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What you need to know for the NHL playoffs –



This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Quick note before we get started: no newsletter Monday on account of the holiday. Back Tuesday.

Here’s your guide to the first stage of the NHL playoffs

On Saturday — 143 days after putting its season on pause — the NHL will finally play meaningful games again. It’s cutting right to the chase, too. Unlike the NBA, which is having its teams play eight more de facto regular-season games each, the NHL is going straight to an expanded version of the playoffs.

Refresher on how this will work: The first stage, branded the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, consists of two parts. The more interesting one matches up the 5th through 12th seeds in each conference for best-of-five series. While those are going on, the top four seeds in each conference play a round robin against each other. Everyone in the round-robin is guaranteed to advance, but their records in these games will determine seeding for the conventional 16-team, best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff bracket that follows. The No. 1 seed in each conference gets to play the lowest-seeded survivor from the best-of-five series, and the teams will be re-seeded after each round so that the top remaining seed always gets to play the weakest seed.

The four teams in the East round-robin are (in order of best to worst record) Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. In the West it’s defending Cup champion St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas.

The Stanley Cup champ is more likely to come from that group of eight. Most bookmakers have Tampa Bay as the favourite to win the Cup, but the odds suggest it’s a wide-open race. Boston, Vegas and Colorado are all packed in closely behind the Lightning, with several other teams not far away.

Some teams will undoubtedly rise up the board if they survive their best-of-five series. Let’s take a quick look at those matchups:

Western Conference

#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago: There’s plenty of star power in this battle between two of the leagues’ top-heaviest teams. The Oilers have the NHL’s No. 1 and No. 2 point scorers in Leon Draisaitl (an MVP finalist) and Connor McDavid (the best player in the world). Chicago’s Patrick Kane had 84 points in 70 games this season, and Jonathan Toews is one of the top two-way players of his generation.

#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes: Probably the least interesting matchup, but there’s some freshness to it. The Coyotes are making their first playoff appearance since 2012, and Arizona star Taylor Hall is making just the second of his career.

#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild: Vancouver is back in the playoffs for the first time in five years and looking to win a series for the first time since falling one victory short of the Stanley Cup in 2011. The Wild are the deeper team, but the Canucks have more stars, including last year’s rookie of the year (forward Elias Pettersson) and also possibly this year’s (defenceman Quinn Hughes, who’s a finalist for the award).

#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets: The only all-Canadian matchup is one we haven’t seen in the playoffs since the 1987 Smythe Division semifinals. Top to bottom, Calgary’s skaters are stronger, but the Jets have one of the best goalies in the league in Connor Hellebuyck, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

Eastern Conference

#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens: Everyone is calling the Habs impostors because they had basically no chance of making the playoffs the conventional way this year. But a best-of-five series introduces even more randomness into the already notoriously random NHL playoffs, and Carey Price can steal one of these if he gets hot. But he’ll be facing a healthy and rested Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers: This one looks fun. The Rangers’ Artemi Panarin finished third in the league in scoring to earn an MVP-finalist nod, and he and Mika Zibanejad are a dynamite tandem. Carolina made a surprising run to the conference finals last year, but its goaltending is still a big question mark.

#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers: The Panthers spent a ton in free agency, but they were probably on their way to missing the playoffs before they got rescued by the expanded playoff format Still, they have a pair of stars in Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov, and a high-ceiling goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. The Islanders are a classic Barry Trotz team: a collection of no-names who beat you with effort and dedication to their brilliant coach’s stifling system.

#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets: A fourth consecutive opening-round exit would be devastating to the Leafs and their fragile fan base. So it’s a bit cruel that they drew the team who shocked juggernaut Tampa in round 1 last year. Columbus, though, won only three of its last 15 games before the NHL shut down the regular season.

A few more things to note: From now through the quarter-finals, all Eastern Conference games are being played in Toronto. Edmonton is hosting the Western games, and will host both conference finals and the Stanley Cup final.

As for the schedule, it’s a binge-watcher’s dream. Five games are on tap Saturday, with start times ranging from noon ET to 10:30 p.m. ET. They’re staggered in such a way that you’ll be able to watch about 13 consecutive hours of hockey with very little gaps in the action (please consult your doctor first). A similar slate is in line for at least the first six days, and probably a bit longer unless there are a bunch of sweeps. This handy graphic from the NHL lays out the full schedule for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers:

(NHL Public Relations)


Another baseball game was postponed — and more might be coming. Today’s matchup between St. Louis and Milwaukee got called off after two Cardinals players tested positive for COVID-19. That makes three games on today’s schedule postponed because of positive tests. Philadelphia-Toronto and Washington-Miami are the others, and their games through the weekend have already been nixed. At our publish time it was unclear what will happen with the Cardinals-Brewers games on Saturday and Sunday. It’ll also be interesting to see if the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland get pulled into this. The Cardinals said that their positive results came from tests conducted on Wednesday, prior to a game in Minnesota. The Twins are scheduled to play Cleveland tonight, Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins’ outbreak resulted in a 20th positive test today. The count is up to 18 players and two coaches. Read about the latest in baseball’s growing list of problems here.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League’s tournament has been quite competitive. After the 0-2 Ottawa Blackjacks beat the 2-0 Fraser Valley Bandits last night, all seven teams were either 2-1 or 1-2 at the halfway mark of the round robin. This stage runs through Wednesday. At that point, the top two teams will get a bye to the semifinals while the teams ranked 3-6 will square off in a pair of quarter-final matchups on Thursday night. Every game in the tournament is being streamed live on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Today’s matchups are Edmonton vs. Niagara at 3 p.m. ET and Saskatchewan vs. Guelph at 5:30 p.m. ET. Both of Saturday’s games — Hamilton vs. Fraser Valley at 1:30 p.m. ET and Edmonton vs. Saskatchewan at 3:30 p.m. ET — will also be broadcast live on the CBC TV network. Stream everything live and see the full schedule here.

The LPGA Tour is back. The first tournament since mid-February teed off today in Ohio. Canada’s best player, Brooke Henderson, isn’t there. The world No. 7 decided to skip the first three events and return for the next major, the British Women’s Open on Aug. 20. The only Canadian in the field this week is 107th-ranked Alena Sharp. If not for the pandemic, she and Henderson would be in Tokyo right now competing in the Olympics. Read more about Sharp here.

And one more thing…

The NBA is back, which is great. But so is load management, which is not.

It was genuinely uplifting to watch the return of meaningful NBA games last night. They looked and sounded as close to normal as you could hope under these circumstances. And the moment before the opener in which every single player, coach and referee involved in the Utah-New Orleans game took a knee for the national anthem was quite powerful.

But it was not so great to be reminded that load management is still very much a thing. Star rookie Zion Williamson, like the rest of the league, had been off for four and a half months. He’s now nine months removed from the arthroscopic knee surgery that was initially supposed to keep him out for 6-8 weeks, and he already came back and got 20 games under his belt before the pandemic hit. So you’d think he’d be good to go.

And yet, in the final few minutes of a tight, nationally televised game last night, New Orleans refused to budge from the minutes restriction it has placed on him. Zion came out of the game with 7:19 left and never returned — even when the Pelicans got the ball with 6.9 seconds left and trailing by two. They missed a potential game-winning three and lost. After the game, coach Alvin Gentry said “We wish we could have played Zion down the stretch. But he had used the minutes that had been given to us.”

It’s understandable that New Orleans would want to be protective of Zion. He has a history of knee injuries and the Pelicans’ chances of winning a championship this year are extremely slim. So in some ways it makes sense to play the long game — for both the team and for Zion. But New Orleans still has a chance to make the playoffs, and one of the selling points of this final stretch of regular-season games (or “seeding games” as the NBA has branded them) was supposed to be watching Zion lead his team on that push. Now we know that isn’t the top priority for the Pelicans.

This kind of indifference is something the league might have to reckon with before long. It’s become pretty plain that many teams and players don’t really care about the regular season. Pretty soon, fans might stop caring too.

You’re up to speed. Have a good long weekend.

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From EA to the NHL: How synthetic audio is helping tell story of the game –



New camera angles, giant screens, fluorescent lighting around the rink framing the main event – hockey’s got a new look this summer.

Fans at home have no doubt noticed it sounds a little different, too.

With the COVID-19 pandemic eliminating the possibility of proceeding with fans in attendance, the NHL decided to bring in some help in the form of synthetic audio in an effort to create a more normal atmosphere.

If it feels like the players are living in a real-life video game, you’re not far off. All that audio, aside from the organic stuff – skates on ice, pucks on sticks, chirps on opponents – is supplied by EA Sports’ NHL division, makers of NHL ’20 and the upcoming NHL ’21.

“What you’re hearing inside the real-life games right now are the exact same sounds that we use in our product,” said David Pritchett, presentation designer at EA Sports’ NHL franchise headquarters in Vancouver.

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

As the “vision holder” for the video game product’s visual and audible elements and overall presentation, Pritchett was a major driving force in creating the audio hockey fans have been hearing since 24 return-to-play teams set out in their quest for the Stanley Cup earlier this month.

Upon seeing how EA’s FIFA division supplied in-game sound for the return of the Premier League in June, the NHL reached out to Pritchett’s team with a question: “What opportunity is there for NHL to do something similar?”

While the video game relies on artificial intelligence to trigger a series of audio reactions programmed to be at the ready at all times, applying that same audio to real-life sports means doing it manually — with an audio operator located at the rink and manipulating the synthetic sound in real time.

Where soccer’s sounds come in rolling waves, slowly building to a crescendo as the beautiful game unfolds on an expansive sea of green, hockey provides a much greater challenge with its fast, frenetic pace and unpredictability. (Make it playoff hockey in the year 2020, put it in a bubble, and anything can happen.)

Like every aspect of the NHL’s unique return-to-play setup, plans between EA Sports and the NHL came together quickly over the course of about a month and a half of meetings, mock-ups, test-runs, and fine-tuning – done remotely and via Zoom, of course.

“There’s a fine line there, where we want something that sounds authentic, but we need to be careful with that,” Pritchett said. “What we’re really doing is helping with the storytelling of the game.”

Working in EA’s favour was the NHL’s desire to create a more neutral in-game atmosphere, with both sides getting a home-team feel as far as crowd reactions and goal horns go.

“The NHL made it very clear that they don’t want it to be something that’s kind of in-your-face, and I totally support that as well,” he said. “They use it more as a background tool, just to add a little bit of something so that we’re not constantly reminded that we’re in this COVID era, I suppose. And I think that’s great.”

The NHL also wanted to keep things positive – i.e., more cheers than jeers.

“There were things that we knew we didn’t want, like booing on referee calls,” Pritchett explained. “We wanted to keep it positive, for sure – that’s the number one thing – but we also didn’t want to be in this weird situation where it felt like the NHL was making commentary on the reffing in the games.”

(Hockey Twitter will look after that part.)

So, what’s in a game? It starts with the general crowd noise, the audible anticipation, as the baseline sound of every game’s broadcast — that comes in the form of a three-minute audio loop, mimicking the atmosphere of a rink full of excited fans and void of any “audio landmarks” that would stand out.

“If you listen really, really closely, it’s like this mix of close-up fans that you can actually hear reacting to the play plus the 17,000 fans at the same time,” said Pritchett.

Then there are shot reactions – “Literally, I’ve written down in my notes here: ‘oohs and aahs,’” Pritchett said with a laugh. These match up with goals, saves, or misses, with every possible reaction coming in at varying voracities, from a glove save in the first play to a Game 7 overtime winner with Lord Stanley on the line. There’s also applause for a nice play or save, and even a fight loop for the rowdy fans (not) in attendance.

As much as it sounds like Pritchett’s team and the league have got it down to a science – for every action, there is an equal and augmented reaction – it turns out it’s actually more of an art.

“When we were in discussions with the NHL as to what type of person should be handling the hardware and doing this in real time during the games, we stressed to them the importance of having somebody that was more artistically oriented as opposed to technical,” Pritchett said. “This is not a technical tool – this is an artistic tool.”

The tool he’s talking about is called the Ableton Push 2, operating a system called Ableton Live.

“It’s typically meant for DJs. It’s more of a musical tool, it’s meant for live-mixing, on the fly, at clubs and things like that and it’s intended to be easy to use and super intuitive,” said Pritchett. “The idea is that it becomes so intuitive for the operators that they’ll have one hand on that piece of hardware and not even have to look at it while they’re watching the game … clicking buttons and be using rotary dials as it happens, almost like a musical instrument.”

The result is a symphony of sounds that make up a hockey game. And while it may seem like there’s an entire orchestra behind the audibles, it turns out it’s all the work of a one-man band.

That’s where Jeff Kozak comes in. Equipped with the Ableton operating system and EA’s collection of clips, it’s Kozak who’s actually applying the sound effects in real-time to every single Western Conference game in Edmonton’s hub city, making the big game sound more like… well, the big game. (Michigan-based audio operator Matt Coppedge is doing the same role for every Eastern Conference game in Toronto’s hub.)

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Sound is second-nature to Kozak, whose extensive musical experience began when he first started playing piano at a young age and grew as he took up the violin, performing in symphonies and on stage for about 12 years before transitioning to the technical side of things.

Without knowing it, you’ve heard Kozak’s contributions to hockey broadcasts before – over the course of his 31-year career, the freelance sound mixer has traveled wherever hockey goes, helping bring thousands of hockey games (including All-Star Games, outdoor classics, and Stanley Cup Finals) to life on the small screen.

“I know what the building’s supposed to sound like in between play. I know what the crowd reaction is going to be on certain aspects of the play – a great body check, a fabulous save, a puck sliding by an open net super slowly,” Kozak said. “I was really actually invigorated by the chance to do this.”

Kozak, who’s used to being tucked away in the sound suite of a technical production truck, is now located up – waaay up – at the press box level of Edmonton’s Rogers Place where normally a commentator and analyst would watch and call the game.

This new vantage point has forced him to re-think how he watches the game he’s made a career in, in order to get fully in sync with the ebb and flow of narrating a hockey game through the collective gasps and roars in place of the 18,500 fans that would typically fill the seats at the home of the Oilers.

He’s used to listening to a flurry of other voices through his headset – commentators, producers, directors, fellow sound technicians. Now, his focus is solely on the dozen players battling on the icy stage below him.

“They tell me everything that’s going on on the ice. I can hear their dialogue up here – it’s astounding,” he added “So, I’m mixing the game live, to them, and it’s super helpful. It really is.”

In front of him throughout every game is the Ableton Push 2’s panel of 64 colour-coded buttons – eight rows of eight, with dials above each row to adjust the volume and intensity of each sound and reaction.

Kozak was able to configure the grid to his own preference like a personalized, colourful Rubik’s cube of a keyboard, all lit up come game time and ready to be played as soon as the players set foot on the ice.

“I can load that with whatever sounds I want in a way where I can make it easy for my hand just to rest on a button and I know that my index finger is a cheer or my thumb is a goal or my pinky is different sound, and I can colour-code all that. And then with my left hand, I have all kinds of different crowd intensity samples – so, as play is moving up the ice, I’m making it louder just like people would cheer a rush up the ice in a real crowd,” Kozak explained. “I’m trying to replicate that, but not too much because I still have to be conscious of the fact that I am sweetening the game, I’m not trying to re-create the crowd. The game is dictating to us what it should sound like.”

Kozak didn’t have much time to prepare – he learned about the job opportunity just a few weeks before traveling to Edmonton from his home base near Peterborough and, once settled inside Edmonton’s bubble, he received the fully-loaded hardware and software just two days before the puck dropped on the first exhibition game.

For two days, he called up old hockey games on YouTube, studying the rise and fall of the ambient sound and reactions, recording those games using his own applied audio, and then listening back to compare.

Through that process, Kozak learned that the natural tendency is to put in too many sound effects.

“Less is more, for sure,” he noted. “There’s commentary overtop of it … the skate sounds and the sticks and the dialogue from the ice. You have to leave some room in there for everything.”

Kozak’s biggest takeaway?

“The thing I noticed right out of the gate was, because I’m used to seeing the game on a monitor in a broadcast, was how fast it is up here — it’s just so incredibly fast,” he said.

Have any plays snuck up on him?

“Well… Connor McDavid,” he said, with a laugh. “The other night, that goal under the crossbar…”

“At times, it’s very difficult to see the puck up here because you’re so high … It was up and under the crossbar, and I was trying to figure out where the puck was and it was in the net. Just an incredible goal.”

That half-second pause between the puck zipping past the goal line and Kozak’s finger releasing an eruption of fan noise from the would-be hometown crowd is something he’ll “forever remember.”

It also brought a human element to a process driven by technology.

“It is comforting to know that that does happen in real life,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s not comforting when you’re the person pushing the button.”

Now about three weeks into the action – and working up to three games a day – in Edmonton, the action has slowed down for Kozak and he’s clearly having fun with what is a “really unique opportunity.”

“As the games have gone by, it’s gotten much easier. The game’s slowed down enough that you can make the decision,” he said. “And 99.9 times you’re correct – unless it’s Connor McDavid with that backhand under the crossbar.”

There are a lot of new normals these days, and it takes some time to get used to them.

The league and its broadcasters went into this process knowing there would be room for plenty of growth and adjustments to come, and we’ve seen that already.

Prior to the real competition starting up, the idea of synthetic audio was to have it input only into the broadcast feed – not into the arena itself. That changed at the end of the exhibition games, when the NHL tried feeding it straight into the rink for the players to hear, too.

“The feedback we’ve been getting from players and officials is that they’re very happy with what they’re doing,” said Kozak. “It’s putting them in a place where they feel like things are somewhat normal. That’s probably something we’re most proud of – is the fact that we’re being transparent and neutral.”

With plenty more games on the way, expect more evolution – and more unique soundbites. Just as no two hockey games are the same, no two crowds sound exactly alike, either. Kozak, Coppedge, Pritchett and the NHL will continue to collaborate as competition progresses to bring in new sounds as the stakes get higher.

As Pritchett pointed out: “You really have to be thinking about the long game as well, over time – like, what am I going to reserve for those really big moments?”

We’ll have to wait and see. And listen.

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In the Habs Room: 'I heard it hit the crossbar,' Nick Suzuki says of last-minute shot – Montreal Gazette



Article content continued

The Canadiens went 0-for-12 on the power play during their qualifying-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, so Weber’s goal could provide an important confidence boost for the team going forward.

“That is big, obviously, for the power play,” said Weber, who now has a team-leading three goals and five points in the five postseason games. “Hopefully that can build some momentum and we’ve been so good five-on-five already that we’d like to keep that up.

“But I think you always talk about big shifts after scoring a goal, last minute of a period, first minute of a period,” Weber added about Farabee’s goal. “Those are kind of the key moments. Definitely a little bit of a letdown there, but I still thought we responded well and even after that I still thought we had a pretty good second period, minus that.”

Midway through the third period, Canadiens coach Claude Julien juggled his lines, moving Max Domi up from the fourth-line centre role he played against the Penguins, putting him at right wing on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi at centre and Jonathan Drouin on left wing. The move almost paid off with less than two minutes left when Domi just missed setting up Kotkaniemi from behind the net for a great scoring chance in the slot. It looked like Kotkaniemi might not have been ready for the pass.

For Canadiens fans who were shaking their heads watching Domi play on the fourth line, their reaction to the move was probably: About time!

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5 Things: Flyers vs. Canadiens Game 1 –



#1 – Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-9, 89pts)
#8 – Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71pts)
at Scotiabank Arena | Toronto, Ontario
ROUND 1 – GAME 1: Series tied 0-0
TIME: 8:00 p.m. |  TV: NBCSP |  RADIO: 93.3 WMMR

Season Series: 2-1-0
Playoff All-Time Record:
Series: 6 Series (3 wins, 3 losses)
Games: 31gp (15-16)
Leading Scorer:
PHI – Travis Konecny (24g-37a): 61 pts
MTL – Tomas Tatar (22g-39a): 61-pts


The Flyers are one of only two teams to have won all four games they have played since entering the bubble (Vegas)… They did not trail at any point and outscored their opponent by a 14-5 margin… In the three-game Round Robin the Flyers did not allow a goal in the opening period and allowed just ONE goal in the third period (T-1st in NHL) against all three teams above them in the regular season standings… The Flyers also received scoring from eight different players, none of which were the Top 5 goal scorers of their regular season… Scott Laughton led the Flyers and was the only Flyer to score in all four games of the Return to Play, posting six points (4g-2a).

The Canadiens enter the First Round having already gone through a playoff series with a 3-1 series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins… In that series, the Habs defense recorded a total of 10 points (4g-6a) in the four games, which accounted for 40% of their offense… All 10 of their goals were scored at even strength… D-man and team captain, Shea Weber, led the team in scoring with four points (2g-2a) in the four-game series… Montreal scored the first goal in all three of their wins and dropped their only game when allowing the first goal… The Habs led all teams in the Qualifier & Round Robin for the most hits (171), which was a full 25 more hits than the next closest team, and ranked 4th with the most blocked shots (73).

Per the NHL, the team that wins the Game 1 of a best-of-seven series goes on to win the series 478 of 697 times (68.6%)… The Flyers have an all-time record of 32-39 in Game 1’s and have won 23 of 32 series when winning Game 1, and have lost 24 of 39 series when losing Game 1… They have dropped six of their last eight Game 1’s, including their last three… Both teams failed to score on the power play in the Round Robin or Qualifier Series with the Flyers going 0-for-11 and Canadiens going 0-for-12… The defense pairing of Philippe Myers (+6) and Travis Sanheim (+5) combined for a +11 rating, while the Montreal pairing of Shea Weber (+5) and Ben Chiarot (+6) also combined for a +11.

Since the NHL’s original expansion in 1967, the Canadiens have the most wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (266) with the Flyers ranking third (224)… This is the seventh all-time playoff meetings between these two and first since the 2010 Conference Final which the Flyers won in 5 games (4-1)… Of the six previous series, none have gone past six games and the Flyers have won three of the last four… These teams finished their season series with the Flyers winning twice, but the Habs secured a point in all three games, going 1-0-2, dropping both games in overtime… Eight different Flyers scored all eight goals and six Flyers had two points, while Tomas Tatar had three goals and five points in the three games and Phillip Danault had five assists and was a +4.

FLYERS (G: #79 – Carter Hart)
Not including the exhibition game, Hart has won 13 of his last 16 starts dating back to Jan. 8 of the regular season, posting a 1.94 GAA and .933 save percentage with a 13-3-0 record… He went 2-0-0 in the Round Robin, allowing just two goals on 59 shots and stopped all 26 shots he faced in the third period… Hart won his only start against Montreal this year, stopping 22 of 24 shots
CANADIENS (G: #31 – Carey Price)
Price led the NHL for most starts in net this year (58) and was T-5th for the most wins, posting a 27-25-6 record and earned 87% of the Canadiens wins this season (27 of 31)… Price posted a 1-0-1 mark this year against the Flyers with a 1.98 GAA and .952 save percentage… Over the last five seasons, Price has posted an 8-2-2 record against the Flyers with a 2.23 GAA and .930 save percentage.

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