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Marcus Johansson returns after missing 4 games to spark the Caps in a big win in Nashville.

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Johansson Return Plus Holtby Key a Caps Win in Smashville

Posted on 09 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson returned after missing four games and boy did he deliver on Tuesday night in Nashville. Jojo was absolutely brilliant scoring the game winning goal, adding two helpers, and going +3 on the evening in a Capitals 5-3 victory over the Predators.

Washington once again had a slow start and Braden Holtby (23 saves) was the key early as the Preds fired 14 first period shots on goal. The Holtbeast was outstanding keeping his club afloat while they tried to find their legs. Thanks to a Jason Chimera tally, his 14th of the year, on a great feed from Tom Wilson after Willy forced a Predators neutral zone turnover, the Capitals led 1-0 after the first frame despite only getting six shots on Pekka Rinne (18 saves).

The Caps took three penalties in the opening frame and then after taking a 2-0 lead on Wilson’s fifth goal of the season after a sweet feed from Johansson on an odd man rush, Washington made some bad mental mistakes. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew took two consecutive too many dudes on the ice penalties, overlapping by four seconds. Some excellent penalty killing almost got the Caps out of those brain cramps, but Filip Forsberg (two goals) scored late on the last power play on a wicked top shelf snipe over Holtby’s glove that may have nicked John Carlson’s stick.

Through 40 minutes the Caps would lead, but they had yet to really play their best hockey.

In the third frame, Washington amped up their intensity and started winning more of the board battles and using their size to negate the Predators speed. Dmitry Orlov marvelously outworked a couple of Nashville skaters on the wall in the offensive zone and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Justin Williams in front of the cage and he batted the biscuit home to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.

Three minutes later the Capitals third line struck again as Jojo buried one into a vacant cage as Rinne furiously flopped back and forth in his net to stop Karl Alzner and then Williams (1 goal, 1 assist) before #90 made it 4-1 with 11:57 remaining.

Game over, right?

Well, not so fast. The Predators, who only had five shots on goal in the third period, would get two markers just two minutes and eleven seconds apart to cut it to 4-3 with eight minutes to go. Both goals were on weird deflections in front of the Holtbeast.

But Trotz’ crew settled down and started playing smarter hockey by getting pucks in deep and forechecking with their heavy style. Nashville didn’t get many good looks and the Capitals had several shots at making it a two goal cushion again. With just under three minutes to go, the line of Wilson, Jojo, and Chimera then put on a cycling clinic and really took the Predators last bit of energy away. This forced Coach Peter Laviolette to keep his goalie in longer than he wanted and then Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with the keeper pulled to put Washington on the power play.

After a Nashville clear, they pulled Rinne again, but the Caps worked the puck around and the Gr8 deposited it into the vacant cage for his 31st goal of the season to close this one out. That ended a long Capitals power play drought at 19.

Over those last eight minutes, the Predators had only four shot attempts, and two came after the Ovechkin empty net tally. None of the four shots made it on goal, either. Now that is the way to protect a one goal lead!

Andre Burakovsky, on his 21st birthday, extended his point scoring streak to eight consecutive games with his 14th assist of the season on the Williams goal that was totally set up by Orlov. #9 had a really strong third period when the Caps seized this contest.

But this night belonged to the third line, particularly Johansson, who has really made the Capitals extra dangerous with a unit that can skate, hit, check, and score. This allows Mike Richards to lead a fourth line that is effective as well, and should get even stronger once Jay Beagle returns. Overall, the Caps have lots of players they can shift around up front and be effective. That’s a nice luxury to have.

The win improves the Capitals record to 39-9-4 (82 points) and per Matt Williams of the Caps PR staff, Washington is the first team in NHL history to achieve 39 wins through 52 regular season games. Wow!

I’ve been saying since the summer this is the best Caps team ever, but we all know when they really have to prove it.

Notes: The Predators were 1 for 6 on the power play while Washington was 1 for 3…5v5 shot attempts favored the Caps, 41-36. It was 17-13, for the good guys in the final 20 minutes…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in time on ice with 26:11 and he was +2…the Capitals blocked 18 shots and won the faceoff battle, 35-29. Richards was 7-2 from the dot…next up for the Caps are the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. That will be the second game on a three tilt road trip before it ends Saturday in Dallas against the Stars.

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The Washington Capitals continue to improve as they dominate the NHL.

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, it just didn’t seem fair as the Caps just thoroughly dominated a Canucks team that came in to town feeling pretty good about itself. As it turned out, if not for some stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller (36 saves), the Washington 4-1 triumph could’ve been more lopsided because the Caps played that well.

It’s getting scary how good Washington is, and they keep getting better.

The Caps out shot Vancouver, 40-30, out shot attempted them, 73-58, and would’ve blanked them on the scoreboard if not for a mid third period five on three power play goal by Radim Vrbata.

It was the men versus the boys for most of the night and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, one assist) was the primary star, once again. #92 scored the opening tally on a two on one with Dmitry Orlov after #9 made a great play at the Capitals defensive blue line to turn things the other way. Karl Alzner would make it 2-0 on a long bomb heading into the final twenty minutes following a sequence where the Canucks lost their focus in the corner.

In the third period, Kuznetsov helped increase the Caps lead to 3-0 with one of his absolutely sick, no-look, behind the back passes to Tom Wilson in the slot and Willy one timed it home for his 4th goal of the season. It was a goal of beauty and Andre Burakovsky (two assists, +3) deserved applause as well for his work down low on the boards to get the puck to Kuzya. Kuznetsov would then close out the scoring with an empty net goal with one second left to make it 4-1.

Washington is now 33-7-3 (69 points) and they’ve won five games in a row and 11 straight at the Verizon Center. So how could they possibly still be getting better?

Well, let me explain. Remember how this Caps team often found itself having to chip the puck out of their own end last season? That strategy ultimately doomed them in game seven against the Rangers.

This season, with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, plus the emergence of Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Wilson, and Burakovsky to go along with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a high talent level that can make the proper passes to get the puck going into the offensive zone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Add in a speedy Jason Chimera plus a very mobile defense that has benefited from the addition of Orlov and the rapid ascension of Nate Schmidt and you’ve got yourself one heck of a puck moving hockey team.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen that ability to go from defense to offense take off and I asked Williams about the keys to the Washington breakout and its strategy after the victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.

“First of all, we want to play a quick game. And if we want to stretch it out, we’ll stretch it out. I think that everybody wants the puck on the ice and that’s great because when you want the puck you are calling for the puck. That makes it easier for the guy who has the puck if he can’t see you, to make a play….that happens all throughout the ice, communication,” stated the three time Stanley Cup winner on the secrets of the Caps success.

What Williams says sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes five guys on the ice working together and communicating to make the magic happen. In game 43 of 82, the Capitals sure seem to be getting better and better at this and they seemingly had the puck on a string all evening against the Canucks.

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

Sure I read a lot of Dr. Seuss in the day, but the Caps seem to possess so many key facets to being able to win and they just keep iterating on their game and improving. It is really a scary sight for the rest of the league and they are doing this without John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Jay Beagle, and newly acquired two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards.

On Thursday, all four lines were going. The Gr8 was held pointless but he, Oshie, and Backstrom were dominant. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts (five on net), and many were quality chances. Again, Miller is the reason this wasn’t a 7-1 affair, like on Sunday against Ottawa.

It seems that everyone on this team is playing “the system” as Coach Barry Trotz likes to call it. They skate, they push the pace, and they punish you. The Caps had 20 hits to Vancouver’s eight and Washington had the puck most of the game!

It is heavy hockey with talent and skill at a very fluid pace.

That’s one scary combination and the Capitals still feel like they can keep improving.

Right now I’m not sure there is a better group of top nine forwards in the league and the mobile defense continues to make plays that allows the forward group to excel.

It’s enjoyable hockey and tons of fun to watch.

Notes: Ovechkin was honored before the game with a lengthy video tribute from many other prominent NHL 500 goal scorers, including a wonderful closing sequence from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Caps owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick presented Ovi with a golden stick listing all of his goals up to 500…the Caps dominated face offs going 34-20. Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson all had five more wins than losses from the dot…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Canucks were 1 for 3…Braden Holtby made 29 saves and played well. He’s now 20-0-2 in his last 23 starts…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 28:28. Alzner logged 24:59…the Capitals are in Buffalo on Saturday at 7 pm before coming home to take on the Rangers at 5 pm on Sunday.

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There is nothing Alexander Ovechkin can't do when it comes to hockey.

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Ovechkin Scores 499 to Win It in Overtime for the Caps

Posted on 09 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s hard to see a hockey game end any more exciting than that one did.

Wow!

Alexander Ovechkin, after Braden Holtby made a big save on Rick Nash and Nate Schmidt followed it up with a game saving block of Derek Stepan’s empty net bid, took the puck in three on three overtime, went end-to-end down the left wing beating both Nash and Ryan McDonagh with blazing speed, and ripped the 499th goal of his career by King Henrik Lundqvist to give the Washington Capitals an amazing comeback 4-3 victory after they had surrendered a 2-0 third period lead.

Once again…Wow!

I’m practically out of breath after this amazing game.

Washington carried most of the play over New York for two periods and seemed to have things in control heading into the final frame. However the Caps looked a little lethargic and tired while the Rangers, off since Tuesday night, came storming back to seize the lead, 3-2, with three goals in less than 10 minutes of play. Washington made too many defensive zone mistakes during that stretch and with just over five minutes to go it looked like New York was headed to its fifth win in the last six games against the Capitals.

But this Caps team is just too proud, too determined, and too tight of a unit to allow their archrivals to stick it to them again in a dagger like fashion. The Capitals put on a furious assault on Lundqvist and nearly tied the game on an Andre Burakovsky shot that hit iron. During that stretch, with 3:50 to go, the Rangers did get a two on one break and Nash fed McDonagh for what looked like a layup, but he either shot it wide or the Holtbeast (23 saves) just got a piece of it as the biscuit slid wide.

Still, with less than 30 seconds left the Caps were on their last life, but Ovechkin did a great job to gather a puck in the left wing corner and instead of firing on net, he fed Matt Niskanen at the left point. #2 saw that there were several Blueshirts in his lane so he slid the disc over to Justin Williams. The super smart Williams saw all star Nicklas Backstrom in front of King Henrik and he fired a shot on net with #19 screening. Lundqvist made the first save, but he couldn’t corral what he couldn’t see, and then Nicky put the rebound home with just six seconds left!

The Caps bench went nuts and then overtime came. It was a wild three on three affair and the Rangers looked to win it off of an offensive zone faceoff, but Holtby made the huge stop on Nash in the slot and #88 made his magic stick block on game seven hero Stepan setting the stage for the Gr8.

Ovechkin, who definitely has a flair for the dramatic, made no mistake about this one and after scoring he slid on his knees and did a spin in front of the Washington bench as his teammates stood by ready to mug him in celebration. Schmidt and Holtby embraced, as well, and this close knit group clearly enjoyed getting a victory in amazing fashion when it looked like the curse of the Rangers might live on.

Have I said “Wow!” in this blog yet?

Wow!

That was some game and this team just keeps finding ways to get it done. Ovechkin opened the scoring on the power play with a layup after a Dan Girardi givewaway to move to 498 career goals. Williams pushed the lead to a pair in the middle frame on a breakaway after a big Gr8 hit on McDonagh allowed Schmidt to get the puck and send #14 in all alone on the King. Williams pin balled it in on a diving Lundqvist and it looked like from there the Caps would cruise to another win.

But New York, who has really struggled since the season’s quarter pole, didn’t quit either, so give them credit for racing back into the game and grabbing the lead.

The Rangers, however, have to feel decimated after this one. They couldn’t hold a late lead and Washington increased their Metropolitan lead over them to 16 points at the season’s halfway mark. New York is now tied with their cross town rival, the Islanders, for second place (Caps have a game in hand on the Isles).

With Marcus Johansson out due to suspension (he is eligible to return Thursday against Vancouver) and Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson all injured, the Caps knew they needed big games from their top two lines on Saturday afternoon and they received just that. The Gr8 had two goals and was +2, Backstrom had his tally and was +2 while Williams notched a goal and assist (+1).

On the back end, Schmidt was the star with two assists and the big shot block in 21:20 of ice time, but Niskanen had a big assist on the game tying tally in 28:34 while Karl Alzner blocked seven shots, including one with his head in period two. King Karl eats rocks for breakfast.

Wow!

So now on Sunday night at the Verizon Center, the Ovechkin 500th goal watch is in full effect. The Caps, who just finished a stretch of six road contests in seven games, went 5-1-1 to put a stranglehold on their division. They will now have to play for the third time in four nights against Ottawa, but at least it will be at home, which should be rocking with the Gr8, the man who saved hockey in this area, on the cusp of another major milestone.

Do. Not. Miss. It.

Notes: The Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while New York went 0 for 3, but the Rangers tying goal came right after a Washington power play expired. The Capitals clearly missed Johansson’s ability to get clean zone entries with the man advantage which, at numerous times, made the PP look out of sync…several on the Caps bottom two lines had their struggles in this one in the last 20 minutes…Mike Richards skated on Friday but won’t play for awhile. He needs to get in hockey shape and a conditioning stint in Chocolatetown is not out of the question…Washington won the face off battle, 31-28, with Backstrom going a dominating, 15-7…see you for Ovie’s 500th on Sunday night, so be there or be square!

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Washington jumps out to a quick 2-0 lead en route to a suffocating 4-1 victory over the Islanders.

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Ovechkin Hits 497 as Caps Dominate Islanders

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

You are not going to find a more complete road win than that one.

The Washington Capitals dominated the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, 4-1, with a suffocating victory against a speedy Isles club.

The Caps did an outstanding job of back checking and staying together in five man units which kept New York on the perimeter and away from the high danger areas all game. It was a stellar effort in which Washington continued to win the majority of the loose puck battles.

Braden Holtby stopped 34 of 35 shots, with the only tally against a snipe from between the circles while the Caps defender screened the Holtbeast. Other than that, #70 was perfect and he ran his record in his last 21 games to an astonishing 18-0-2. On this night, though, he didn’t have to steal the contest by himself because his teammates turned in one of their best performances of the season away from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

On offense, the Capitals took advantage of a rusty Jaroslav Halak by throwing biscuits at the cage early and often (38 shots on goal total). Jason Chimera notched his 12th goal of the campaign just 5:45 into the contest after Marcus Johansson battled to grab the puck in the left wing corner. Jojo is having his best season as a Capital despite getting called for a neutral zone penalty in period one. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 at 15:45 after Karl Alzner alertly jumped on a puck in the defensive zone, made a great rush up the ice, and threaded a Nicklas Backstrom-esque pass backwards to the Gr8, who ripped it thru Halak and into the cage.

After the Islanders tallied early in period two, New York had a power play that they nearly scored on. The Caps would kill it off and shortly after the infraction expired, Backstrom hounded the Islanders defense behind New York’s cage, stole the puck, and then put one “on a tee” for Nate Schmidt, who got every bit of the shot that went through Halak again and into the twine. That made it 3-1 heading into period three.

In the final frame, coaches could record those 20 minutes and use it as an educational session on how to totally shut down an opponent with a two goal lead. The Islanders got NOTHING in that period as Washington carried the play and took away any chance New York had of getting a victory. The Caps were relentless in their puck pursuit.

When Isles Coach Jack Capuano pulled his netminder with over three minutes remaining the Caps did a super job of quickly getting the puck out, especially Ovechkin, and Backstrom (goal, assist, and +3) skated in and put the biscuit in the basket to close out the scoring.

All around the lineup the Capitals received excellent outings, especially from their defensemen. They were all impressive and Aaron Ness (12:34 of ice time) has really shown to be a super addition. #55 really skates well and is decisive with the puck. Matt Niskanen logged a team high 25:50 while Dmitry Orlov (22:50) turned in one of his best games of the season. #9 and Schmidt were super. This Caps defense is extremely mobile, but they can also play physical in the corners to win the puck battles. It’s hard to believe how well this team is playing on the back end with both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out. As I blogged after Tuesday’s win over Boston, this injury situation is turning into a blessing in disguise because Ness has been a find and Taylor Chorney continues to get better and better. Kudos to Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden for the job they’ve done with this crop of blueliners.

Up front, I thought all four lines were good, but I was especially pleased with the top line. They had been in a bit of a funk recently, however, that was not the case in Brooklyn on Thursday. Ovechkin was back skating and shooting (497th career goal, 8 shots on net, 11 total shot attempts, and three hits) and all star Nicky was just outstanding with his two points and ability to win key draws. #19 was 12-7 from the dot and that forced the Islanders to do a lot of chasing just to try and get the puck back. By game’s end the Islanders looked totally out of gas while the Caps were still flying.

This victory pushes the Caps to a 30-7-3 (63 points) record and they lead the Islanders by 14 points in the Metropolitan Division. They remain first in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL standings.

All in all, this was just a stellar hockey game by a team that really seems to enjoy playing together. They stick up for one another and when they play the Trotz system, they are very, very difficult to beat.

Even with some big injuries to Carlson, Orpik, and Jay Beagle, the Capitals are finding ways to win.

On Thursday night, they won convincingly, and that has to be disconcerting to the rest of the league.

Simply put, to quote the great Count Floyd, the play of the Washington Capitals is “Scary Stuff, kids!”

Notes: Nine of the Islanders 35 shots came on their two power plays…Washington signed two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards to a one year, $1M contract on Wednesday evening. Richards will wear the #10 he had in Los Angeles and will practice on Friday with the team. He has not played since April and won’t be in the lineup until he’s good and ready. Coach Trotz said Thursday that he’ll start as a center on the fourth line once he’s game capable. I really like this addition because he’s a guy who’s won at all levels and really provides depth to the bottom six forwards…the Caps outshot New York 38-35 and I imagine the quality chances were even more lopsided towards Washington’s end…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden at 1 pm. This is the third and final visit for the Caps to the gaaahhhden (until the playoffs).

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off of a huge 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers in game three of their best of seven first round playoff series on Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden (CSN, NBCSN). A win for the Caps and it is a 3-0 series lead, and for a Washington franchise that is 39 years old, it would be unchartered waters in a best of seven (the Caps did defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, three games to none, in best of five first round matchups in 1984 and 1986, respectively).

This Capitals team continues to get better each game under first year head coach Adam Oates. After winning 3-1 in the first tilt, the Capitals played another very good game but thanks to the superb play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves), the Caps weren’t able to gain the victory until the extra session. But Washington carried much of the play in that contest and despite the Rags getting forwards Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett back into the lineup for the first time this series, the Caps still have more depth and as a result, have been able to win the first two games. A big difference has been special teams with the Caps going for 2 for 7 with the man advantage while New York is 0 for 7. But that still leaves a ton of even strength time and if you look at the ice times of both squads, it is pretty apparent that Oates has more confidence in all of his skaters while Rangers bench boss John Tortorella relies mostly on three lines and five defensemen. The fact that Tortorella’s skilled guys are playing more at even strength could be a factor in why their power play is not as effective.

But as a former Capitals assistant coach has told me repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, and you can bet that Torts will do whatever he can in his own barn to get the Rags back in the series. Madison Square Garden will be amped up and with home ice the fiery coach now has last change. Midway through game two he switched up his lines putting Rick Nash with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan and that line was the Rangers best. The typical matchup had that unit against the Caps second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer. Does that matchup continue in New York? Will Ryan Clowe be back in for the Rangers giving them another top six forward? What can Tortorella do to fix his ailing power play? Those are the easiest things that seem changeable for a Rangers club that the Caps have on the ropes. The Rangers are struggling to generate offense so does New York, which is primarily a defensive team that is coached to mostly play dump and chase, change things up and open up the game? I have a hard time seeing them try that given they haven’t been practicing it all season and they would likely be playing with fire with the Capitals highly skilled top two lines.

As for Washington, even when winning, they make adjustments and that’s another reason why they continue to improve. Oates’ club was much better on their breakouts on Saturday and the number of giveaways and odd man rushes dropped drastically.  The Capitals also seem to have the Rangers tendencies down, especially in the offensive zone. A Rags team that relies heavily on diving to block shots was burnt on the game winner as Ribeiro faked Callahan to the ice before dishing to Mike “Game Over” Green for the winner. Oates might not have any lineup changes but given his penchant for video analysis and his technical savvy, you can bet that he’s given his club some things to help the team be even better.

After minimizing turnovers, which can lead to odd man rushes, another important thing for Washington to do to win in New York is to limit the ability of Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto to rush the puck up the ice. It was Del Zotto, along with the traded Marian Gaborik, who really hurt the Caps in last year’s series loss. After Del Zotto, New York really doesn’t have any guys on the blue line who are excellent puck rushers while the Capitals boast Green and John Carlson plus Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy bring that capability, as well. It is an advantage for the Caps that their defense is more mobile.

Still, you have to play the games and it is critical that Washington doesn’t get overconfident or lose focus on playing one shift at a time. Based on what I’ve seen from Oates, he will have his club ready to go in a hostile environment.

So will this be the year that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally take a 3-0 lead in a best of seven playoff series?

 

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Earl Weaver says he’s staying outta the way of 2012 Orioles Magic

Posted on 05 September 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

Earl Weaver was kind enough to spend a some time with me today discussing his managerial career and the inspiration that led him to become a Major League Baseball manager and Hall of Famer.

We had a long chat that will be included in my long-researched book on coaching and leadership. I’ve now sat with 23 of my 100 targets. Earl was on point today discussing his disdain for the hit-and-run, his respect for Paul Richards and why trading Doug DeCinces was a mistake.

When we concluded our chat about the old versions of Orioles Magic and how Cal Ripken became a shortstop, I asked The Earl of Baltimore about the current orange fever sweeping Baltimore via Buck Showalter’s 2012 squad.

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