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Pressure now on Flames to close the deal against Stars at home in Game 7

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DALLAS — The disappointment still evident in his expression, Elias Lindholm was asked why he was still optimistic his Calgary Flames can make good on their second, and final, crack at eliminating the Dallas Stars.

“We’ve been a good team all year,” said Lindholm, minutes after his club’s emotional 4-2 loss in Game 6 at American Airlines Center.

“We have a lot of talent, and a lot of characters, and one of the best goalies in the league. And we have home ice, so we’re excited.”

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What they likely won’t have is their best defenceman, Chris Tanev.

Early in the second period of a game with more momentum swings than a Tilt-A-Whirl, Tanev left the game and did not return following the Stars’ second goal.

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With Oliver Kylington stumbling to the ice after being walked around, Tanev tripped over his defensive partner and lay prone on his stomach as he slid towards the Flames net. While reaching out with his left arm to try steering the puck off the goal line, Michael Raffl poked the puck in as he and Joel Kiviranta fell on top of Tanev’s upper body.

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In one of his shorter press conferences, Darryl Sutter clearly wasn’t going to address Tanev’s status or what it might mean.

Michael Stone did.

“Just means everybody’s got to step up and try to do the things he does, and he does a lot for this hockey team,” said Stone, whose local cult status grew with his first playoff goal since 2017.

“So, it’s going to take six guys to step up and contribute.”

They’ve done it by committee on the back-end all year long, so why not again for Game 7 Sunday in Calgary when the club hopes to end its seven-year wait for second-round action?

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Problem is, that committee of six may also include Connor Mackey if the league chooses to suspend Nikita Zadorov for a neutral zone hit on Luke Glendening minutes before the Tanev injury.

The hit caught Glendening’s head, buckling the Stars forward, who left for the balance of the period before returning to the bench after clearing concussion protocol. However, he told the coach he couldn’t play due to a lower-body injury and simply wanted to stay with his teammates to watch.

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In a game that featured an elevated level of hatred between the two clubs, Zadorov immediately skated past the Stars bench to exchange words with an irate group.

There was no penalty on the play, but how the NHL’s Department of Safety proceeds will be interesting.

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“The referees are sometimes put in a tough position,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness.

“It’s easy for us to look at the video, slow it down and say that’s a headshot. The referees sometimes don’t get the best angles, so you live with their call.”

And so, Flames fans will be put through the wringer yet again.

A team that has only gotten through the first round twice in three decades will get another crack at closing out a wild-card team that returns to Calgary with nothing to lose.

The pressure is squarely on the Pacific division champs to take a talented roster with nine guys who’ve never won a playoff series and close the deal.

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“I know we’re not supposed to still be playing,” shrugged Bowness, playing up the underdog role, even though his club beat out Calgary two years earlier.

“We’re supposed to be on a golf vacation right now, but that wasn’t our intention going in. We didn’t get in the playoffs to be someone else’s stepping stone for the second round. Here we are, going to Game 7, so our guys deserve a lot of credit.”

They certainly do, especially after the Flames gave them every reason to panic midway through the second period when they saw their 2-0 lead disappear thanks to goals four minutes apart by Mikael Backlund and Stone.

However, late in the frame Miro Heiskanen steered away from Matthew Tkachuk at the point, walked in and beat Jacob Markstrom from 40-feet out.

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Two nights after making their first third period comeback in a playoff game since 2015 (which is the last time the Flames advanced a round), the Flames weren’t able to break through before Tyler Seguin’s empty netter.

The Flames had the better first period and slightly more high danger scoring chances in a game that featured much more wide-open spurts, but when it mattered most Jake Oettinger and a stifling Dallas defence shut the door. An Erik Gudbranson shot off the post early in the third was as close as the Flames came to tying it.

The Flames are now 7-17 in Game 6’s and will host their first Game 7 since 2006 when they lost to Anaheim.

The Flames have lost six of the last seven Game 7’s they’ve played, which is, of course, irrelevant.

“It was a hell of a game, just couldn’t get the equalizer,” said a seething Sutter.

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“You’ve got to win a game. It takes a lot. Some guys are still learning how much it takes. Said it yesterday and this morning.”

Stone said his club traded too many chances with the Stars, but that when the group returns to Calgary on Saturday afternoon they’ll do so by parking their latest setback.

“It’s a seven-game series for a reason — sometimes it doesn’t go all the way but that’s three games apiece and it comes down to one,” said Stone, who watched both goalies make 36 saves in the most entertaining game of the series.

“We’re still feeling good about it. We’ve got home ice. That’s one of the advantages of the way we finished the regular season. So we’re looking forward to a big Game 7.”

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Canelo Alvarez next fight: Mexican superstar says trilogy with Gennadiy Golovkin will take place in September

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It appears that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is going to settle things with his greatest rival before rematching Dmitry Bivol. Alvarez told ESPN he plans to honor his previous agreement to rematch Gennadiy Golovkin in a September trilogy bout before attempting to avenge his recent loss to Bivol.

Earlier in the year, Alvarez signed a two-fight deal with DAZN, with the first fight against Bivol for the WBA light heavyweight title and the second a third meeting with Golovkin. After Bivol upset Alvarez on May 7, turning in a stellar performance in outboxing the man who entered the fight as boxing’s pound-for-pound king, it appeared Alvarez would choose to rematch Bivol rather than take on Golovkin.

It appears that is not the case, as Alvarez stated the fight with Golovkin would take place first while speaking at his golf invitational on Monday. The bout is expected to be for Alvarez’s four world titles at super middleweight.

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“We already had that contract [with Golovkin], that agreement, so we have to continue what we started, and I think those are the two biggest fights in boxing, the fight with Golovkin and the rematch with Bivol,” Alvarez said at a press conference, which took place on Monday to promote a business venture, according to ESPN Deportes. “Unfortunately, we lost, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try again.

“The important thing here is perseverance and we’re going to do it again. What is certain is that we are going to return in September. And in the coming days … we are going to announce the fight.”

Alvarez’s previous two fights with Golovkin both ended in controversy. Their first meeting in September 2017 was a close fight that many felt Golovkin had done enough to win. Golovkin was given one scorecard 115-113, another was a 114-114 draw, and somehow, Alvarez was awarded the third on a wide 118-110 card that in no way reflected the reality of the fight.

After the split draw, the pair rematched the following September. Again, the fight was very competitive, and again, many observers felt that Golovkin had done enough to deserve a narrow decision victory. This time, however, Alvarez was given the majority decision win, taking two cards by scores of 115-113 with the third even at 114-114.

Fans have clamored for a third fight for years but Alvarez instead unified three belts at middleweight, won the WBO light heavyweight championship against Sergey Kovalev and unified all four belts at super middleweight.

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Since the loss to Alvarez in the rematch, Golovkin has won four straight, including unifying the IBF and WBA world championships at middleweight.



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USFL Week 6 Power Rankings: Stallions, Generals on top

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The unbeaten Stallions and one-loss Generals remain at the top of our USFL Power Rankings. RJ Young ranks the field.



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With the best offence in the WNBA, have the Aces finally found their rhythm?

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For a team that, on paper, seemed like they would be able to fight with the best in the league on any given night, the Las Vegas Aces have yet to find the success they were meticulously built for.

It’s not team chemistry giving them issues — the Aces have arguably the most fun on and off the court, supporting each other in-game as well as keeping the atmosphere light and uplifting each other outside of those four quarters.

Talent was never an issue either, as 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson continues to dominate the league, Jackie Young has continued her ascendance since last season, Dearica Hamby is one of the biggest threats in the league coming off the bench and Kelsey Plum is putting up career-highs in points and assists.

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Yet that post-season glory still eludes the Aces, who moved the franchise from San Antonio to Nevada in 2018 and hired former Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer to coach the team; who after missing the postseason that first year have made three consecutive conference finals; and who are a team that, on the outside, has what it takes to go all the way.

So, what do the Aces have that makes them a championship contender?

When drafting first overall in 2017 (still in San Antonio), 2018 and 2019, they picked up Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young, three players more than capable of making an impact on the floor, whether it’s Plum’s three-point shooting, Young’s finishing or Wilson’s impact in all areas of the game — part of what makes her an MVP-calibre player.

Last season, the Aces also acquired Gray from Los Angeles, dubbed the “Point Gawd”, who not only fit in well with the Aces culturally, but tied her career-high in assists per game and averaged 11.1 points per game last season, a number she is currently surpassing in 2022.

And while Wilson’s ability in the paint, her physicality, her delicate yet precise finishes and her mid-range game all were a nightmare on their own for anyone playing against Las Vegas, they also had to deal with Liz Cambage in their way, a 6-foot-8 centre averaging a near double-double and was clutch on the defensive boards for the Aces.

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However, in free agency, Cambage chose to leave for Los Angeles, a team she had said was a dream to play for since she got into the WNBA.

But with that gap in the line-up, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby finally moved into a starting role and proved that her production wouldn’t slow no longer coming off the bench.

Hamby is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds so far this season, with a double-double of 14.1 points and 10 rebounds per game, and is able to increase production with her teammates while on the floor.

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If all these players were producing at a high level last season, why couldn’t they get the job done?

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There isn’t a solid answer to exactly why the Aces fell to the Mercury, a team that had already played two other single-elimination games, lost a solid shooter in Kia Nurse and were relying on 39-year-old Diana Taurasi to get them to the end of Game 5 — and yet, they did.

The Aces managed to take Game 1 of that series, but dropped back-to-back games, losing by over 20 points in each, including a game where the Aces scored just 60 points with Wilson and Young being held to eight points each and Plum held to just six.

When all their cylinders are firing, Las Vegas has the best offence in the league — that is their greatest strength. They have shooters beyond the three-point line, from midrange, players who can drive the net and players who can be physical in the paint and finish at the time.

However Las Vegas found themselves trailing more often than not, rushing shots that didn’t fall, missing lay-ups and other almost guaranteed baskets, and getting too in their own heads to slow down and play the Aces basketball that holds championship-winning technique and skill.

Now, in 2022, the start to their season couldn’t be going any better. But what truly is the difference?

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Enter Becky Hammon. It’s not just her WNBA experience as a player, or her knowledge as a coach from her time with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, but it’s her belief in her players and their ability to win games with their shooting.

In the Aces’ pre-season game against Minnesota — one of only two games they have lost this year — they took 23 three-point shots in the game, which still wasn’t enough for Hammon’s liking knowing what her team is capable of.

“It’s an emphasis for us. We shoot a lot of threes every day, and everybody has the green light,” said Hammon after that first game of the season.

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Starting the season with back-to-back double-digit wins over Phoenix and Seattle, the Aces looked more in championship form, though they then dropped a game to Washington by 13 points in a game where both Alysha Clark and Natasha Cloud were inactive.

Since then, the Aces have have scored 100 points in three games, including their last two, and have won their last two games by 20 or more points.

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Most notably, the Aces took on Cambage’s new team on May 23, and set a franchise record for three-pointers made, scoring 18 in the 104-76 win, proving that their sharpshooting offence that Hammon puts an emphasis on has elevated their game to an even higher level and tying a WNBA record.

Meanwhile, the Aces managed to hold Cambage to just 10 points in what could have been a “revenge” game of sorts — new transplants Chennedy Carter and Jordin Canada did the heavy lifting, though the Sparks are now on a five-game losing streak.

On the other side, Las Vegas is on a five-game win streak, Las Vegas has seen Young and Plum score in double-digits every game this season, with Young having a Most Improved Player-type campaign in 2022 as a key player in the Aces’ rotation.

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The Aces are outscoring their opponents by over 13 points per game, shooting a whopping 10 per cent better than their opponents from the three-point line.

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With a starting five like Las Vegas has, all of whom averaging 12 or more points per game this season, it’s tough to stop them when even the bench can contribute almost 10 points a night — even their 2022 first-round draft pick Kierstan Bell added 12 points in the Aces’ win over the Sparks.

Scoring in transition on the fast break or off of turnovers is what Las Vegas does to create gaps in the score against their opponent while also shooting 50 per cent from the floor as a team, including 47 per cent from beyond the arc.

Their ball movement and rebounding on the court are only compliments to the shooting, intensity, physicality and basketball intelligence the Aces have this season. Their task now is keeping up this style of play for 28 more games.

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