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Tavares’ heroics could mark turning point for Maple Leafs

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TORONTO — If the Toronto Maple Leafs can build off something, it’s the second goal of the hat trick center John Tavares scored in a 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.

Center Auston Matthews said it was “just special.” Forward Zach Aston-Reese called it “a sight to see.”

The Maple Leafs let a 3-1 lead slip to 3-2 in the third period, like they had at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. Against the Ducks, they allowed the tying goal later in the third and lost in overtime 4-3. They came home on a four-game losing streak with a 4-4-2 record, and they had to listen to questions about coach Sheldon Keefe’s job security.

Not this time. Just as Toronto started to look safe and defensive, Tavares skated down the right wing, made a sweet move to elude defenseman Travis Sanheim deep in the right circle and cut to the net. After goalie Felix Sandstrom stopped his initial shot with the right pad, Tavares chipped in his own rebound to make it 4-2 at 12:42.

“That’s big-time stuff,” Keefe said. “That’s a big moment in the game.”

Maybe even in the season. We’ll see.

“You recognize we haven’t been playing great,” Tavares said. “We haven’t been able to close out some games. But even though we haven’t played the way that we’re capable of, we’ve been in every game, and we’ve had opportunities where we just haven’t finished it out. [It’s] just continuing to stick with what you do, the same approach daily, with being aware of what we’ve got to get better at.”

Video: PHI@TOR: Tavares scores in 3rd period

Tavares made it 5-2 with a power-play goal at 15:23, and the fans tossed caps on the ice to celebrate his hat trick. They roared when defenseman Mark Giordano roughed Flyers forward Travis Konecny and fought Flyers center Kevin Hayes in one sequence at 18:16.

This was what the fans wanted to see: bouncing back, pushing back, the core coming through. Tavares also had an assist, giving him a four-point night. Matthews had a power-play goal and an assist. Forward Mitchell Marner and defenseman Morgan Rielly each had two assists, and forward William Nylander had one.

“I think everyone was aware of kind of where we were heading,” said Aston-Reese, who also scored. “We weren’t playing awful, but we weren’t playing a full 60 minutes, and there was a conversation in the locker room, and we made the adjustments, and I thought we played almost a full game tonight.”

Normally, it’s too early for such anger and angst. But this is Toronto, one of the biggest, most passionate hockey markets in the world, and consider the full context.

The Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, the longest drought in the NHL. They haven’t won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004; every other team has won one since then, not counting the Seattle Kraken, who entered the NHL last season as an expansion team.

The past six seasons, the Maple Leafs have lost in the opening round of the playoffs. The past five seasons, they’ve been eliminated in a winner-take-all Game 5 or Game 7.

Last season was the biggest letdown. The Maple Leafs set team records for wins (54) and points (115), and Matthews became their first 60-goal scorer, winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player. But they drew the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round, blew a 3-2 series lead and lost 2-1 in Game 7.

Management brought back the same coach and core this season. In the end, that might turn out to be wise, if the Maple Leafs tune out the noise, turn themselves around and win in the playoffs. But in the interim, they won’t get the benefit of the doubt, because they haven’t earned it.

The same questions remain. How far can the core carry this team? Is the supporting cast strong enough? Is the goaltending good enough? Do they have enough toughness? Can their skill succeed in the playoffs?

The heat is on. General manager Kyle Dubas is in the last year of his contract and has said he’s more than happy to be evaluated at the end of the season. Free agent coach Barry Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 and ranks third in NHL history with 914 wins, has said an Original Six team would intrigue him. Matthews is eligible to sign a contract extension after the season.

One win won’t change any of that, especially this one. The Flyers had lost 1-0 at the New York Rangers the night before and were 1-1-2 in their past four. Instead of goalie Carter Hart, who is 5-0-2 this season, they started Sandstrom, who was 0-6-1 in his NHL career.

Bigger tests loom. The Maple Leafs host the Boston Bruins on Saturday, visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday and host the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. Boston (9-1-0) and Vegas (9-2-0) are tied atop the NHL standings with 18 points each. Carolina (6-2-1) is considered a top contender.

But this was a start. It needs to be a start.

“It’s a really positive step forward for us,” Matthews said.

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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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