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What Maple Leafs can learn from Lightning’s series win over Blue Jackets

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TORONTO — This was more than your typical first-round series win. The Tampa Bay Lightning dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets in five tightly contested games, but they also discarded some sizable baggage from its travelling party in the process.

There was an emotional intermission speech from Kevin Shattenkirk during Wednesday’s come-from-behind 5-4 victory in overtime. There was an emotional celebration in the corner of Scotiabank Arena following Brayden Point’s winner. And there was the lasting image of head coach Jon Cooper pumping his fist after making his way through the handshake line.

“Well we had 422 days to think about it, but who’s counting?” said Cooper, raising the spectre of last year’s sweep by the Blue Jackets that had haunted his team ever since.

This series ended in five games, but it was a battle the whole way through.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets played six overtime periods and saw the total goals scored end up 14-12 in Tampa’s favour. There were long stretches where not much happened in the offensive end, which proved to be a test of patience for a high-octane offensive outfit like the Lightning.

“I think last year, if we learned anything, we learned that they’re a great team,” said Point. “They’re a hard-working defensive team that capitalize on mistakes. It was no different this year. I thought a lot of those games could have went either way and great for our group that we came out on top.”

Looking back, the Lightning acknowledged feeling more prepared for the battle after last year’s disappointment. They were a 62-win juggernaut that got swept by Columbus in Round 1 back in April 2019 and were forced to re-examine their process as a result.

“All of us collectively — from the coaching staff on the way down — had to be a little harder,” said Cooper. “We had to be better and we had to train ourselves to play a little bit of a different way, and we did.”

There are lessons to be found here for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which lost a best-of-five qualifier to the Blue Jackets at the outset of these playoffs and are built in a similar style to Tampa.

Here are three that jump out:

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

1. Get more comfortable with discomfort

This was a huge area of focus for Tampa in the wake of last year’s sweep. Fundamentally, the Lightning had been willing to trade scoring chances and goals because their skill could make the difference in 7-5 games — which was all well and good until the playoffs started and there were very few scoring chances to be found.

This season they prioritized trying to keep opponents to no more than two goals. That required Tampa to take fewer risks and focus more on the defensive end, which was good mental training for a rematch with Columbus that featured scores of 3-2, 3-1, 3-2, 2-1 and 5-4.

They won an eight-period marathon in Game 1 without ever leading until Point’s overtime winner. In Wednesday’s clincher, they erased a 4-2 deficit in the final eight minutes of regulation and credited their ability to stick with the gameplan for pulling it off.

“We’ve done a really good job of trying to win games like that,” said Lightning forward Tyler Johnson. “I think in years past we weren’t as comfortable in those close games and those one-goal games. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to focus on that. The guys just stuck together.

“Everyone was working hard and we were winning those games as teams and that’s what you need.”

Toronto rode the roller-coaster in its series with Columbus, squandering a three-goal lead in Game 3 before rallying from three goals down to win Game 4. After falling behind early in Game 5, the Leafs couldn’t break through against Joonas Korpisalo.

Of note, Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen identified this as an issue during his end-of-season media availability.

“We’ll look back and learn, but I do think the part of playing with tighter games, closer games, being comfortable with that I think is going to have a great benefit, especially in the playoffs,” said Andersen. “I think if we can get used to doing that in the season and not expecting to blow teams out or only real show up when it’s a really big game in the regular season, I think if we can have it more become an everyday thing and really get used to playing like that, I think that’s going to benefit us in the long run.”

2. Roster construction

Point scored two overtime winners in this series while Johnson and Anthony Cirelli both got on the board in Wednesday’s clincher, but Tampa was also able to rely on depth contributions.

In fact, Toronto’s stars arguably generated more against Columbus over five games than the Lightning’s stars managed to.

But no line was more dominant against the Blue Jackets than Blake Coleman-Yanni Gourde-Barclay Goodrow, who generated roughly 70 per cent of their expected goals while on the ice. They created pressure with a relentless forecheck — prompting Cooper to liken them to gnats — and produced four even-strength goals in the series.

“I feel like they’re always just buzzing around and as you try to knock them away, they just never leave and they’re pests,” said Cooper. “They put work ethic above everything else. They’re selfless players and they don’t have an off switch.”

Toronto, by comparison, deployed more skill on its third line but only had a single goal from 18-year-old rookie Nick Robertson to show for it. That makeup is something Kyle Dubas is capable of addressing, if he chooses, just as Julien BriseBois did for Tampa.

He brought in Coleman and Goodrow at the trade deadline in February because he felt his team needed to be a little more difficult to play against.

3. Killer instinct

A sense of occasion is invaluable in a playoff series, where momentum always swings and the difference between winning and losing usually isn’t much.

The Leafs were left lamenting their inability to win the third period against Columbus and take Game 1, plus the blown 3-0 lead midway through Game 3.

Tampa found a way to weather duress. It squeaked out a victory in the quintuple overtime Game 1, nursed a 2-1 advantage for the final 35 minutes of Game 4 and recovered from a blown 2-0 lead in Game 5.

Cooper said his only thought heading to the dressing room before the series-clinching overtime period was that the Lightning needed to find a way to finish the job, rather than letting a pesky opponent hang around.

The victory that followed clearly meant a lot to the veteran coach — “More than you’ll know,” he said — because of all the second-guessing his group faced after its loss to Columbus.

At some point in the future, the Leafs hope to find out.

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Kansas State rallies to stun No. 3 Oklahoma – TSN

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NORMAN, Okla. — Skylar Thompson passed for 334 yards and ran for three touchdowns, and Kansas State rallied from 21 points down to beat No. 3 Oklahoma 38-35 on Saturday.

Freshman Deuce Vaughn caught four passes for 129 yards and ran for a touchdown for the Wildcats, who were coming off a season-opening loss to Arkansas State. It was Kansas State’s first-ever road win against a top-three team in the AP poll.

Oklahoma freshman Spencer Rattler passed for 387 yards and four touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions.

Kansas State upset Oklahoma 48-41 in Manhattan, Kansas, last year.

Kansas State said earlier in the week it was struggling to have enough players available at all position groups to play the game because of COVID-19.

In the opening moments of the second quarter, Rattler threw into traffic and found Drake Stoops for a 32-yard touchdown. It was the first career touchdown for the son of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, and it gave the Sooners a 14-0 lead.

Thompson’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Chabastin Taylor in the second quarter cut Oklahoma’s lead to 14-7, but the Sooners answered with Marvin Mims’ 9-yard touchdown reception in the final minute of the first half.

Rattler’s 53-yard pass to Stoops led to Seth McGowan’s 5-yard touchdown run and a 35-14 late in the third quarter.

Two short rushing touchdowns by Thompson got the Wildcats back in the game. Kansas State’s Nick Allen blocked Reeves Mundschau’s punt, and the Wildcats took over at the Oklahoma 38. Vaughn’s 38-yard touchdown run on the Wildcats’ second offensive play and the extra point tied it at 35 with 8:17 to play.

Kansas State’s Blake Lynch hit a 50-yard field goal with 4:32 remaining. Kansas State’s Jahron McPherson intercepted Rattler in the final minute to help close out the win.

THE TAKEAWAY

Kansas State: The Wildcats didn’t fold when they fell behind and the defense improved in the second half against Rattler.

Oklahoma: The defense fell apart much like it has many times in recent years.

UP NEXT

Kansas State: Hosts Texas Tech on Saturday.

Oklahoma: Travels to Iowa State on Saturday. The Cyclones beat the Sooners three years ago and nearly upset them last year before falling 42-41.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

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NBA Finals 2020: LeBron James' 10th trip to the Finals is a reminder of his all-time greatness – NBA CA

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4h ago


Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James went 10-for-17 (58.8%) in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ Game 5 win over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

Yes, I’m aware that LeBron actually finished with a ridiculous 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists on 15-for-25 shooting – this isn’t a box score thing.

Allow me to clarify.

In his 17th NBA season, LeBron James is now set to make his 10th appearance in the NBA Finals.

If you take away the three years in which James-led teams failed to qualify for the postseason, you’re looking at him appearing in the Finals 10 out of a possible 14 times (71.4%). And after tonight, teams that feature James have only lost once in the conference finals, his lone loss coming against the Orlando Magic in 2009.

Yes, LeBron now holds a 10-1 record in the conference finals.

James has become just the fourth player in NBA history to make 10 or more Finals appearances, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Boston Celtics legends Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) are the only two players that have played on the NBA Finals stage more.

Most Finals appearances, NBA history
RankPlayerAppearancesTitles
1.Bill Russell1211
2.Sam Jones1110
3.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar106
3.LeBron James103
4.Tom Heinsohn98
4.Magic Johnson94
4.Jerry West91

Say what you want about Finals records but to be quite honest, you can only lose in the Finals if you make it to the Finals. Jerry West, the Logo, took seven losses in the Finals before capturing that elusive title on his eighth try, only to lose for an eighth time while in pursuit of a repeat. Winning titles is hard, and getting to the Finals – win or lose – is not the type of accomplishment to scoff at.

The standard to which James is often held speaks to his greatness. That he’s expected to lead teams to the Finals – in his 17th year, no less – is not normal.

Like, we-may-never-see-this-again abnormal.

We also know LeBron’s star has shined its brightest in the Finals. The last time he was there, he opened with a 51-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist performance in what I consider to be one of the greatest individual performances I have ever seen – regular season or postseason.

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Now, after a one-year hiatus from the postseason, James is four wins away from title No. 4 with team No. 3.

It’s worth mentioning that Robert Horry and John Salley are the only players in league history that have won titles with three separate franchises. While Horry and Salley executed their respective roles to a T, LeBron is the first player to lead three separate teams to the finals, posting averages of 26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists through the first three rounds, and also has a chance to become the first player to ever win a championship and Finals MVP with three different franchises.

With that being said, James and the 2020 Lakers still have four wins to earn before attaining basketball immortality. And in this league, nothing is guaranteed.

For now, appreciate the greatness of the accomplishment at hand. Unlike the fairly common sight of a player shooting 10-for-17 from the field, we may never see a player lead a team to the Finals in 10 of his 17 seasons ever again.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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Israel Adesanya dominates Paulo Costa, finishes with devastating second-round knockout in UFC 253 main event – MMA Fighting

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It was supposed to be the toughest challenge of his career, but Israel Adesanya made it look easy as he dominated Paulo Costa to retain his middleweight title in the UFC 253 main event.

“The Last Stylebender” predicted that precision would beat power and that’s exactly how the fight played out as he avoided just about everything Costa threw at him while chopping down the Brazilian contender with leg kicks throughout the opening round. Adesanya then finished the fight with a blistering counter left hand that put Costa down and out for the final time.

The end came at 3:59 in round 2.

There was a lot of bad blood between the middleweights in the days and weeks leading to the event but Adesanya ultimately needed less than two rounds to dispatch Costa and hand him the first loss of his professional career.

“I’ve been telling you guys. Like Roy Jones said, ya’ll must have forgot. Ya’ll must have forgot,” Adesanya said in reference to his previous win over Yoel Romero before making short work of Costa on Saturday night.

“I see you media people with your little clickbait headlines. I had to make ya’ll remember.”

Wary of the power coming from Costa early, Adesanya concentrated on leg kicks in the opening exchanges while looking to chip away at his opponent’s foundation. Rather than rushing ahead to close the distance, Costa countered with a couple of stiff kicks of his own to the body while inviting Adesanya to come after him.

As the fight continued, Adesanya was methodical while dishing out a steady diet of those same leg kicks with Costa willing to stand directly in front of him. While Costa was constantly taunting Adesanya, it was the former kickboxer turned UFC champion who was inflicting far more damage.

Midway through the second round, Adesanya’s leg kicks paid off when he was able to go up to the head where he connected and opened a cut over Costa’s eye.

With a dazed look in his eyes, Costa never really recovered as Adesanya saw the hurt painted all over his opponent and he knew the end was near.

At that moment, Adesanya welcomed an exchange on the feet where he showcased his dazzling defense and then tossed the counter left hand that ultimately led to the finish. As soon as the punch connected, Costa crumbled to the mat and Adesanya only had to threw a few more shots before the referee rushed into stop the contest.

The win moved Adesanya to 20-0 in his career, 9-0 in the UFC and he’s now a two-time defending middleweight champion. Never one to sit back and wait for the next challenge, Adesanya already had a name in mind as he looked ahead to UFC 254 in a few weeks when a former champion squares off with a top ranked contender at 185 pounds.

“I already DM’d Jared Cannonier. He’s a hell of a dude. I love his energy. He’s a beautiful man,” Adesanya said. “I said you destroy Robert Whittaker and you’re next.

“He’s the one I want to fight next. He deserves it. If he beats Robert Whittaker handily and dominates him, he’s next.”

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