (10)

  • Odds:
    • Florida Panthers -120
    • New York Islanders +100

The Florida Panthers are the only team the oddsmakers like that are below their opponent both in terms of overall points, and points percentage. New York Islanders fans surely will feel slighted by it, but maybe they shouldn’t.

The Islanders limped into the pause, losing seven straight games, and 11 of their last 13. The Panthers weren’t exactly rolling either though.

Prediction: The Panthers have the better team on paper, but the Islanders have Barry Trotz’ suffocating system. Islanders in 5.

Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

  • Odds:
    • Columbus Blue Jackets +140
    • Toronto Maple Leafs -160

They might still have to play the Boston Bruins on their journey to the team’s first Stanley Cup since 1967, but the Toronto Maple Leafs will get a bit of a break against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But despite a talented lineup, the Leafs will need to be careful against Columbus, who swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs one year ago. The Blue Jackets don’t have star power like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, or John Tavares, but they do have a plucky group with excellent defence and good goaltending.

Look out.

Prediction: The Blue Jackets will indeed give Toronto a scare, but there won’t be an upset. Leafs in 5.

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Jack Eichel 'fed up with the losing' as Buffalo Sabres' playoff drought hits nine years – ESPN

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Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel said he’s “fed up” with the franchise’s futility after the team’s ninth straight season without a playoff berth, which covers the entirety of the 23-year-old star’s career.

“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated. You know, it’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years with where things have [gone],” Eichel said on a conference call Thursday. “I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I’m on the ice. I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season.”

Eichel was drafted second overall in 2015 by the Sabres. In 354 NHL games, he has 337 points. That includes 36 goals and 42 assists in 68 games this season — which was cut short on March 12 when the NHL paused for the coronavirus pandemic — leading Buffalo in both of those categories as well as points (78).

But despite his efforts, the Sabres finished 13th in the Eastern Conference at 30-31-8 (68 points), failing to make the cut for the 24-team postseason “return to play” format the NHL announced this week. Eichel has yet to appear in an NHL playoff game during his five-year career. He’s had two general managers and three different coaches during that span.

The Sabres announced that general manager Jason Botterill will return next season. Eichel praised coach Ralph Krueger for his work during his first season on the Buffalo bench.

“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not getting frustrated with where things are going and I think we took a step this year, but I will say it’s been a pleasure working with Ralph. He does so much for our group every day. There are tough times and he does an amazing job of … narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be mentally,” Eichel said. “And just the few times that I’ve spoken with him, you know, throughout this quarantine, whatever you want to call it, it’s been good.”

Eichel said he remains dedicated to finding a way to lead his team to success.

“You know, I’ve already started preparing for next season now. I’m already back on the ice, I’m already training, I’m already doing things to try and better myself for the start of next season, whenever that is,” he said. “But yeah, I’m definitely not in the greatest place with where the last little bit’s [gone], and it’s definitely worn on me.”

Eichel wasn’t the only Sabres player to express frustration on Thursday. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who hasn’t made the playoffs in his seven-year career in Buffalo, is also tired of the team never breaking through to becoming a contender.

“Buffalo has a bright future, but we’ve been [talking about] the bright future for seven years now, and I’m not sure when it is,” he said.

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