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Penguins Game 7 Thoughts: Malkin & Letang Finale? Crosby, Sullivan to Rescue? – Pittsburgh Hockey Now

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NEW YORK — Like the great westerns, Sidney Crosby might ride to the rescue just in time to save the Pittsburgh Penguins. Game 7s are unpredictable, but the cavalry might be coming with Crosby and No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry.

Just in the nick of time.

The thought didn’t register until close to the puck drop for Game 6 of the Round One series with the Penguins and New York Rangers. It struck me as I did my customary handshakes with several PPG Paints Arena ushers, some of whom are close to 90-years-old. Was Game 6 the final Penguins home game for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang? Is Game 7 their final Penguins game?

After years of stability, the Penguins have new ownership. New management.

It’s a sobering thought. The Penguins were most likely headed for victory in Game 5 until their fellow core member was taken out by something just short of a flying elbow from Jacob Trouba. The league didn’t see a problem with it or Malkin’s teeth-bruising cross-check later in the third period.

Despite a barrage of colorful language from Rangers fans who generously contributed to PHN’s ballooning profits and Dave Molinari’s new position, their assault on the English language, heavy with misogyny, left my opinion unchanged. Trouba should have received a multi-game suspension, and it is just the latest joke from the NHL DoPS, which has enough comedy gold for an hour-long Netflix special.

However, Sidney Crosby sent electricity through the UPMC Lemieux Complex on Saturday when he showed up at practice–as a full participant. He could play in Game 7.

It’s been 16 years since Evgeni Malkin looked at future captain Sidney Crosby, who was waiting to follow the Russian rookie to the ice for warmups and demanded to go on the ice last, “three years, Super League.

Malkin asserted himself as the senior hockey sibling, despite Crosby’s eye-popping rookie season the year before, and the boys have held the order for 16 years.

Letang was the steal of the 2005 NHL Draft held at a hotel in Ottawa because of the preceding year-long lockout and a new CBA signed too recently to allow the league to prepare an arena for the draft. The young Letang had boy-band frosted tips and spent another year in the QMJHL before filtering to the Penguins organization.

It’s been a wild ride for all involved. Remember Letang’s early playoff struggles. Crosby’s concussion saga of 2011-12 included the best hockey of Evgeni Malkin’s life. It ended when a specialist figured out that Crosby didn’t have a concussion but a soft-tissue neck injury only after Crosby missed a year of his hockey life.

There were the parties on the South Side. The boys, including Jordan Staal and Max Talbot, held court in Mario’s on the South Side.

And there were Stanley Cups.

Those kids are gone, replaced with men in their mid-30s. A few gray hairs on the beard. Contracts measuring in the tens of millions. They have families and homes of their own instead of living in spare rooms of veteran players like Sergei Gonchar and Mario Lemieux.

“Passion,” their first head coach, Michel Therrien, told PHN in 2019. “I remember, they were teenagers almost. I had to keep them out of the rink because they’d spend their days at the rink. This was all they knew.”

With some irony, the crew might have played their final game as Pittsburgh Penguins because an opponent took away Crosby, though it looks like the Penguins will have a fighting chance in Game 7. Crosby could return, and the trio will get one more crack at it.

Evgeni Malkin turned in a vintage performance in Game 6. The team sure could use another.

But Game 6 could have been the final ride in Pittsburgh.

Penguins Penalty Kill & Power Play Coaches

How much offseason heat will be applied to assistant coaches Mike Vellucci and Todd Rierden?

Vellucci was seen as Jim Rutherford’s guy when he was hired as the WBS Penguins coach. This season, the PK was ranked first or second in the NHL for much of the season, but there were dips and hiccups, especially late in the season.

The PK has been unacceptable in this series. It’s assumed the Rangers will score.

The PK also stumbled greatly after the NHL trade deadline. GM Ron Hextall dealt light scoring forward Zach Aston-Reese to Anaheim in the Rickard Rakell deal. Bryan Rust joined the PK. It shouldn’t have created that much of a disparity.

The Penguins had only a few shorthanded goals this season. And Tristan Jarry was a big reason the PK was stellar.

The Penguins’ power play never got on track this season. It languished in the mid-teens, at best, before falling back near 20th at the end of the regular season.

It seems too easy to dump that on Kris Letang. Or Evgeni Malkin. Those guys were part of the great Penguins power plays, too. For some reason, it didn’t work this season.

The Penguins’ special teams have let the team down and been a deciding factor in every loss. If they stink on both sides in Game 7, that’s probably going to be how the story, and maybe the final chapter of this team, is written.

Pittsburgh Penguins Game 7s

I’ve covered the Game 7s since 2016. The 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final remains one of if not the best game the Penguins have played under Sullivan. The 2017 Game 7 in Washington was so intense that a couple of team personnel had to leave the arena to take a walk before the game, but it became a comfortable 2-0 win. The 2017 Eastern Conference Final double OT thriller against Ottawa was a master class in patience–the Penguins dominated for what seemed like hours.

In each of those wins, the Penguins–specifically Sullivan–did a little something different. Sullivan added a wrinkle, a tweak, a surprise for the opponent, which worked magic. 

I wonder if there’s anything Sullivan can do with this team. The Rangers are a bit quicker. The crowd feeds them like gasoline feeds a fire. And aren’t we all getting a bit softer in our old age?

I also know that one Penguins player chuckled after the Game 7 win over Washington in 2017, “we knew they’d be tight.”

Jeff Carter won the 2014 Stanley Cup after the LA Kings won three–yes, THREE–Game 7s.

I wonder how much experience will play a role in this game? How will Igor Shesterkin, who has been leaky all series, handle the increased pressure? I wonder how Tristan Jarry (I expect him to play) will handle it and the rust of not playing for a month? Or Louis Domingue?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are never short on drama, but this one especially has more plots, subplots, and secondary characters than any Western. This one could be the end of much we’ve taken for granted.

The puck drops just after 7 p.m.

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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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