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🏒First Round of Stanley Cup Playoffs to Begin Tuesday After Multiple Upsets in the Qualifying Rounds

August 10, 2020
ANDRE RINGUETTE/FREESTYLE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
ANDRE RINGUETTE/FREESTYLE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: It’s Stanley Cup playoff time...but for real now. The qualifiers and round-robin are over, and after a few wild upsets, the first round of playoffs is set to begin. Bring it on!

What happened in the qualifiers?: It was Upset City on Friday night, when two of the top teams were humiliated eliminated. First the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the Eastern Conference’s lowest seeded team, the Montreal Canadiens, and then the Edmonton Oilers lost to the West’s bottom feeders, the Chicago Blackhawks.

  • The only series to go to a deciding fifth game was last night’s tilt between the Toronto Maple Leafs (who blew a 3–0 lead in Game 3) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (who blew a 3–0 lead in Game 4). The Blue Jackets took Game 5 with a 3–0 win (no blown leads this time) to clinch the final first round spot.
  • Don’t feel too bad for the eliminated teams, though. They’re now entered into a lottery to win the first overall draft pick in October’s NHL Draft. Each of the losing teams from the qualifiers have a 12.5% chance of winning the top pick, which will be determined today at 6 p.m. ET.

So what now?: The official first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs featuring 16 teams begins Tuesday. The teams who made it through the qualifiers will face off against the top four teams in each conference, who automatically made it through based on their regular season records.

  • While the qualifiers have been keeping us entertained, the top teams have been facing off in a round-robin mini-tournament to decide seeding for the first round. The Philadelphia Flyers shockingly came out on top of the East, meaning they’ll face the Canadiens. And the West’s No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights will take on the Blackhawks.
  • Unlike the five-game series of the qualifiers, the first round will go back to the usual best-of-seven series. Check out the full schedule here to keep up with your August hockey (still sounds so weird!).

🏀Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers Set to Battle for Eighth Spot in NBA Playoffs

August 10, 2020
PHOENIX MERCURY/TWITTER
PHOENIX MERCURY/TWITTER

The GIST: It’s the final week of seeding games in the NBA, and with the top spots all set, our attention is on the battle for eighth place in the Western Conference.

Why’s that a big deal?: It’s a BFD because if the eighth-seeded team is ahead of the No. 9 team by four games or less, there will be a “play-in” tournament. The tournament is two games long, and for the No. 9 spot to move on, they have to win both games.

  • The play-in games are set to take place this Saturday and Sunday. All eight Eastern Conference teams have already been set, but in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers are neck and neck for the eighth seed.
     
  • Yesterday’s Grizzlies’ loss guaranteed a play-in series, but the last few games will determine the play-in matchup, with the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns still in the hunt. Anxiety-level 100.

So who’s definitely made the playoffs?: As we already mentioned, the Eastern Conference is set, with the Milwaukee Bucks unsurprisingly grabbing the top spot and the league’s best regular-season record. What, like it’s hard? Check out the full standings here.

What’s up in the WNBA?: Fans were robbed of a battle of the best on Saturday, when Seattle Storm star Sue Bird (of A Touch More fame) was forced to sit out of the matchup against Diana Taurasi and her Phoenix Mercury due to a sore knee.

  • Taurasi didn’t play the whole game either, exiting the game during the fourth quarter with a lower back and oblique injury. She’s since had a clear MRI and will be reevaluated ahead of tonight’s game against the Dallas Wings. Here’s hoping she’s good to go!
🏈

Danielle Kang Wins Two LPGA Tournaments, MLS is Back Tournament Heads to Final, Mid-American Conference Postpones Fall Football Season

August 10, 2020
LPGA/GETTY IMAGES
LPGA/GETTY IMAGES

Golf: Danielle Kang is a freaking powerhouse. The world No. 2 has won both tournaments since the LPGA’s season restart: last weekend’s Drive On Championship and yesterday’s Marathon Classic. The LPGA’s first major of the season, the AIG Women’s British Open, is set for August 20–23rd, and all bets are on Kang.

  • Speaking of majors, yesterday, the first major of the PGA season, aptly called the PGA Championship, was won by 23-year-old Collin Morikawa. It was Morikawa’s first major win in his second major appearance and his third Tour win in his v. short career. Kid’s got game!

Soccer: With the MLS is Back Tournament’s early COVID-19 issues, we had our doubts that this day would ever come, but here we are: just one day away from the final, between the Portland Timbers and Orlando City SC (SC stands for Soccer Club). There’s no way we could’ve predicted these two as the finalists, but we’re totally here for it.

  • And soccer’s not going anywhere. The MLS has decided that the regular season, which will incorporate the results from the kickstart tournament into the season’s standings, will — because there’s not enough sports on right now — begin on Wednesday.

College Football: On Saturday, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) became the first FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) conference to postpone its fall sports season. More players have also opted out of the 2020 season, either due to COVID-19 concerns or to focus on prepping for the next NFL Draft. What does this mean for the other conferences and the end-of-season bowl games? TBH, not sure.

  • Only time will tell if other conferences will follow the lead of the MAC. The Power Five conferences are moving forward with adjusted schedules for now, but that could change following a meeting of Pac-12 presidents tomorrow. Spoiler alert: This might be the most dramatic college football non-season yet.

🏈NCAA Requires Individual Divisions to Decide their Own Approaches to Fall Athletic Seasons

August 06, 2020
 SAMUEL STRINGER/ICON SPORTSWIRE VIA GETTY IMAGES
SAMUEL STRINGER/ICON SPORTSWIRE VIA GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Early August normally marks the beginning of college football preseason, but (and stop us if you’ve heard this one before) COVID-19 is forcing some changes. As conferences continue to announce adjustments to their schedules, players are joining forces to demand safer conditions, while one school has suspended its football season altogether.

Whew. What’s going down?: After reading the letters and hearing the demands from college football players in the Pac-12 and Big Ten (so proud of Gen Z these days), the NCAA Board of Governors finally announced their requirements to conduct fall sports.

  • Yesterday, they released a v. long list of COVID-19 precautions, including permitting all athletes to opt out of fall sports while requiring their scholarships to still be honored (small wins!), but gave no real guidance on how to proceed. Interesting.
     
  • Instead, the NCAA tasked individual divisions with making their own decisions regarding the fall athletic season. Both Division II and III have canceled all fall sports championships, leaving Division I to make their final decision by August 21st. *deep breaths*

Breathing deeply. You mentioned a team already opted out?: UConn became the first FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team to suspend its season due to COVID-19 concerns. While the Huskies aren’t typically title contenders in college football (they went 2-10 last year), this is still a BFD. Good on them for putting player safety first!

So will more teams suspend their season?: While we hope more schools will study the data and make decisions that protect their players, we think this decision will be all about the Benjamins. Canceling the entire college football season would result in $4 billion (!!!) in lost revenue, so we expect most teams to go ahead with their season. But hey, maybe they can use some of that cash to address player demands and safety.

🏀🏒

Postseason Favourites Become Apparent as Leagues Return to Play

August 06, 2020
NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

WNBA: Even though we’re just two weeks into the regular season, we already have strong postseason favorites: the Chicago Sky, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm, who are leading the league with identical 4-1 records. Things aren’t so peachy for the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun, though, who are both winless through five games apiece. 

  • And the Liberty have it extra bad, with first overall draft pick and presumed savior Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced YOH-NESS-COO) out for at least a month (aka probably the season) after spraining her ankle in her third-ever pro game. Ionescu left the bubble yesterday to visit a specialist in New York. Sad.

NBA: The Los Angeles Lakers have secured the West. As the heavy favorites to win the NBA Championship, the Lakers clinched the top seed in the Western Conference (the Milwaukee Bucks are in the top spot in the East but have not officially clinched it...yet) in their third of eight seeding games on Monday. Just bring on the playoffs already!

NHL: The Carolina Hurricanes became the first team to advance through the qualifiers this week, sweeping their series against the New York Rangers. The Hurricanes, obviously fueled by this adorable montage of messages from their families, are the only undefeated team in the qualifying round.

MLB: The Miami Marlins are back in action and completely unrecognizable. After 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 and six games were postponed, over half of the team’s 30-man roster needed to be replaced before the Marlins could resume play. With fresh faces (including an Olympic speedskater), the Marlins have gone 3-0 against the Baltimore Orioles.

  • And speaking of the MLB’s total lack of control over their teams, 13 players and staff on the St. Louis Cardinals have tested positive for COVID-19, after players allegedly visited a casino *insert exasperated sigh here* after their series against the Minnesota Twins. Listen to this week’s episode of The GIST of It for more MLB news