Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. It sure looks like we’ll have a long wait for both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final. The NHL’s championship series isn’t scheduled to start until June 3, and the Golden Knights have a chance to polish off a sweep tonight.
In today’s SI:AM:
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Miami rules the sports world
For the third time in four years, the Stanley Cup could be heading to the state of Florida.
With a dramatic 4–3 win over the Hurricanes last night, the Panthers polished off a four-game sweep to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1996. Jesper Fast appeared to keep Carolina alive with a goal with 3:22 left in the third period to tie the game at 3–3, but Florida star Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-winner on a power play with under five seconds left. It was tied for the latest series-clinching regulation goal in NHL playoff history.
Tkachuk, acquired in a trade last summer with the Flames that sent Panthers stalwart Jonathan Huberdeau to Calgary, has done it all for the Panthers this postseason, leading the team in both goals (nine) and assists (12). Only one player in these playoffs, the Stars’ Roope Hintz, has more points than Tkachuk (22 to Tkachuk’s 21). His clutch goal last night was his third game-winner of the series, following his overtime goals in Games 1 and 2. But as great as Tkachuk has been, one of his teammates has been even better. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been nearly unbeatable of late. Among goalies with at least one start in these playoffs, Bobrovsky has the second best save percentage (.935, trailing only the Golden Knights’ Adin Hill’s .940). And over the past two series, Bobrovsky has been even better, with a .958 save percentage. Last night’s game was the first time since Game 7 against the Bruins that he allowed more than two goals.
It’s been a hell of a spring for South Florida’s NHL and NBA teams, who have had nearly identical playoff runs. The Heat are on the brink of the NBA Finals as a No. 8 seed and now the Panthers are headed to the Stanley Cup Final. The NHL technically doesn’t have 8-seeds anymore (since the playoffs are split into four brackets by division), but Florida had the worst regular-season record of any team that made this year’s playoffs and is now four wins away from lifting the Cup.
The Panthers needed a minor miracle just to make the playoffs. Florida was in panic mode at the end of the regular season. After losing three straight at the end of March as Bobrovsky struggled, the Panthers benched him in favor of Alex Lyon, who then won six of the team’s last eight games. They clinched a spot in the postseason in part because of the Penguins’ loss to the lowly Blackhawks in their second-to-last game of the season. Lyon then started the first three games of Florida’s first-round series against the Bruins before ceding the starting role back to Bobrovsky.
Like the Heat, the Panthers have been giant slayers. Their upset of the Bruins in the first round was one of the most monumental in NHL history. Boston won more regular-season games than any team in NHL history and then blew a 3–1 lead to Florida. The notoriously underachieving Maple Leafs also had high hopes after a strong regular season before they got blitzed by the Panthers in five games. Florida has now beaten three of the five teams with the best regular-season records in the league this year. If the Golden Knights take care of business against the Stars tonight, the Panthers will have a chance to beat a fourth top-five team.
Vegas has also breezed through the playoffs with relative ease, beating the Jets in five games and the Oilers in six. It’s up 3–0 on the Stars with Game 4 in Dallas tonight (8 p.m. ET on ESPN). Barring a Vegas collapse, the Stanley Cup Final will be a matchup of two teams seeking its first championship.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- The Cardinals got off to a terrible start but have started to turn a corner, and, despite being in fourth place, Tom Verducci believes they should be the favorite in the NL Central.
- Pat Forde analyzes the NCAA survey of gambling among college students that was released yesterday.
- Here’s what to watch out for as NFL teams begin organized team activities this week, according to Conor Orr.
- These rookies could be breakout fantasy football stars in 2023, according to Michael Fabiano.
- Police conducted a welfare check at Ja Morant’s home yesterday following mysterious posts on Instagram. A sheriff’s office spokesperson said Morant “is fine” and is “taking a break from social media.”
- Police in the Dominican Republic are reportedly searching for a former Cubs prospect in connection with a shooting death.
- George Washington University has decided on a new nickname to replace “Colonials.”
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. The Panthers’ passing on their third goal of the game.
4. Texas A&M baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle’s in-game interview.
3. Bryant first baseman Carmine Petosa’s catch while diving into the netting.
2. Pirates pitcher Johan Oviedo’s immaculate inning.
1. Nationals pitcher Carl Edwards Jr.’s quick reaction to catch a line drive hit back to the mound.
Of the teams participating in this weekend’s Division I men’s lacrosse Final Four, which one has made the NCAA tournament appearances?
- Penn State
- Notre Dame
Yesterday’s SIQ: Enigmatic pitcher Cletus Poffenberger, who was suspended by the Dodgers after failing to show up for a game this week in 1939, was better known by which clothing-inspired nickname?
Answer: Boots. Poffenberger’s SABR biography doesn’t explain how he got the nickname but does note that he never went by his given name. His full name was Cletus Elwood Poffenberger, which teammates with the Tigers decided sounded awfully regal, so they sometimes called him by another nickname: “The Baron.”
Poffenberger made his major league debut with Detroit in 1937. He was an average pitcher in his two seasons for the Tigers but became a favorite subject of Detroit sportswriters due to his personality. His penchant for spending late nights out drinking led the Tigers to dump him before the ’39 season (after he showed up to spring training overweight, which he said was the team’s fault for making him get up so early that he couldn’t sleep through breakfast). He was sold to the Dodgers and pitched in three games before he failed to show up for a May 23 game in Cincinnati. Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher suspended him indefinitely, and, after he failed to report to the Dodgers’ farm team in Montreal, he was placed on the commissioner’s list of banned players.
But Poffenberger’s talent was undeniable. Even if the Dodgers didn’t want him around any longer, maybe they could still extract some value from him. So the team asked commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to reinstate him, and he was sold to the Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association. He won 26 games as Nashville won the 1940 pennant, but he didn’t last much longer with the team. On June 24, 1941, Poffenberger took the mound drunk, stumbling and dropping the ball. He was ejected for using profanity and reacted by throwing the ball at the umpire, resulting in an automatic 90-day suspension from organized baseball.
Two weeks later, in an interview with The Tennessean, Poffenberger admitted he’d been drinking before his start—and others that season.
“I have been drinking too much all year,” he said. “I knew it, but I’d done pretty good in my last three starts. Nobody knew I was drinking when I pitched those games. I’d had a few Tom Collins before I went out and they seemed to help me. I thought I’d do the same thing this time. I don’t know what happened but they just ‘snuck’ up on me. I didn’t think anybody’d know it the way I carry on foolishness out there on the mound. But instead of wearing off, as they had always had before, they just knocked the daylights out of me this time.”
Poffenberger, who along with Boots Day and Boots McClain is one of three players in MLB history to go by that nickname, pitched five more seasons in the minors, sandwiched around a stint in the Marines during World War II. He died in 1999 at age 84.
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