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New York: Knicks secure home-court advantage

May 17, 2021
Source: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
Source: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

 🏀Knicks: The Knicks closed out their regular season yesterday with a 96–94 win over the the Boston Celtics. This win also locked the Knicks as the East’s No. 4 seed, meaning they’ll have home-court advantage for their playoff series against the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks. HYFR. 

🏀Nets: The Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 123–109 last night to finish out their regular season and secure the No. 2 seed in the East — and they did it with style. Playoffs, here we go!

🏒Islanders: Even without star goalie Semyon Varlamov, the Isles edged out the Pittsburgh Penguins 4–3 in Game 1 during overtime (OT) on Saturday. Fortunately, rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin stepped up to hold down the net for his playoff debut. Yessir. 

  • The game’s star, however, was Kyle Palmieri — a right winger the Isles acquired at this year’s Trade Deadline — who scored two of the team’s goals, including the OT game-winner. Color us impressed. Catch Game 2 tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

🏀Liberty: The Liberty opened their season with back-to-back victories against the Indiana Fever, winning 90–87 on Friday and 73–65 yesterday. Besides Ionescu’s aforementioned game-winner, we have to shout out the WNBA’s Most Improved Player from 2020, Betnijah Laney, who led the team with 30 points on Friday and 20 yesterday. Can you say, undefeated?

⚽️Gotham FC: Gotham FC also opened their regular season with a win, beating the Houston Dash 1–0 thanks to forward Midge Purce’s mid-game goal. That’s how we do it.  

🏀

Chicago: Sky succeed in 2021 WNBA season opener

May 17, 2021
Source: Bleacher Report/Twitter.com
Source: Bleacher Report/Twitter.com

 🏀Sky: The Chicago Sky crushed the Washington Mystics, who were without star Elena Delle Donne, 70–56 in their season opener on Friday. Forward Kahleah Copper led the team with 19 points, and forward Candace Parker added 16 in her Chicagoland debut. Parker also shone on defense, stifling the Mystics in the second half. No place like home, Candace?

🏀Bulls: The Bulls closed out their season with a 118–112 win over the Milwaukee Bucks last night. While we love to see a win, this game didn’t mean much, as the Bulls were already eliminated from playoff contention for the fourth straight season. Sigh. 

⚾️White Sox: First baseman José Abreu scored off a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the White Sox the 4–3 win in the final game of their series against the Kansas City Royals yesterday. It was a thrilling finish and especially satisfying after Abreu was part of a rough collision with the Royals’ Hunter Dozier on Friday. Bet that slide felt good.  

Everything you need to know about the UWCL final

May 16, 2021
Source: Chelsea FC Women/Twitter
Source: Chelsea FC Women/Twitter

QUOTE OF THE DAY

My son asked me this morning if I’d bring a medal home for him today….He’ll love that. He’ll wear that all day tomorrow. Let’s just hope he don’t throw it in the bin.

— Chelsea head coach, Emma Hayes on winning back-to-back Women’s Super League (WSL) titles and sharing the medals with her son, Harry. Will Harry be adding more hardware to his collection today? Tune in and see.

⚽️ The background

SOURCE: UEFA

A quick refresher: Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the governing body for European soccer, and the top-tier teams from around the continent make up the Champions League. The UEFA Champions League is the biggest club (not country) soccer tournament in the world.

  • The tournament is held annually and over the entire club regular season. Club teams play within their national leagues, and those rankings determine their entry into the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL).

The top two teams (clubs) from each of the strongest 12 national associations are entered, while the weaker associations only get one team entry. From there, teams play in as many as two qualifying rounds before moving to a knockout round of 32, then round of 16, and so on.

  • Starting next season, the qualification structure will more closely resemble the men’s side with mini-tournaments and a group stage to start.

In the knockout round, there are two legs within each round. This means that each team plays one home and one away match. Then, the goals from those two matches are added together and the team with the better aggregate score advances.

  • The final, however, is just one single match, which makes today’s contest all the more exciting.

Five-time reigning UWCL champion Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) are the most successful club in the league’s history, with seven titles under their belt in nine appearances.

  • The German squads have also been impressive with Frankfurt (4), VfL Wolfsburg (2), Turbine Potsdam (2) and MSV Duisburg (1) boasting UWCL wins under the German flag.

🇪🇸 Meet Barcelona

SOURCE: ALBERT GEA/REUTERS

Barcelona may be out for blood this time around after suffering a 4–1 loss to powerhouse Lyon in the 2019 finals. And from the looks of it, the squad has only improved since then.

In this year’s campaign, Barcelona stomped on newcomers PSV Eindhoven in the round of 32 and mainstay Fortuna Hjørring in the round of 16, scoring 17 goals across the two rounds. And in the quarterfinals against top contender Manchester City, they walked away with a 4–2 on aggregate win (featuring a convincing 3–0 match) to move on to the semis.

  • Finally, an exciting 3–2 aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month punched Barcelona’s ticket to their second finals appearance. 

Leading Barca scorer Jenni Hermoso and forward Asisat Oshoala could be the game changers in today’s championship vs. Chelsea. The two have collectively netted 102 goals in the last two seasons, but Oshoala may not be in tip-top shape after suffering a recent injury.

  • In net for Barca is Sandra Paños. A member of a very athletic family, the goalkeeper has conceded, on average, only one goal for every two games and has no plans to increase that stat today. 
  • Unfortunately Andrea Pereira, a core member of Barcelona’s defense, is suspended for this match. Her teammate Mapi León will have to step it up in Pereira’s absence to halt the Chelsea offense.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Meet Chelsea

SOURCE: THE TELEGRAPH

Chelsea is the newcomer, making their first ever UWCL final appearance. The men’s squad also made it to their Champs League final, marking the first time both the women and men from the same club made it to the final in the same season. So cool.

  • This is partially thanks to Chelsea investing in the women’s club with similar enthusiasm as to the men’s (what a novel concept) and also due to their fearless leader, the aforementioned coach Hayes (more on her in a bit).

After winning handily over Benfica in the round of 32, Chelsea went on to best Atlético Madrid and Wolfsburg, before their toughest battle against Bayern Munich in the semis. Of course, Chelsea went on to win 5–3 on aggregate and advanced to the final.

  • With Chelsea's all-time leading scorer Fran Kirby and FA Women's Super League top scorer (and resident backflipper) Sam Kerr on the attack, Chelsea should wear down Barca’s defenders. The duo tallied 30 goals in the 19 games they started together this year.
  • Leading the defense is captain and center back Magdalena Eriksson, along with keeper Ann-Katrin Berger, who joined the team in 2019 after recovering from thyroid cancer in 2018. If she can stop cancer in its tracks, stopping a soccer ball football is nothing.

Representing the red and white for the Blue is Jessie Fleming. The 23-year-old midfielder joined Chelsea last summer, after finishing her college career at UCLA. She started three times during her first professional season and we hope she gets some minutes today. Number 17 on the pitch, but number one in our hearts.

🗣 On the sidelines

SOURCE: KINGSTON UPON THAMES

At the helm for Barcelona is Lluís Cortés. Cortés joined Barcelona in 2017 as an analyst and later became an assistant coach before taking over the head coach role in 2019. Cortés quickly earned respect across the league after leading the team to the finals the same year he took the reins. Actions speak louder than words.

Now back to Hayes. A charismatic and seasoned leader on the pitch, Hayes is also the first female head coach in 12 years to lead a team to the finals. After hopping across the pond to serve as head coach and director of football operations for the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars until 2010, Hayes returned to England and found her home with Chelsea in 2012.

  • Since then, Hayes has collected 10 trophies while maintaining a 67% winning percentage. What, like it’s hard?
  • Hayes is known for her “psychological methods,” such as having the team watch videos of other top female athletes before matches and implementing the geese mindset on the pitch. Nothing like a flying V.

🏆 Winner winner

SOURCE: UEFA

What do the winners get, you ask? Not much compared to their male counterparts. *eye roll* The women’s champs will earn just €250K (~$303K USD) while the men can expect a whopping €76M (~$93M USD) pay-day at a minimum. We smell BS.

  • That said, there’s been a lot of progress on the pay equity front lately, including UEFA’s recent announcement that updates to the financial distribution model for the women’s league are coming as soon as next year.
  • The update includes a €1.4M (~$1.698M USD) prize for the winner and €400K minimum (~$485K USD) reward for each club that takes part in the group stage. Slowly but surely closing that gap.

📺 How to watch

SOURCE: CBS SPORTS

Unlike several North American leagues, the Champions League final will be fanless this year due to Sweden’s current COVID-19 restrictions. But, for us landlocked in North America, that doesn’t matter much anyway.

🏒It's NHL Playoffs time, baby

May 15, 2021
Source: Montreal Canadiens/Twitter
Source: Montreal Canadiens/Twitter

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"You do not play hockey for good seasons. You play to win the Stanley Cup. It has to be the objective."

—Former NHLer Guy (pronounced Gee) Lafleur, who knows a thing or two about winning the Stanley Cup, considering he did it five times as a Montreal Canadien in the 1970s.

🏒 The set-up

SOURCE: NHL.COM

This NHL postseason has been long and eagerly awaited. Due to the temporary division realignments made for the 2021 regular season, this postseason — known officially as the Stanley Cup Playoffs — is starting a month later than normal and is set up a little differently than other years.

  • As opposed to the regular set-up of two conferences with two divisions in each, this season, the league was split into four divisions — East, Central, West and North — with seven teams in the North and eight in each of the rest. 

The top four teams from each division, based on regular season standings, are moving on to the postseason, with the top team set to play the fourth-seeded team, and the No. 2 and No. 3 teams meeting in the first round.

  • Each round of the playoffs is a best-of-seven series, so the first team to four wins advances. The second round will see the remaining two teams in each division face off.

Things will get extra-interesting by the time the third round, aka the semifinals, rolls around. That’s because the four remaining teams won’t have played each other at all throughout the regular season. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at how the first round (and usually the most exciting one, TBH) is shaping up.

➡️ East Division

SOURCE: SPORTSNET STATS/TWITTER

No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 New York Islanders: We’re not entirely sure how the Pens made it to the top of the East. Sure, they’re great, and yes, they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the charge, but their season was just “alright” by Stanley Cup-winning standards of seasons past.

  • But the Pens are still the Pens, and their offense is still as stellar as it’s been for about 15 years. For their part, the Islanders have the better goalie in Semyon (pronounced sehm-YON) Varlamov and a stronger defense, which makes this a fun yin-yang pairing.
  • The Pens have the head-to-head season advantage, going 6-2 against the Isles, but we wouldn’t be totally shocked if they find a way to lose this one.

No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 Boston Bruins: The Caps and Bruins kick off the postseason today at 7:15 p.m. ET, and based on their regular season head-to-head record (a 4-4 split), this series should go the full seven games.

  • The Bruins recently picked up the 2010 first overall draft pick and friend of The GIST Taylor Hall and have a stacked first line, but the difference-maker in this series might be the return of big man Zdeno Chara.
     
  • The 6’9” Caps defenseman captained the Bruins for 14 seasons, including the 2011 Cup run, until he left for Washington in 2020. Though he already faced Boston during the regular season, there’s something special about facing your old team in the playoffs.

📍 Central Division

SOURCE: CHRISTOPHER HANEWINCKEL/USA TODAY SPORTS

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators: The last time the Hurricanes won their division, way back in 2006, they also won the Stanley Cup. Fifteen years later, they have everything in place to do it again, including Rod Brind’Amour: the Coach of the Year candidate who captained that 2006 team to the Cup. Coincidence?

  • The Hurricanes are favored not only to win this series, but the whole shebang. The underdog Preds could be a challenge though: they don’t score often, but starting goalie Juuse Saros and the solid defense are tough to beat.

No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning: The Panthers are one of five teams in the postseason who are playing for their first-ever Stanley Cup...but they’re facing off against the reigning champs, and their cross-state rival, the Lightning.

  • The Lightning haven’t been themselves recently, but will have stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov back in the lineup after injuries. Despite the current rankings, if the Panthers pull out the win in this battle of the Sunshine State, it’ll be an upset.

⬅️ West Division

SOURCE: JOE CAMPOREALE/USA TODAY SPORTS

No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues: How many renditions of “Gloria” do we think it will take to help the Blues beat the Avalanche? The limit does not exist. Seeing as the Avalanche won the President’s Trophy (awarded to the team with the most regular season points) this week, the Blues don’t stand much of a chance.

  • Not to brag, but we called an Avalanche Stanley Cup win back in January, and we’re sticking with it. Their goaltending is the team’s only question mark, but it’s like 12-point font while everything else for them — offense, defense and coaching — is 82-point.

No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild: What happens in Vegas...continues to amaze the rest of the hockey world. An expansion team just four years old, the Knights have never missed the playoffs, and improve every single season. If anyone can challenge the Avalanche, it’s this division rival.

  • Now that’s not to take anything away from the Minnesota Wild. They’re a complete team, with a deep offense and a brick-walled defense. Their only (major) flaw is that they play in the toughest division in the league.

❄️ North Division

SOURCE: PAUL CHIASSON/CANADIAN PRESS

No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens: We’ve waited 42 years for this highly anticipated postseason match-up, and we’ll have to wait another few days. Since the North Division still has some regular season games left to play, the North playoff series won’t start until Thursday.

  • The Leafs and the Habs aren’t complaining though. The wait gives their starting goalies, Jack Campbell and Carey Price, respectively, some extra time to rest, and in Price’s case, recover from injury.
  • The Habs also expect to have stars Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault back in the lineup for Game 1, which will help to even up the playing field with the stacked and healthier Leafs. But will that even be enough? We shall see.

No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets: We’ve saved the best for last. Not the best team (hello Colorado!), but hands-down the best player in the league, Oilers superstar and Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid

  • McDavid leads the league this season with 104 points in 55 games, 21 points ahead of the next guy...who also happens to be his teammate and occasional linemate, Leon Draisaitl.
  • But the Oilers aren’t just flashy goals and mega offense; Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse (WNBA star Kia’s brother/PWHPA star Sarah’s cousin) keep it tight on defense, too. The Jets have the better goalie in Connor Hellebuyck, but we can’t give them much else.

👀 How to watch

SOURCE: NANCY LANE/MEDIANEWS GROUP

After tonight’s sole match between the Caps and Bruins, the East Division continues tomorrow at noon ET with the Pens and Isles. The Central and West Divisions will kick off tomorrow, too, and the North on Thursday. Check out the full schedule here

  • In the U.S., games will air on NBC and NBCSN, while Sportsnet and CBC have all the action in Canada. The countdown is on.

NWSL Season Preview

May 14, 2021
Source: Thorns FC/Giphy
Source: Thorns FC/Giphy

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I just love winning🤷🏾‍♀️😬"

— Portland Thorns FC and USWNT defender Crystal Dunn, responding to a tweet detailing her incredible NWSL accomplishments. We’re not worthy.

⚽️ The set-up

SOURCE: ORLANDO PRIDE/TWITTER

The ninth NWSL season begins tomorrow night, just one week after a thrilling Challenge Cup final saw the Thorns crowned as champions. Each of the league’s 10 teams will play 24 regular season games — 12 home and 12 away — beginning May 15th and concluding on October 31st. Spooky.

  • An important scheduling note: although many of the league’s top players will compete at the Tokyo Olympics, the NWSL won’t break for the Games, meaning teams will go without some of their top players for a short stretch this summer.

Looking ahead to the postseason, six of the 10 teams will advance to the playoffs in the NWSL’s newly expanded playoff field, with the top two teams receiving a first-round bye. Things wrap up with the championship game around November 20th. Mark your calendar.

💪 The favorites

SOURCE: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/USA TODAY SPORTS

Portland Thorns: The Thorns went undefeated en route to their Challenge Cup title. With all-time leading international goal scorer Christine Sinclair leading the offense and defender Becky Sauerbrunn, along with Challenge Cup hero and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch at the back, the Thorns look poised to make a sixth straight playoff appearance. Dominance.

North Carolina Courage: The Courage narrowly missed the Challenge Cup final, but the legendary Debinha still took home some hardware, earning the Challenge Cup MVP title with three goals in four games. Watch for her to lead a seriously stacked Courage squad (especially if the USWNT's Sam Mewis returns) through the regular season.

OL Reign: The Reign were the victims of a tough West division, playing well in the Challenge Cup but missing out on a final berth to the Thorns. So they decided to level up, adding a wealth of international talent (and potentially USWNT star Rose Lavelle) to a roster that already boasted Megan Rapinoe. Watch out, world.

😴 The sleepers

SOURCE: NJ/NY GOTHAM FC/TWITTER

NJ/NY Gotham FC: New name, who dis? Gotham put the league on notice by riding their epic rebrand all the way to the Challenge Cup final. With all of that fresh energy and veteran Carli Lloyd leading the frontline, we don’t need a bat signal telling us to watch out for Gotham this season. 

Houston Dash: The 2020 Challenge Cup champs will be playing with a chip on their shoulders as they hope to avenge this year’s third place Cup finish in the West division. The bright spot? Kristie Mewis kept doing Kristie Mewis things, scoring twice in two Cup games. Her USWNT Olympic roster status will have major implications for the Dash.

Washington Spirit: The Spirit look to put a tough Challenge Cup behind them and get back to their 2020 fall series form. One welcome addition is No. 2 draft pick forward Trinity Rodman who played like a vet and found the back of the net just minutes into her NWSL debut. The kid is alright.

Chicago Red Stars: The Red Stars also didn’t live up to Challenge Cup expectations, scoring just three goals in four games. But with the USWNT’s Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher holding down the defense and a star-studded ownership group bringing new energy, watch for the winds to change in the Windy City.

📈 The underdogs

SOURCE: STEPHEN M. DOWELL/ORLANDO SENTINEL

Orlando Pride: The Pride defied expectations with a third-place East division Challenge Cup finish, competing for a spot in the finals in the tourney’s closing days. And while goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris impressed with two penalty saves in four games, the Pride struggled on offense — a trend they’ll need to overcome in the regular season.

KC NWSL: After packing up and moving out of Utah, KC struggled to find secure footing in their new home, limping to a last-place finish and grabbing just one point in the West division. After leading the club with two goals and six shots on target in the Challenge Cup, watch for NWSL vet forward Amy Rodriguez to take the reins once again.

Racing Louisville FC: Louisville had some bright spots throughout the Challenge Cup, including defender Brooke Hendrix making an impact up and down the field and grabbing a point in the club’s NWSL debut. 

  • Though we think their first NWSL regular season will leave them at the bottom of the standings once again, newest addition, and standout in the Women’s Super League (WSL), Ebony Salmon could prove us wrong.

👀 The players to watch

SOURCE: ANDY MEAD/ISI PHOTOS

Jessica McDonald, Courage, Forward: After opting out of the 2020 Fall Series, 2019 Women’s World Cup champ McDonaldtriumphantly returned to the Courage frontline, leading the squad with three assists and scoring two goals in four games. Don’t call it a comeback.

Cece Kizer, Louisville, Forward: Kizer made the most of her minutes in the Challenge Cup, converting three shots into two goals, including the first goal in Racing Louisville herstory. Our prediction? There’ll be plenty more where that came from.

DiDi Haracic, Gotham, Goalkeeper: A finalist for the Challenge Cup MVP, Haracic (pronounced ha-ra-CHEICH) led the league with 20 saves, posting three shutouts to help send Gotham to the finals. We’re still picking our jaws up off the floor from watching her make this savein the Challenge Cup final.

Katie Naughton, Dash, Defender: Naughtonplayed every minute with the Dash squad that only allowed two goals (a league best) throughout the Challenge Cup. Watch for this captain to direct the Houston backline in her first regular season play since being traded from Chicago.

🎥 How to tune in

SOURCE: NWSL/TWITTER

Lucky for us, there’ll be plenty of ways to catch the action this season. In the U.S., CBS and CBS Sports will carry a handful (at least 14) regular season games while 82 additional regular season games will be available on Paramount+. We’ll take it. Outside of the U.S., all matches will be streamed internationally on Twitch.

  • And if you want to listen on-the-go? You’re covered! The NWSL recently announced their first-ever live audio partnership, a deal with iHeartMedia to broadcast two of the biggest games each week on the new digital NWSL Radio station. So cool.
  • It all starts tomorrow, with a weekend slate featuring all 10 teams in action, kicking off with the rookies: Louisville vs. Kansas City at 5 p.m. ET. Let the games begin.