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Sato claims second Indy 500 victory

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INDIANAPOLIS — At an eerily empty Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Takuma Sato snatched a second Indianapolis 500 victory in an odd and unsatisfying finish to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Sato held off Scott Dixon and won under caution after teammate Spencer Pigot crashed with five laps remaining in Sunday’s race, run in front of empty grandstands for the first time in 104 runnings because of the pandemic.

Pigot needed medical attention on the track, the crash scene was a massive debris field and the cleanup time would have been lengthy. There were also just four laps left in the race, not really enough time to allow for a proper restart.

If it had been a NASCAR race, a stoppage would have been immediate to set up a final shootout. IndyCar tends to avoid gimmicks and a late red-flag in the 2014 Indy 500 incensed purists.

Dixon, the five-time IndyCar champion who had dominated the race, asked on his radio if IndyCar was going to give the drivers a final shootout.

“Are they going red?” Dixon asked. “They’ve got to go red. There’s no way they can clean that up.”

The answer was no, turning the end of the race into a game of what-ifs.

“Its a little silly to predict what might have happened. The reality is Takuma won,” said winning car owner Bobby Rahal. “This isnt the first 500 to be flagged under yellow and there was a hell of a mess out there.”

IndyCar said in a statement after the finish “there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart for a green-flag finish.”

Dixon was visibly disappointed after leading 111 of the 200 laps in pursuit of his own second Indy win.

“Definitely a hard one to swallow for sure. We had such a great day,” Dixon said. “First time I’ve seen them let it run out like that. I thought they’d throw a red.”

Dixon had figured he would ultimately run down Sato as Sato worked through lapped traffic, and he believed Sato’s team was cutting it close on fuel. Rahal said his driver had enough gas to get to the end.

None of it mattered in the end as Sato was able to coast around the speedway then ride the lift new track owner Roger Penske installed to take the winner to an elevated victory circle. Along for the ride were Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 winner, and David Letterman, his mask buried in an unruly gray beard as the longtime comedian and TV host greeted Sato.

“Let me just say, if someone said to me this morning at the end of the Indianapolis 500 that Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal would be racing for the lead, I would say that’s a dream, that’s a dream come true,” Letterman said. “And I woke up and it turned out we won the Indianapolis 500.”

Sato became the first Japanese winner of the Indy 500 in 2017. Graham Rahal, Sato’s teammate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, was third behind Dixon.

Sato knew Dixon was going to be tough to beat under green.

“I know Scott was coming right through, out of turn four, he was screaming coming,” Sato said. “I had to hold him off.”

The celebration was somewhat muted as the RLL team had a socially distanced winner’s circle. Penske was forced to host his first 500 as owner of the iconic speedway without fans and it made the largest venue in the world eerily quiet. The speedway typically draws more than 300,000 spectators on race day; Penske said there would be only 2,500 in attendance Sunday.

It was Pigot, the third Rahal driver, whose crash set up the controversial finish. His nasty hit destroyed his car and he was prone on the track being treated before he was taken to a hospital for further examination. IndyCar said he was awake and alert.

The Sato win helped Honda snap Chevrolet’s two-year Indy 500 winning streak. Santino Ferrucui finished fourth as Honda took the fist four spots.

Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden was fifth, the highest-finishing Chevrolet driver and best of the four-car Team Penske group. Chevrolet lagged behind Honda in speed the entire buildup to the 500 and had just one driver start in the front nine.

Mired in traffic, the Chevy group never contended.

No one did, really, as Dixon seemed to have it under control after casually passing pole-sitter Marco Andretti in the first turn of the first lap and pulling away. Andretti was seeking to end the 51-year losing streak for his famous family and had a shot with the first Andretti pole in 33 years. After Dixon took command, Andretti slid back into the field and ultimately finished 13th.

James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., finished seventh, while Dalton Kellett of Stouffville, Ont., placed 31st.

Fernando Alonso, attempting to win the final leg of motorsports’ version of the Triple Crown, was 21st and never contended. This was his third attempt at winning Indy and the two-time Formula One champion is returning to that series in 2021.

Source: – TSN

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Lightning show grit in Final, adapt after first-round sweep last season – NHL.com

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are three wins from a Stanley Cup championship because they were willing to change and adapt to overcome their shocking and crushing end to last season.

The Lightning were swept in four games by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round after tying the NHL single-season record with 62 wins (1995-96 Detroit Red Wings). Now they’re even with the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final after going 12-4 in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including a five-game win against Columbus in the first round.

Game 3 of the best-of-7 series is at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Final, on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“I think experience and being humbled can help right a ship,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I truly believe last year’s experience, we’re seeing the fruits of that awful setback. What do they say the definition of insanity is, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? We couldn’t do that.”

The Lightning are bigger, tougher, stronger and grittier than they were a season ago. Former Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, who played for them last season and was a guest on the NHL @TheRink podcast Tuesday, said they have more “sandpaper.”

Tampa Bay signed forward Pat Maroon to a one-year, $900,000 contract last Aug. 24. The Lightning then bolstered their roster during the season by acquiring forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman in trades, giving up a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in each, and signing defenseman Zach Bogosian to a one-year, $1.3 million contract after he was placed on waivers by the Buffalo Sabres.

Goodrow and Coleman play on the aggressive, attacking, fast and physical third line with center Yanni Gourde. Goodrow has become one of Cooper’s go-to players late in close games; he took three face-offs in the final minute of a 3-2 win in Game 2 on Monday.

“I commend [general manager Julien BriseBois] because he stuck his neck out on the line,” Cooper said. “I know he was probably questioned or criticized for the amount people perceived he gave up, but to me it doesn’t matter. It’s what your assets do to build your team to win. He did that. They weren’t sexy trades, they weren’t sexy signings, but they were gutty ones, and it was what we needed.”

The third line is evidence of what is different about the Lightning: It doesn’t have to score to be effective.

“We used to be a team that it wasn’t good enough to beat you 3-0, we had to beat you 9-0,” Cooper said. “We had to change that attitude.”

For example, Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead against Columbus in the first period of Game 1 last season, got comfortable, thought it would come easy and ended up giving it away and lost 4-3.

On Monday, the Lightning took a 3-0 lead in the first period of Game 2, stood in as the Stars tried to punch back, took a few blows but limited Dallas to two shots after Mattias Janmark scored to make it 3-2 at 5:27 of the third period.

Video: The Tampa Bay Lightning come away with Game 2

They are 10-2 this postseason in games decided by one goal, including 4-1 in overtime. They have won 10 games scoring three or fewer goals.

“The M.O. on the Lightning the last few years is that they’re offensive and they’re skilled and the way to beat them is to play them hard,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is in his first season with Tampa Bay. “I think things have changed this year. The perception of our team will be changed after this playoffs is over. We make it a point to play defense and play structured, and we know that because we have all the skill in our lineup when our offensive chances do come we have the ability to take advantage of it.”

Cooper said the change in attitude came from Tampa Bay’s best players. Nikita Kucherov is the perfect example.

Last season, the forward was voted the Hart Trophy winner as NHL most valuable player and the Ted Lindsay Award winner as most outstanding player as voted by members of the NHL Players’ Association, and won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader with 128 points (41 goals, 47 assists). But he was suspended for Game 3 against Columbus for boarding defenseman Markus Nutivaara late in the third period of Game 2, a 5-1 loss.

This season, Kucherov has set the Lightning record for most points in a postseason with 28 (six goals, 22 assists), including two assists in Game 2. He hasn’t missed a game and is arguably setting the tone for Tampa Bay with how hard he’s playing.

“Look no further than Nikita Kucherov’s game last night, and how he was getting beat up in ways that for anybody it’s hard to come back,” Cooper said. “All he did was come back and run a power play that scored two goals and be a big part of why we won. When guys understand that it’s now what you keep out of your net and not how much you put in your net, good things will happen, and that’s what’s going on so far.”

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How the Lightning built a dominant line at the trade deadline – NHL

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After their shockingly disappointing playoff loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets a year ago, it would have been easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude that they needed to do something drastic to a team that kept falling short in the most frustrating ways come playoff time.

They could have made a major trade.

They could have fired coach Jon Cooper.

Pretty much anything that would have sent a jolt through the team.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It also would have been completely reckless, because that is not at all what the Lightning needed.

Even with their late-round collapses (and one early round collapse) this has still been one of the league’s most successful franchises for six seasons. It is a team that is — and has been — loaded with All-Star talent at every level of the roster.

They didn’t need a massive shake-up. They needed a couple of tweaks. General manager Julian Brisebois and his staff were all smart enough to realize that. Some of those tweaks started in the offseason when they signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon to cheap, one-year contracts to add some depth.

But those were nothing compared to the two trade deadline moves (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow) that helped Tampa Bay build not only one of its most effective lines this postseason, but one of the most effective lines in the entire NHL.

It is one of the biggest reasons they are three wins away from a championship.

The Trades

It all started on February 16 when they sent a first-round draft pick (previously acquired from Vancouver for J.T Miller) and 2019 first-round pick Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils for Coleman.

A week later they sent their own 2020 first-round pick, as well as Anthony Greco (who had just been acquired a couple of days earlier) to the San Jose Sharks for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 third-round pick.

It’s a lot to give up, no question. When the dust settled they sent what amounted to three first-round picks for the two forwards, neither of which would be what anyone considers to be a top-line player.

Coleman was the most notable of the two given his status as a 20-goal scorer in each of the past two seasons. Add in his defensive ability and cap-friendly contract ($1.8 million salary cap hit this season and next season) and he carries a ton of value. So it’s not a shock he carried a steep price in trade.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

The price for Goodrow, however, was probably a little more eye-opening because you don’t usually see teams trade a first-round pick for a 27-year-old forward with a career high of 27 points.

He is not bringing you offense. What he does bring you is defense. A lot of it. Over the past two seasons Goodrow was one of the Sharks’ most impactful defensive forwards when it came to suppressing shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals and, yes, actual goals.

Also like Coleman he carries an extremely team-friendly salary cap number ($925,000 per season) through next season.

That means the Lightning added two outstanding defensive forwards, including one with 20-goal ability, for a combined salary cap hit of just $2.7 million through the end of next season.

Individually, those have proven to be two very solid moves.

When put together around Yanni Gourde they have produced a game-changing line.

The Results

The Lightning’s best line this postseason has obviously been its top trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat. They have dominated every phase of the game and two of them (Kucherov and Point) are contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the Coleman-Goude-Goodrow line is not far behind them in terms of overall effectiveness, as the table below outlines.

All data via Natural Stat Trick.

(CF% = shot attempt percentage; xGF = expected goals for percentage; CA/60 = total shot attempts against per 60 minutes; xGA/60 = expected goals against per 60 minutes; GA/60 = goals against per 60 minutes).

The top line is dominating across the board, which is exactly what you expect with two All-Stars (including the reigning league MVP) playing next to each other.

But look at the second line. There is a decent gap in terms of possession (shot attempts) and scoring chances (expected goals), but they are shutting teams down at an elite level and have scored goals at a rate similar to the All-Star top line. Keep in mind, this is only 5-on-5 data and Kucherov-Point line has a ton of power play points together to drive the offense. But it is still impressive at how close they are in terms of overall effectiveness at even-strength.

As good as that top line is, it takes more than one great line to compete for a championship and ultimately win one.

Thanks to some shrewd moves at the deadline, as well as the scouting and player development system that produced Gourde as an undrafted free agent several years ago, the Lightning have given themselves a second great line to help drive their team.

It is all still in place for next season as well, and when Gourde’s contract is added in it still only costs them $7.8 million against the cap. Tough to beat that value, especially if it helps produce a championship.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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Cup Final bubble downtime takes focus off hockey for Lightning, Stars – NHL.com

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He explained there was a guy named Jimmy with NHL Studios who had been following him around. Jimmy had been in a band called Monster Magnet, which had a song at the end of the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

“The running joke was, you’ve got to wear a T-shirt at a press conference if you make the Stanley Cup Final,” Cooper said. “And so we made the Stanley Cup Final, and I’m owning up to Jimmy.”

The Lightning and the Dallas Stars are even in the best-of-7 series entering Game 3 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Cup Final, on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The story of the T-shirt isn’t really about the T-shirt. It’s a window into Cooper and his personality, and more importantly, it’s a window into the bubble and the bond between everyone in it: players, coaches, staff, everyone.

Jimmy — aka Jimmy Bags — is Jim Baglino, a sound technician who is working on “Quest for the Stanley Cup,” the six-part, all-access series with new episodes at 6 p.m. ET each Wednesday on ESPN+ in the United States and YouTube in Canada.

Baglino has worked the Cup Final so many times he can’t remember — 14 or 15, he thinks. This Cup Final is unlike any other.

“This is by far the most bizarre,” Baglino said. “I don’t know if bizarre is the right word.”

After the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the League returned with an unprecedented 24-team tournament in bubbles and no fans in the stands.

The Lightning started in Toronto on July 26 and traveled to Edmonton when they made the Eastern Conference Final. The Stars started in Edmonton on July 26 and have been there ever since.

The members of each team have been going through the same experience as everyone working alongside them: COVID-19 testing, strict safety protocols, hotel life, restaurant meals, isolation from family and friends and the rest of the outside world.

“Everybody’s in it together,” Baglino said. “You see Dallas sitting over here. They’re having lunch. The Tampa guys are over here. I’m walking across the yard the other day. I run into [Cooper] coming from the food truck. I go get a coffee, and I see [Dallas coach Rick Bowness] having a coffee. It’s a unique experience.”

Everyone has a job to do as a professional, but everyone is a person with a life outside of work too.

“Players, coaches, everybody’s focused,” Baglino said. “We’re focused on what we’re doing. But there is that downtime where normally you go home, but you’re here. You have that downtime together a lot, and that’s when you start talking about non-hockey-related stuff.”

Baglino gets to know the players, coaches and officials well, because he helps mic them for sound. He has worked a lot with Cooper in the past. He followed Dallas and Tampa Bay in the conference finals and is following Tampa Bay in the Cup Final.

He likes to talk about music. He toured with Monster Magnet in the 1990s as a tech, and when the bass player left in the early 2000s, he became the bassist. He retired from touring about four years ago.

Turns out, Cooper likes to talk about music too.

One day recently, Cooper was talking about bands he knew, and Baglino mentioned he had been in Monster Magnet.

“He’s a thorough guy when it comes to hockey or when it comes to other things,” Baglino said. “So he kind of looked into it, and I think he kind of dug it a little bit.”

Long story short, the Lightning ordered a Monster Magnet T-shirt and had it shipped to the bubble. Cooper told Baglino that if Tampa Bay made the Cup Final, he would wear it. Baglino said he’d hold him to it.

Video: Bowness, Cooper deliver pregame speeches for SCF Gm1

After the Lightning defeated the Stars 3-2 in Game 2 on Monday, eventually the camera and the microphone turned off.

“I was like, ‘Where’s the Monster Magnet shirt, man?'” Baglino said. “I was kind of razzing him a little bit about it. He’s like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to wear it.’ I’m like, ‘I’m holding you to it.'”

Cooper was good on his word. He wore the shirt to the press conference. Of course, it was a magnet for the media, and a reporter asked about it a couple minutes in. Cooper said he would circle back.

He was good on his word then too. At the end of the press conference, he volunteered the story, thinking Baglino was there to see it. The only problem was, for once, Baglino wasn’t there.

“I think it’s his first press conference that I missed, and it was the one that he wore that,” Baglino said with a laugh. “I may have to get him to wear it again.”

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