Posts Tagged ‘Playoffs’

GAME THREE: Pens 4, Red Wings 2 — The Hockey Gods Giveth, The Hockey Gods Miss A Really Obvious Too Many Men Call

June 3, 2009

After the Pens ended up on the dark side of both physics and officiating in Game Two, they played their worst game of the series so far and walked away with a 4-2 victory.

Credit Where Credit Is Due:

Max Talbot played his ass off, Fleury had arguably his best game since mid-Caps series or possibly Philly Game 4, and the Pens’ power play actually scored twice against a team without Tim Gleason on its roster, including at the game’s most crucial juncture.

And Now, Ripping On People:

–The refereeing sure took a wild swing back in the Pens’ favor last night, with Pittsburgh avoiding a lengthy, crazily obvious too many men penalty that just simply doesn’t ever get missed in the NHL (unless it’s a three-second infraction where the player hops back on the bench right as the opposing team starts yelling, which this most certainly wasn’t). The refs also forewent a Chris Kunitz cross-check to Johan Franzen’s head, but went ahead and whistled Jonathan Ericsson for interference in the third, which was definitely interference but also more minor than about 30,000 other uncalled plays in this series. Again, I’ll always argue that it’s tough to say refereeing “cost” a team a game, as the Wings did allow two power play goals on only three opportunities, to the same power play that we spend about a paragraph making fun of every other day.

– Detroit also managed just three shots on goal in the third period. I don’t think the refs blocked many.

Kris Letang’s goal was pretty weak on Chris Osgood’s part; I’ve always felt that if you don’t one-time a power play point shot, there’s no point in then going ahead and shooting it anyway once the defense adjusts, because it gets blocked and cleared about 80% of the time, but Letang’s shot got through the D and went right through Osgood for a refreshingly questionable goal. Now if only we can get one to hit off the boards, post, his pad, and his ass before trickling in…

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STANLEY CUP FINALS GAMES ONE AND TWO: Sucky Bounces, Refs, Fleury

June 1, 2009

Sucky Thing 1: The Bounces

What in the name of Gummi Bear ripoffs is going on with the boards in this series? Did the Joe Louis Arena crew replace the boards with the bouncy walls from Scorched Earth? I kept expecting someone on Detroit to whip a funky bomb at Fleury. Is this an excuse for the first or second goals in Game One going in? Of course not. They were still pathetic efforts. But I’ve still never seen boards give such consistently ridiculous bounces.

Sucky Thing 2: The Refs

I almost never complain about officiating in games other than to occasionally point out poor reffing on an objective level, but rarely believe it’s ever the primary cause for a game’s outcome. Judgment calls go both ways, and even if a team is dealt a bonus power play or an unfortunate penalty to kill, it’s still up to the players on the ice to score or prevent a goal against, and even if a call puts them at a disadvantage, it doesn’t automatically alter the outcome of a game.

That being said, both the non-call on Hossa’s slash on Dupuis and the non-call on Zetterberg covering the puck in the crease (for the second straight game) were both beyond baffling, and go far beyond any simple “well it goes both ways” or “it’s a judgment call, the Pens got away with stuff too” diffusals. Hal Gill got away with interference a couple times. Mikael Samuelsson got away with an elbow on Jordan Staal. These are standard, angering non-calls in a loosely-called hockey game, and neither resulted in a scoring chance.

(Continued after the jump – trying to make the homepage look a little less like a giant pile of poetry word-magnets):

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Three Out Of Six ESPN Experts Taking The Pens

May 29, 2009

Vegas has the Red Wings as -155 moneyline favorites in the Cup Finals, but ESPN’s panel of six is divided down the middle:

Stanley Cup Picks

This is exceptionally odd, because none of the experts have picked against the Red Wings in any series before this — perhaps they’ve been swayed by the Pens’ manhandling of a shaky Hurricanes team, coupled with the uncertainty of Detroit’s injured personnel?

Or maybe it’s just willful thinking from a group of human beings who are tired of watching an army of androids trample mankind in the hockey equivalent of some 80s sci-fi cautionary tale?

GAME FOUR: Pens 4, Hurricanes 1 — Getting To The Finals Is Easy, Huh?

May 28, 2009

Didn’t write anything about Game Four for a while because I really didn’t have anything new to add to the series; it just seemed like no matter how well the Hurricanes played, the Pens just kept this air of inevitability around them, and when that Max Talbot goal fluttered past Cam Ward’s glove, I think we all knew where this one was headed. It just wasn’t Carolina’s series, and I know that statement is served dripping in molasses-thick cliche juice, but this sentiment was overwhelming from about Game Two onward.

Carolina’s defense played terribly. Cam Ward was a nonfactor. Ray Whitney was a nonfactor. Eric Staal was a nonfactor until it was way too late for anything he did to matter (and this picture before Game 4 made the entire series worth it).

I thought Fleury played a pretty solid game after his WTFey first goal, even though any remotely questionable Fleury play still results in between 3 and 5 instantaneous texts to my phone from friends; I feel like I subcribed to the Sprint “Fleury Worry Mobile Updates” service inadvertantly. Otherwise, Crosby and Malkin are still awesome, Crosby’s linemates are looking a lot more competent than they did against Washington, the special teams are resembling decency, and the defense played a lot better in the second and third periods of this game.

Let’s bring on the Red Wings!

GAME THREE: Pens 6, Hurricanes 2 — THIS Is The Second Best Team In The East?

May 26, 2009

Sorry for the post-delay, I was busy taking Memorial Day weekend off and enjoying life. And now back to ripping on random hockey players for a devoted group of like seven blog readers!

– Carolina’s defense is downright awful. I wrote before the series (which I still thought would be a hard-fought seven gamer) that I wasn’t sold on Joe Corvo or Joni Pitkanen as impactful playoff-caliber defensemen, and nothing that’s happened this series has dispelled that belief; Corvo is a solid pointman and good transitional passer but sub-mediocre defensively and physically, and Pitkanen, while never emerging as the offensive threat multiple teams hoped he’d become, is still prone to monumental defensive lapses, including getting burnt up the middle by Max Talbot and torched to rubble by Evgeni Malkin on two separate Game Three sequences.

– Even worse, can someone who follows the Hurricanes year-round tell me, has Tim Gleason always been the worst defenseman in the NHL, or has he just been playing like it for three games? If he plays half as badly in the regular season as he has in the Pens games we’ve seen, he has no business being a professional ice hockey player. His giveaway to Malkin to spark the Pens’ tying goal en route to their unrelenting lead was laughable, but just one of about a half-dozen goals he’s been directly responsible for in this series.

Cam Ward hasn’t gotten much help from his defense in this series, and by “not much help” I mean, “at least Tim Gleason didn’t literally grab a bucket of pucks and pour them into his own net,” but he also hasn’t been great himself, and certainly not on the level of series-stealing impenetrability that I and many media types feared heading into this series. Other than a stellar second period in Game Three, Ward has been eminently beatable in this series, and the previously snakebitten Penguins have been more than happy to oblige.

– After three Carolina-ripping bullet points, time to state the obvious: Malkin and Crosby have owned this series on a level rarely ever demonstrated by individuals in an NHL postseason. Short of a hot goalie or possibly one player here or there, you simply don’t see two players absolutely just take over entire serieses in the NHL Playoffs; every time Malkin touches the puck, he creates a scoring chance as though he’s running a lax 3-on-2 practice drill where the defensemen intentionally back off to make sure the goalie gets to face a solid shot attempt. I also lamented Crosby’s finishing ability during the regular season, wondering how for all the offensive chances he creates he always ends up in the 30-goal range, but he’s just thrown everything near his stick into the back of the net this entire postseason. Even if the Hurricanes’ D had showed up in this series, I can’t imagine they’d have made much of a dent in the Malkin/Crosby momentum.

Chris Kunitz has played two straight legitimately impactful playoff games, which, based on his track record, I’m inclined to interpret more as a return to the norm for Kunitz as opposed to a two-game anomaly before he reverts back to uselessness. He’s still playing physically but has been much stronger on the puck, he’s patient, he’s creating chances, he’s hitting the net ever, and in general, I’ve stopped instantly changing the channel to the WE Network every time the puck comes near him.

– Even though Versus showed the clip of Fleury bobbling the puck that trickled wide of the net about 470 times, I thought he played a decent game; he gave up a bad rebound on the second goal, but critical announcers never seem to realize, every goalie gives up rebounds in every game, they only get blasted for them if their defense fails to pick up the opposing forwards, and Fleury continues to be victimized by this nearly every game. Carolina had a power play in the third with a chance to tie the game at 3 and couldn’t convert; I’ve been more critical of Fleury than most other people this postseason, but I had no problems with his Game Three performance.

– I ripped on Eric Staal in the last game recap and he didn’t spring to life and score seven goals, so maybe that jinx is over.

– Watching Hal Gill skate at full speed is my new favorite activity. Not just in hockey games, I mean in life.

Kris Letang still worries me a little; he’s been really weak on the puck in his own zone and can’t seem to clear or shoot the puck with any force. I imagine he’s still a little banged up from the earlier series, and hopefully he’ll get another chance to rest if the Pens can finish off the Hurricanes quickly, but he’s simply not going to squeak by against the Red Wings playing the way he has been in his own zone.

Bob Smizik argues that the Pens don’t really need to win Game Four, because the profit they’ll make off a home Game Five would benefit the franchise more than a quick end to a series they’re going to win anyway, which does make sense on paper, but who in their right mind would actually prefer even the slightest increase in the chances of an injury to Crosby or Malkin with an additonal game? The Pens have already played eight sold-out home playoff games and have at least two Finals home games on the way — they can afford to frickin’ win a hockey game tonight. The days of trading Dan LaCouture to save $800,000 are long over.

GAME TWO: Pens 7, Hurricanes 4 — The Teams Put On A Defensive Clinic

May 22, 2009

– Not a bad evening for the individual at the top of this blog:

Chris Kunitz had a goal and two solid assists, clearly inspired by my post on Wednesday making fun of him. Fleury had a solid Game 1 after I made fun of him, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti both had great Game 6s after I ripped on them, and Rob Scuderi and David Steckel ended up having important roles in the Washington series after I joked about the amount of attention they wouldn’t get. Without hyperbole, I can honestly say that this blog is probably the most important factor in the NHL Playoffs at the moment, and possibly in all of sports.

Cam Ward is gonna be pissed when he shows up to this series and finds out that some dude’s been wearing his jersey and ruining his numbers.

– I’d rip on Kris Letang for his wussy pass to set up Dennis Seidenberg for the third Carolina goal, but it was just trampled in the blitzkrieg of horrible defense for about 59:99 of this game (the other second was Rob Scuderi clearing a puck once). Would either of these teams be able to face the Red Wings right now without a goal light shorting out?

Tim Gleason was on the wrong end of about 14 Penguin goals tonight, give or take.

Eric Staal’s playing in this series too, right?

Brooks Laich (I think) made fun of the Mellon Arena stat-keepers during a between-periods interview last series, saying they intentionally rack up more shots for the Penguins, and at the time I ripped on him because if Sidney Crosby would ever say something like that in an interview every blog would be copy-pasting their “Crosby is a whiner” rants, but that being said, there is NO WAY the Penguins outshot the Hurricanes 16-6 in the second period of last night’s game.

– The Pens’ power play mimicked competency as the game progressed, and you know what that means: Horrible, anger-inducing power play right off the bat in Game Three to immediately puncture your new confidence.

– And finally, you know things are going right when Miroslav Satan stands up for his teammates during a last-minute scuffle by attempting to stickhandle Patrick Eaves.

GAME ONE: Pens 3, Hurricanes 2 — Fleury And Cam Ward Pay Homage To “Trading Places”

May 19, 2009

Game One of the Eastern Finals wasn’t entirely unlike the majority of the Washington series: The Pens dominated the first and mostly controlled the third, sandwiched around a dangerously lackadaisical second and topped off with an apparent willingness to give away their two-goal lead as easily as possible. The Pens only allowed 25 shots, right around the total they gave up in many of the Capitals games, yet the Canes had about 23 heart-attackey scoring chances, for an out-of-whack “Scored/Almost Scored per Shot” ratio also right in line with the Capitals series.

The difference? Marc-Andre Fleury made all the saves he had to plus a number of spectacular ones, and Cam Ward allowed two semi-questionable goals certainly not befitting his reputation as a playoff game-stealer. Just as we predicted.  .  .  [Cough] .  .  . what?

The Game One win was exactly that, though: a Game One win. The Hurricanes played a couple sloppy periods, only had two power plays, and didn’t get their best game from Cam Ward, and they still almost tied this one up on the road in the third period. To think this series is anything but just beginning — even independently of the Canes’ comebacks in Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs — would be foolish. Not to be Captain Pessimist McRepetitive, but when I remarked to my brother “Fleury straight-up outplayed Ward, how bout that?” he instantly, soberly replied, “Yep. And do you really expect that to happen throughout the entire series?” In case you were wondering, that loud bursting noise you just heard was my precious, precious bubble.

Random thoughts:

– I’m really glad we finally have a proven playoff performer who can go to the net and bury his chances like Miroslav Satan, cause Chris Kunitz just wasn’t getting it done. (This sentence would have been a wacky joke one month ago, and now it’s a funny/sad truth)

– Clearing the zone continues to be an adventure for the Pens’ defensemen and backchecking forwards, even when they’re six inches from their own blueline with the puck and no one pressuring them. They’re like an ongoing experiment in finding creative ways to not get the puck out of their zone against all odds and physics.

– Not Eric Staal’s loudest playoff game; I wouldn’t expect this to keep up for the majority of the series, especially if the Canes start earning more power plays. Did you know he is brothers with Jordan Staal of the Penguins?? In fact there is other Staal brothers wowww!

– The Scott Walker interference penalty and Satan holding penalty in the first were both BS; the refs appeared to get their antsyness out of the way early, then decided not to call anything the rest of the game (including Matt Cooke’s interference/leg thing on Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal shooting Fleury’s stick away from him right before the Canes’ second goal).

– I don’t want to see the Pens try to grind out the remainder of the playoffs with only eleven forwards, but can they really afford to bench Philippe Boucher for Pascal Dupuis after Boucher’s game-winning goal and really nice assist in Game One? I imagine he’s bought a starting spot for at least another game; you never know, too, as injuries are always possible at any time. I also miss Dupuis’ super-predictable slapshot from 50 feet away coming down the left wing that goes in once every fifty games.

– How much better did both Hurricanes power plays look than any of the Pens’ power plays? The Pens’ first two advantages were particularly embarrassing. I said in my prediction post that I don’t trust the Pens’ superior PP% numbers to the Canes’ for one second, and was justified by their man advantage misadventures once again this game.

– A friend of mine reminded me the oft-forgotten detail that Tyler Kennedy is still only 22. He’s been playing with unbelievable patience and confidence this entire postseason, and came close to two well-earned goals in Game One.

– Another friend of mine pointed out that Mellon Arena sounded strangely quiet for the majority of the game, which I couldn’t help but notice also, especially in the third (and was dead silent after the Corvo goal). If the Arena was actually loud and Versus merely did a poor job of capturing the sound, then I stand corrected, but it would also be the first time the Versus NHL coverage ever did anything that wasn’t completely perfect.

– Finally, for all the Pens fans who complain about how the team doesn’t shoot the puck enough and tries to make a nice play too often, which is often true, the Hurricanes last night passed up more no-brainer shooting chances than I recall the Pens ever passing up in a single game this year. Ray Whitney is essentially reverse-Ovechkin with his shooting decisions, and if the Pens had attempted that double-pass from point blank range that the Canes ended up shooting into Kris Letang’s ass, the cries of “JUST SHOOT IT!” from the Mellon Arena crowd would have struck a chord so loud as to shatter the scoreboard and short-out the lights in the building, Sudden Death style, resulting in a home team forfeit. Just remember that next time Crosby tries to set up Chris Kunitz and he whiffs on a one-timer instead of firing it three feet wide.

Half-Assed Pens/Canes Prediction

May 18, 2009

I predicted the Pens over the Flyers in five, but they blew the fifth game and won in six, then I predicted Pens over the Caps in six, but they blew the sixth game and won in seven, so this round, why the hell not, I’ll take the Pens over the Canes in seven. Hopefully the Pens will rebound when they blow Game Seven in win this one in eight.

WHY I’M NERVOUS:

Fleury. A lot of people talked about Fleury rebounding in Game Seven against Washington, which made no sense; he stopped Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway, which was a huge save, then the Pens went ahead 4-0 before Fleury had to even make 10 saves, and he still hasn’t strung together two consecutive above-average games this postseason. Saying he’s back on track because the Pens dominated one wacky game is like saying “my alcoholic friend made it through his son’s birthday party without drinking — I think he’s turned a corner.” Not really — when your alcoholic friend makes it through St. Patrick’s Day without drinking, then we can start praising him.

Cam Ward is capable of stealing games in ways that Marty Biron and Simeon Varlamov simply cannot, and the Pens barely made Biron work in the majority of his series, and couldn’t bury pucks against the rookie Varlamov early off in the Washington series either (except Crosby). Given the types of ridiculous shot advantages the Pens had to rack up to just hang even with Washington’s effortless scoring, they could be in for some mounting frustration if Ward gets hot.

– Home ice advantage? The Hurricanes beat the Devils in New Jersey twice, including in a Game Seven, and the Bruins in Boston twice, including in a Game Seven. Obviously the Penguins would rather be home to open a series, but it’s not an automatic advantage if the Pens don’t seize the opportunity.

– The Hurricanes’ offense isn’t as deep as the Caps’ or Flyers’, but they do also have several right-handed players capable of roofing wrist shots (as does every NHL team). Hopefully this doesn’t prove to be an unsolvable problem again in this series.

WHY I’M CONFIDENT:

Crosby and Malkin. Really, the only reason I’m confident in this series. Fedotenko has started finding the net, Scuderi and Eaton are coming off good serieses, the third line has regained its puck-possession ability, Gonchar’s back, and Miro Satan has even surprised, but really, as long as Crosby’s playing at this level, it’s just foolish to doubt this team. If Malkin returns to “Makes Opposing Defenders Look Like Little Nephews Trying To Steal A Football From Their Uncle In The Backyard” mode, it might not matter how well Cam Ward plays.

– As I’ve complained about many times, the Pens’ D allowed every 3-on-3 rush to turn into a 2-on-0 during much of the Capitals series, and Fleury continually just let random wrist shots in. This isn’t to say that the Pens necessarily will improve upon either of these things against a fundamentally sound team like the Hurricanes, but merely to suggest that the Pens haven’t even played their best hockey; they played mediocre D and Fleury didn’t play his best and they still came back from a 2-0 deficit to knock off the #2 seed in the East. If either of those aspects improve against Carolina, they could absolutely seize control of this series.

Chris Kunitz is a proven playoff performer who can go to the net and pick up dirty goals when it matters. Oh whoops, meant to put this bullet point in the other section.

– I don’t professionally scout the Hurricanes or anything, but just from anecdotal observation, I’m not sold on Joe Corvo or Joni Pitkanen as playoff-caliber defensive defensemen. Given how often Crosby imposed his will on the Caps, if the Pens get the matchups they want against Carolina, there’s no reason to expect a drop-off in scoring chances, it’ll just be a matter of beating Cam Ward.

– Carolina is only scoring on 10.4% of its power plays so far this postseason and actually had a lower-ranked power play than the Pens this year (yep, it’s possible) — I still hesitate to mention this as an advantage, because they’re gonna score multiple power play goals by easily winning a faceoff and having Ray Whitney set up an untouched cross-slot one-timer to someone wide open to score within ten seconds of a man advantage in this series, I just hope they don’t come at crucial times.

– Both teams fired their coaches mid-season and went on incredible runs down the stretch. This isn’t an advantage for either team but just a cool factoid I wanted to reiterate somewhere in this post.

– And the #1 Reason I’m Confident: Cory Stillman isn’t on the Hurricanes anymore. Without Stillman’s career 9-points-per-period average against the Penguins to deal with, the Pens should be able to absorb Matt Cullen’s 2-goals-per-game career average against them.

GAME SEVEN: Pens 6, Capitals 2 — I Think We All Saw This One Coming

May 14, 2009

Ridiculous. Awesome. Over. Next series, please.

Thoughts on the game that wasn’t a game:

Fleury’s save on the Ovechkin breakaway was enormous (following some more of that Rob Scuderi Ovechkin-shutdown we keep hearing about), and definitely changed the complexion of the first period. However, I don’t share the optimism that this necessarily bears any impact on Fleury turning things around in the Conference Finals. No one’s ever doubted his ability to make spectacular saves, or even clutch saves; we worry about Fleury because you never know when he’ll just randomly let an untipped wrist shot in from anywhere at any time, and until he strings together multiple games where he doesn’t allow it to happen, I’ll have a renewed Fleury-nervousness going into every game.

– That being said, I don’t read too much into the Fleury giveaway that led to the Ovechkin wrap-around. Everyone was playing super lazily, and it likely wouldn’t have happened if everyone was more locked in (not an excuse, just an explanation). I received no fewer than four angry texts when he let up that goal, just to show you how forgiving my Pens-fan friends are even when they’re up by nineteen.

– ESPN’s Matthew Barnaby breaks down Fleury’s save on SportsCenter:

Huge save — maybe the biggest save of the game, cause this could have changed the whole…turning point.

It sure could have changed that turning point, Matt. It might have even altered the whole…momentum swing. And maybe the biggest save of the game; it was either that one or that Theodore one with seven minutes left in the third.

– Washington came out flatter than Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s perception of the earth (OHHH SNAPPP!!!! Break out the SNAP-ple!!! When the Pens win, the painful joke filter goes off…), but the brunt of this loss, fairly or unfairly, has to fall on Varlamov. He allowed 4 goals on 18 shots, and goals 2, 3, and 4 were all reasonably stoppable, and stoppong even two or one of them would’ve still kept the game within some realm of actual competition.

– When a team is excited to see Jose Theodore between the pipes, its season is over.

– Can we please stop talking about players’ “Game Seven” experience now, because it’s completely and utterly meaningless? The Capitals had more “Game Sevens played” on their roster because they frickin’ PLAYED ONE LAST SERIES, thus giving them a free 20 Game Sevens played to add to their numerical total. Does this mean they unlocked the secret, mystical Game Seven spirit because they beat the Rangers 2-1 in a game two weeks ago that was no more or less intense than any other Playoff game? Granted, Crosby and Malkin really looked lost out there, especially when they kept yelling “WHERE DO THEY PUT THE NETS IN GAME SEVEN?? WHAT ARE THE GAME SEVEN RULES???? I’VE NEVER PLAYED IN ON OF THESE BEFORE AND I’M SCAWWWWED!!!”

Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke each managed a -1 plus/minus this game, which isn’t significant, but funny.

– Think fans at MSG or Wachovia would be cheering in the final five minutes of its team’s pitiful Game Seven chokefest, in honor of the tremendous season they accomplished despite the final performance? Definitely.

– If Mike Green ends up winning the Norris Trophy, it’ll be the bitterest after-the-season trophy acceptance since the year Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA MVP right after the #1 Mavericks were knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs.

– Is Crosby too talented to be labelled a “leader” by the media? If Mike Richards had duplicated his performance (8 G, 5 A) in winning a seven-game playoff series, he’d be the clutchiest clutch leader who ever clutchleadered.

– You know what would’ve just made this game totally absurd? Chris Kunitz on the scoresheet. Glad that didn’t happen, then I would’ve known the NHL was just kidding, and the real game was actually taking place tonight.

Guide To Interpreting NHL Playoff Injury Rhetoric

May 12, 2009

Sergei Gonchar practiced with the Penguins today and will be a game-time decision for Game Seven, despite earlier reports that he was “done for the remainder of the playoffs.”

If you’re not familiar with the history of teams ambiguously claiming that certain injured players are “done for the playoffs” when they’re clearly not too injured to eventually return, just refer to this handy guide to help you interpret the true meaning of NHL Playoff injury rhetoric:

1. If a team says a player is “questionable for tonight’s game,” they’re fine and will play in tonight’s game.

2. If a team says a player is “done for the playoffs,” they’ll be out for 1-3 games and triumphantly return.

3. If a team says a player has “died,” and faxed photos and fingerprints of the dead body to the player’s next of kin, they’ll be out for 2-4 games and triumphantly return.

4. If a team physically decapitates its own player in front of millions of onlookers live on Oprah outside the MGM Grand in Vegas to prove that the player is, in fact, actually dead and not going to play for the rest of the playoffs or do anything ever again in life, it means that the player has been involved in an elaborate Criss Angel stunt and will triumphantly return for the next game.

5. If a team says that a player is “healthy,” they are immortal.


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