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Maple Leafs’ season on the brink after Game 2 loss to Florida

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In the 90th game of a season suddenly going nowhere, the Maple Leafs are two losses away from ending what could have been a dream season.

Following Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, Toronto has scored all of four goals at home in the first two games of this best-of-seven series, with all this apparent high-priced talent, and almost no production from any of them, a season now riding on fumes and not much else.

A season absolutely on the brink.

In just a few days, celebration has turned to angst, opportunity has all but disappeared, and all that felt right with the Leafs seems so very wrong today — and that’s without crediting the Panthers, who have deserved both wins in the series.

And all of that, by itself, is a slap in the face. A slap at Auston Matthews. A slap at Mitch Marner, captain John Tavares and coach Sheldon Keefe. A slap at a team that lost 50-50 battle after 50-50 battle. And if you do that, the late Pat Burns would tell you over and over again, you will lose every game.

The Leafs have lost both games in this series.

In the third period, the enigmatic William Nylander did almost everything by himself to bring the Leafs back. But he didn’t get the bounce or two he needed. Sergei Bobrovsky was again sharp in the Florida net. And Nylander got next to no help from anybody he played with.

The Leafs led 2-0 early, the kind of start they needed against Florida. The kind of start they couldn’t uphold.

The three Florida goals came on Toronto giveaways — one of them a weak one on Ilya Samsonov, who seemed to be guessing on that one, but still made most of the saves he had to make to give the Leafs a chance. But it was shift after shift, losing battles all over the ice, losing faceoffs, losing on board play, losing behind the net.

Simply losing.

This was the Leafs’ eighth playoff game and thus far, they have outplayed their opponents sharply in one of them. That’s all. One of eight games. The other seven, including Thursday night, were played by a Toronto team in search of an identity.

You watch the Stanley Cup playoffs and you know who the Panthers are. You know who the Carolina Hurricanes are. You know who the Seattle Kraken are, yes, the Seattle Kraken for gosh sakes.

But do you know who the Leafs are? What is their identity? What, if anything, makes them great?

“I don’t think we have (dictated play),” said Morgan Rielly, who has probably been the best Toronto player in the eight post-season games. “We want to be controlling play, controlling the puck.”

He said that in the morning. But with the Leafs up 2-1, having scrambled their way to the lead after the first period, didn’t — again — seem ready to start the second. Sometimes they’re not ready to start periods. Sometimes they don’t seem ready to end periods.

Florida scored 19 seconds into the second period, after a puck was stolen from Nylander and Sasha Barkov scored on a wrist shot that had to be stopped.

Clearly, that goal shocked Toronto.

Less than a minute later, Matthews tried to push a puck past Eetu Luostarinen inside the Leafs blue line and couldn’t do so. A few seconds later, Florida led 3-2 on a goal by defenceman Gustav Forsling.

That was it for scoring on the night.

The Leafs had almost 39 minutes to tie the game. They couldn’t do it. Bobrovsky was sharp. The Leafs were not. They even messed up an opportunity to pull the goaltender with more than two minutes to play and somehow couldn’t co-ordinate something as basic as that. Coach Keefe waited until there was just over a minute to go before getting Samsonov out of the net, a minute of possible extra time wasted for no apparent reason.

That’s the kind of night and kind of series it has been for the Leafs. The Panthers are beating the Leafs and the Leafs are beating the Leafs. It’s tough to beat one team let alone two in any playoff series. It’s tough when you’re tripping over yourself in a game that occasionally looked like an Edmonton Oilers intra-squad match.

Turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers.

The two Florida goals in the second period were both scored against the line that includes Matthews and Marner, and against the apparent No. 1 defensive pairing of TJ Brodie and Jake McCabe, who have been on the ice for five of seven Florida goals in the series. The Leafs looked for a short time like they could get away with playing Mark Giordano, who is suddenly looking like the oldest player in the NHL. It seems like they can’t now.

Go up and down the Toronto lineup and try and find the positives. There was Nylander in the third period. There was a little bit of Ryan O’Reilly and Alex Kerfoot early on. But who played well, like really well? Like raise-your-game-to-another-level well?

Did Matthews? Did Marner? Did Tavares? They lost while handling the big Florida line that includes Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk.

“We beat ourselves a lot the other night,” said Keefe before the game. Then they did it all over again Thursday night.

And now they have to climb Mount Panthers. They have to win four out of five. But it all seems impossible right about now.

 

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Malaika Mihambo and Dennis Schröder Lead Germany’s Diverse Olympic Team to Paris 2024

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“The goals have definitely not changed,” Malaika Mihambo declared in a recent television interview, reaffirming her determination to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games despite a recent setback from a coronavirus infection. The 30-year-old long jumper aims to defend her Olympic gold medal, which she won in Tokyo in 2021.

While Mihambo is a seasoned Olympian, Paris 2024 will mark a special debut for Dennis Schröder, the captain of Germany’s 2023 world champion basketball team. “It has always been a goal of mine to be at the Olympic Games,” said the 30-year-old Brooklyn Nets player.

Mihambo and Schröder are among the stars of the German Olympic team, which showcases remarkable diversity with around 450 top athletes. This team includes individual talents such as tennis stars Angelique Kerber, the silver medallist at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and Alexander Zverev, the 2021 Olympic champion in Tokyo. Notable teams include the men’s basketball team led by Schröder, the women’s football team, and the men’s handball team.

Among the experienced Olympic stars is table tennis player Timo Boll, who has won several team medals and is immensely popular in China and beyond. Dressage rider Isabell Werth, with seven Olympic gold medals, aims to match the all-time record of nine gold medals held by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.

Some German athletes, though not yet household names, have garnered attention with impressive performances leading up to the Games. In athletics, the women’s 4×100 meter relay team, decathlete Leo Neugebauer, and marathon runner Amanal Petros stand out. Trend sports also feature promising talents like surfers Camilla Kemp and Tim Elter, and 17-year-old skateboarder Lilly Stoephasius, who will compete in her second Olympic Games.

Swimmer Angelina Köhler has recently emerged as a star, winning gold in the 100 meter butterfly at the 2024 World Championships. Köhler, who has openly discussed her ADHD diagnosis, described participating in the Olympics as fulfilling “a very, very big childhood dream.”

As Germany heads to Paris, this diverse and dynamic team aims to leave a significant mark on the 2024 Olympic Games.

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Thomas Müller: The End of an Era for Germany’s Iconic #13

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It is difficult to write something about Thomas Müller that hasn’t been written before, yet at the same time, it is difficult to capture his essence in mere words. That alone is an indicator of his distinctive nature as a person and brilliance as a footballer.

It is said commonly, there will never be another Thomas Müller. And that rings true today more than ever, for Germany, for football.

Germany has dominated world football so often throughout history, each era marked by superstars in their own right. And even then, Thomas Müller remains unique, apart from the rest. The idea of a dominant die Mannschaft in the ‘modern era’ of football immediately prompts the mental image of an overjoyed Müller wearing any variation of the iconic white-black German kits, busy shouting in celebration amidst the euphoria of scoring yet another goal for his country on the biggest of stages.

Efficient, unorthodox, enigmatic – yet somehow simple. Everywhere he needed to be on the pitch, yet he left the greatest of defenders oblivious, unable to predict his next move. A goalscorer and creator simultaneously and equally brilliant at doing both. Unapologetically himself – both on and off the pitch.

You’d never be mesmerized by Müller’s touch, flair, or skills. But you’d be mesmerized nonetheless. Unpredictable off-the-ball movement, a surprise element with the ball, and a shot from such unbelievable angles that you’d never believe how it found the net. And even then what forever remained stuck in the minds of fans and opponents alike was the scene that followed after his heroics in the opposition box — a group of elated Germans heralding around Müller as the scoreboard reads a scoreline just as memorable.

A little boy from the south of Bavaria had a dream and had the entire world watch as he lived it to the fullest. Müller represented his country a total of 131 times and somehow every single time he was a pleasure to watch and a menace to face. The lights were bright, but he shone brighter.

His football was messy but incredibly effective. Tall, scrawny, and the furthest thing from muscular, but it worked to his advantage. He was never the “typical footballer” — concerning both his personality and playstyle. He was so good at everything going forward that the orthodox football terms didn’t apply. No problem for Müller – “Ich bin ein Raumdeuter,” said the star clearing things up about his position and inventing a role in football no one other than himself has or ever will truly master.

Germany’s first game at the 2010 World Cup saw Müller walk onto the pitch with the number 13 on his back. The same number was coincidentally also worn by legendary German striker Gerd Müller at the ‘76 finals. Thomas scored that night — it was the first of 45 goals he would go on to score for his nation. The fans (and notably Gerd himself) were overjoyed to see a German named Müller, squad number #13, scoring for Germany again after so many decades.

Speaking postgame about his first international goal, Müller said while laughing: “I was just trying to boost the sales of the Müller replica shirts!” – the first of many playful Müller interviews after a masterclass for Germany. 14 years and 44 goals later, Thomas has made that jersey number his as much as it was Gerd’s.

Thomas Müller — forever Germany’s beloved #13.

What once was a need to prove himself and do everything in his power to lead his country to victory turned into a feeling of grounded pride for what he’s greatly helped achieve, but the desire to win never died. Müller, even after everything, still put in the same effort he did on day one.

There was never a dull moment watching Müller play for his country. Not everything has changed — over all these years, Müller has had the same playfulness, the same laugh, the same witty statements that never failed to make fans smile. He is just as loveable as a person as he is as a footballer. “I don’t have any muscles – how can I get hurt?”, or “I already have one Golden Boot, what will I do with another?” Müller captivated audiences with both his football and his words.

Müller playing for Germany is what made myself (and so many others) a fan of the beautiful game – because the game was only beautiful when Müller had the ball. A mesmerized young boy and a superstar footballer formed an unlikely, one-sided bond over the television screen a decade ago, and that bond only strengthened over the years.

As Müller announces his international retirement today, it is difficult to fathom that we might never see such an icon play for Germany ever again. We might never see him celebrate or joke around in the Germany shirt. We might never see someone represent everything German football stood for as well as Müller did. We might never see him film a challenge video with Mats Hummels at the German camp. And we might never forget the heartbreak of his last game for Germany.

Yet we as fans can look back on one of the greatest international careers of all time. His antics on the world stage are some of the best highlights of a career filled with highlights. There is no need to mention his countless achievements for his country – he is the most decorated German player of all time after all. Even then, Müller, who has always had impeccable timing knew exactly when it was his time to depart. He didn’t want to push it or ever make things about himself.

Müller’s iconic moments turned into unforgettable games. Those unforgettable games made legendary tournaments. And those legendary tournaments? They are the crown jewels of an illustrious career.

So here is a thank you, from the bottom of our hearts – thank you for showing us what football is really about. Thank you for some of the greatest memories a football fan could ask for. Thank you for always giving everything on the pitch, and finally – thank you for being yourself. We will never forget Thomas Müller in the iconic German white. Danke, Thomas.

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Missed Opportunities Plague Yankees in 6-4 Loss to Rays

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NEW YORK — The New York Yankees fell to the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday afternoon, continuing a troubling trend of failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The loss came despite Aaron Judge’s efforts, including his MLB-leading 35th home run of the season.

The Yankees’ inability to hit with runners in scoring position (RISP) was the primary issue. In the first inning, hits from Juan Soto and Aaron Judge loaded the bases, but Gleyber Torres and Alex Verdugo couldn’t drive in any runs. Soto then grounded into a double play to end the second inning with the bases loaded.

Aaron Judge hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning, his 35th of the season, bringing the Yankees within two runs. However, his contribution was not enough to overcome the deficit. Marcus Stroman pitched 5.1 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits, including two home runs. He struck out five and did not walk any batters. Despite his solid performance, he received minimal run support.

Gleyber Torres made a critical error in the fourth inning, leading to a run. His 0-for-4 performance at the plate dropped his batting average to .229, adding to the Yankees’ woes. Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected after disputing a strike call on Alex Verdugo. This marked his 38th career ejection and fifth of the season.

Soto’s ninth-inning RBI double provided some hope, but it was too little, too late. The Rays’ Jose Caballero homered in the ninth, extending their lead and sealing the victory.

The Yankees began the series with a 6-1 win on Friday but faltered with a 9-1 loss on Saturday, followed by Sunday’s 6-4 defeat. This inconsistency has been a recurring issue for the team. Despite the loss, the Yankees (59-42) remain two games behind the Baltimore Orioles (60-39) for first place in the AL East, as the Orioles also lost 3-2 to the Texas Rangers.

Aaron Judge commented, “No weight. I’ve got good guys behind me. It’s baseball. You’re going to go through some ups and downs, and you’re going to click for a little bit, but there’s months where other guys are going to carry this team and there’s months where I’ve got to pick it up and carry the team, and it’s all part of it.”

Marcus Stroman reflected, “It’s hard to be incredible for 162. I think we have a lot of confidence … how good (Soto has) been — all year, him and Judge — I think we’re kind of losing sight of how incredible those two guys have been. So they can’t do everything, each and every single time. We can’t put all the pressure on them.”

Aaron Boone added, “This game’s hard for us right now, and we’ve got to find a way. We know we’re better than this, and we’ve got to come ready and salvage a series tomorrow.”

The Yankees will aim to split the series against the Rays in the final game on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET. With their recent struggles in key situations, the team must find a way to improve their performance with runners in scoring position to turn their season around.

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