Golden Knights advance to second round, Lightning force Game 6, Devils keep rolling vs. Rangers

The 2023 NHL Playoffs featured some big games on Thursday night. The Vegas Golden Knights became the first team to win a series, the Tampa Bay Lightning staved off elimination against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the New Jersey Devils took a 3-2 series lead agains the New York Rangers.

The Maple Leafs have not reached the second round of the playoffs since 2004, and they had a chance to end that drought on Thursday. However, the back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference champs had something to say about that. The Tampa Bay Lightning quieted the Scotiabank Arena crowd with a 4-2 win to force Game 6.

In the second game of the evening, the Devils continued their stretch of dominance against the Rangers. New Jersey rolled to a 4-0 win while rookie goaltender Akira Schmid frustrated the Rangers with another brilliant showing in the crease. New Jersey can now eliminate New York in Madison Square Garden in Game 6.

The Golden Knights became the first team to advance to the second round when they blew out the Jets, 4-1, in Game 5. Chandler Stephenson got the party started less than a minute into the game, Vegas didn’t let its foot off the gas pedal. The Golden Knights will now face the winner of the series between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers.

For the full playoff schedule and final score updates on every Stanley Cup Playoff series, click here. For now, follow along tonight as the first-round action continues.

Lightning stay alive, force Game 6 in Tampa
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a chance to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years on Thursday, but the Tampa Bay Lightning kept that drought alive for at least one more day with a 4-2 win.

The Maple Leafs got Scotiabank Arena rocking early when Morgan Rielly beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Toronto a 1-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.


— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 27, 2023
However, it was all Lightning after that.

Just 26 seconds after Rielly opened the scoring, Anthony Cirelli punched home a rebound to tie the game at 1-1.That score would hold until 4:23 of the second period, when Michael Eyssimont flew down the left-wing side of the ice and tucked a shot underneath Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov for a soft goal.

What a BEAUT for your first playoff goal!!!

— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 28, 2023
Nick Paul extended Tampa’s lead to 3-1 midway through the third period, but the story of the final frame was the Bolts’ ability to smother Toronto’s offensive attack. Toronto couldn’t get much of anything going until it pulled Samsonov for the extra attacker.

Auston Matthews was able to make it a one-goal game with a few minutes remaining in regulation, but the Lightning held on for a huge win to force a Game 6. Now, the series will shift back to Tampa, and there will be a lot of pressure on Toronto to get over the hump on the road.

Devils cruise to Game 5 win over Rangers
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the trend of the road team winning every game in this series ended on Thursday night. The Devils turned in another dominant performance for a 4-0 win at home, and they have come back to lead the series 3-2.

For the third game in a row, New Jersey has completely frustrated a New York roster that is loaded with firepower up front. The Rangers could only muster 23 shots on goal, and when the Devils did need a big save, rookie goaltender Akira Schmid was there to make it.

2.5 games of #StanleyCup Playoffs experience under his belt and Akira Schmid has been POISED under pressure. 🥶

🇺🇸: @espn ➡️
🇨🇦: @Sportsnet ➡️

— NHL (@NHL) April 28, 2023
On the offensive side of things, Ondrej Palat got the party started just 39 seconds into the first period when he got a fortunate bounce on a rebound goal.

Pally Ondrej attack.

— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 27, 2023
After the Rangers won the special teams battle in Games 1 and 2, the Devils clobbered them in that department in Game 5. Erik Haula tallied a power play goal in the second period, and Dawson Mercer made it a 3-0 game with a shorthanded goal about 10 minutes later.


— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 28, 2023
New Jersey looked dead in the water after dropping the first two games in Newark, but the team has completely flipped the script in the last three games. The Devils have simply outplayed the Rangers, and they are one win away from disposing of their rivals and advancing to the second round.

Golden Knights eliminate Jets in dominant fashion
We have our first handshake line of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Vegas Golden Knights were determined to end this series in Game 5, and the Winnipeg Jets didn’t provide much resistance in a 4-1 loss.

The opening minute of this game was a preview for things to come. Just 50 seconds into the game, Vegas forced a turnover, and a slick passing play allowed Chandler Stephenson to slide the puck behind Connor Hellebuyck for a goal.

hot start, Stevie!!! 🔥

— z – Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 28, 2023
With star defenseman Josh Morrissey out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, the Jets had major issues trying to get the puck out of their own zone. The Golden Knights’ forecheck was relentless, and it resulted in another goal just 42 seconds into the second period when Mark Stone capitalized on a Winnipeg mistake.


— z – Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 28, 2023
The Golden Knights would add two more goals in the second period, and by that point, the game was out of reach. Vegas didn’t give Winnipeg any room to breathe, and the Jets didn’t really test Golden Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit until they pulled the goalie with 8:18 remaining in the third period.

To his credit, Brossoit made one of the best saves of the postseason so far on one of the rare scoring chances for the Jets.

Beaut of a glove save by Brossoit, robbing Lowry blind in tight#VegasBorn

— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) April 28, 2023
After eliminating the Jets, the Golden Knights will now advance to play either the Los Angeles Kings or Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

Cooper Flagg reclassifies, will be 2024’s No. 1-ranked recruit with offers from Duke, Kansas, UConn and others

High school basketball phenom Cooper Flagg announced Friday that he is reclassifying to the Class of 2024 after a standout summer performing in front of college coaches and talent evaluators. Flagg was previously a member of the Class of 2025 but is expediting his potential path to the NBA by reclassifying.

With a December 2006 birthday, Flagg is narrowly old enough for the 2025 NBA Draft, and the decision to jump a class will position him to pursue that option. He would need to play college basketball during the 2024-25 season — or otherwise be one year removed from high school — in order to be draft-eligible in 2025 under NBA rules.

A five-star power forward, Flagg ranked No. 2 in the Class of 2025 and will be ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2024, according to 247Sports. The 6-foot-8 Montverde (Florida) Academy star earned MVP honors at Peach Jam in July while leading Maine United to an appearance in the 16u championship game. In the process, he entered the running to become the No. 1 overall prospect in his class.

Duke is considered the favorite to land Flagg, but UConn is also a factor in his recruitment.

Cooper Flagg scouting report
Flagg was turning heads even before he began receiving widespread national attention this summer. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maine as a freshman for a team that won the state championship. Even then, his promise on both ends of the floor was evident. 247Sports director of scouting Adam Finkelstein described Flagg as “an elite two-way prospect.”

“His instincts are off the charts on both ends of the floor and he competes with a quiet type of killer instinct,” Finkelstein wrote. “He’s a defensive standout and particularly dominant as an off-ball defender. In fact, he’s as good of an underclassman shot-blocker as I’ve seen at his size. Offensively, he’s an excellent passer with a good foundation of early skill and developing playmaking ability. His footwork is excellent. His shooting and handling both good and continuously improving. He doesn’t necessarily need to be the focal point on that end of the floor, but he’s shown he’s plenty capable of it. Physically, frame’s Flagg is solid enough to absorb contact now and will only add additional muscle mass in the coming years.”

Potential implications for Duke
If Flagg winds up committing to Duke, which is favored to land him by the 247Sports Crystal Ball, it would merely be the latest splash for second-year coach Jon Scheyer. The Blue Devils just welcomed the No. 2 ranked class to campus for the 2023-24 season after putting together a solid 2022-23 campaign with a freshman-heavy roster.

Five-star wing Isaiah Evans and four-star wing Darren Harris are already committed to the Blue Devils’ 2024 class. Adding Flagg to that group would position Duke to land another top-three class as Scheyer continues finding his footing while replacing the legendary Mike Krzyzewski.

Dallas Mavericks become jersey sponsor for Dallas Wings

The Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Wings announced a historic partnership Sunday afternoon that would make the Mavericks the jersey sponsor for the Wings. The deal makes the Wings the first team in the WNBA to agree to a jersey sponsorship with an NBA team.

The jersey patch will feature the Mavericks logo, as well as the “Girls Empowered by Mavericks” or GEM logo, which is a program created by the NBA team. The program was created to “inspire and empower young females through the use of physical activity as a backdrop to their development and success,” per the team’s joint statement.

“The Mavericks have worked hard to build the best youth-focused programming in the NBA,” Wings President & CEO Greg Bibb said in the team’s statement. “We are incredibly proud to partner with their organization to extend and expand the GEM program’s reach throughout North Texas. We are grateful to Cynt Marshall, Mark Cuban and the Mavericks leadership for their commitment to this innovative sponsorship and we look forward to working with them to empower girls through the sport of basketball.”

The logo will begin to appear on the Wings jerseys as early as the team’s Sunday afternoon game against the Chicago Sky.

“The Dallas Mavericks are proud to work alongside our local WNBA team, the Dallas Wings, to further the empowerment of young girls in North Texas,” Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall said. “We see GEM participants as the talent pool to represent future women in sports, business and other careers, and we are emboldened to move the needle towards female representation and equality.”

In addition to the jersey sponsorship, players and coaches on the Wings will also take part in GEM programs which includes basketball camps to help girls across North Texas.

With the Wings becoming the first team in the W to receive a jersey sponsorship from an NBA team, it could open the door for more partnerships like this in the future.

Clippers star on pace to be ready for start of training camp

Kawhi Leonard is on pace to be ready for the start of training camp, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue told the media on Sunday during a conversation with reporters in Las Vegas, where he’s working with Team USA ahead of the 2023 FIBA World Cup later this month.

After two spectacular performances in Games 1 and 2 against the Phoenix Suns in the team’s first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns last season, Leonard was ruled out with a knee injury that was later revealed to be a torn meniscus. He did not play in the final three games of the series, and the Clippers lost all three en route to a five-game defeat.

In June, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank announced that Leonard had undergone a procedure on his knee.

“Just a cleanup, went terrific,” Frank said after the 2023 NBA Draft. “Very quick procedure. He feels great. Eight-week recovery from time of surgery where you are back on the court playing like it was a game. We are very fortunate that it was just a quick little cleanup.”

That timeline suggested that Leonard would be ready for the start of the season, and now Lue has confirmed that not only will his star forward be ready for opening night, he’ll be in action for training camp. That is terrific news for a Clippers team that has been besieged by injuries in recent seasons.

Since Leonard signed with the Clippers in free agency in 2019, he has played in 161 of a possible 308 regular season games and suffered season-ending injuries in both the 2021 and 2023 playoffs. Meanwhile, Paul George, who also joined in 2019, has played just 189 regular season games in that time.

As a result, the Clippers’ performances have fallen well short of expectations. They made the Western Conference finals in 2021, but have won just three total playoff series with that duo and also blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round in 2020 when both of them were actually healthy.

Both Leonard and George possess player options for the 2024-25 season, and could opt out to become free agents next summer. There’s a real possibility that this is the last go-around for this group, which makes it imperative that they remain healthy. Leonard and George both being ready for training camp will be a good start on that front, but whether they can both make it through an entire playoff run is the key question.