Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14), center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) celebrate the winning goal in front of San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins defeated the Sharks 3-2. (Fred Vuich/Associated Press)

Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14), center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) celebrate the winning goal in front of San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins defeated the Sharks 3-2. (Fred Vuich/Associated Press)

A look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, their 50th season, and some history of Pittsburgh hockey.

 

Hall-of-fame goalie, Les Binkley (who had a stint in the broadcast booth during the Ducks game with Paul Steigerwald on the 15th) recorded his 10th shut out on this day (Oct. 17th) in 1970.  But hall-of-fame goalie Bernie Parent for the Philadelphia Flyers (another expansion team) had one as well, as the game ended in a 0-0 tie.

But that was then and this is now.

October 17th

The Colorado Avalanche came to town for game three of the Pens’ first home stand of their 50th season. There were plenty of scoring opportunities for both teams in the first period, especially for Pittsburgh.  But first it was the Avs.

Just 90 seconds into the game, first line centerman Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado came in on Fleury from the left circle using defenseman Olli Maatta as a screen.  Fleury made a left pad save.  The rebound went into the right circle and MacKinnon, fighting off Maatta, managed to get another shot on Fleury, who made that save too.

Two minutes later, the Avs had a three-man rush when Pens’ defenseman Kris Letang stole the puck from Avs’ winger Matt Duchene and started a fast transition into the Avs’ zone, with Letang getting off a shot that was rebounded right to Evgeni Malkin in the slot.  Goaltender Calvin Pickard made both saves.

At six minutes in, the Pens had a three on two with center Matt Cullen and left wing Chris Kunitz both getting quality chances on Pickard, who made both stops.

With 12:34 left in the period, right wing Patric Hornqvist, playing on the first line with Malkin and second year winger, Scott Wilson (who led the Pens in the pre-season with the most goals) came in on Pickard, who made the save.  But Malkin was high-sticked on the play and there was no call.

Coach Mike Sullivan complained and worked the refs for that make up call, which he got when Colorado’s Nakita Zadorov took a cross checking penalty, and the Pens had a power play.  The Pens wasted no time in scoring as right winger Phil Kessel skated into the left circle and shot it off his back foot, a familiar move, scoring at 8:57. Then center Matt Cullen scored 36 seconds later to make it 2-0.

When the Avs’ Carl Soderberg was called for tripping, the Pens went on their second power play. But Nick Bonino was called for the same at 14:32 and that evened it up to a four on four.  Fleury made some solid saves during that four on four, including one on first line winger Gabe Landeskog, after a Carl Hagelin giveaway.

After the Avs’ penalty had expired, the ensuing five on four had become a five on three, after Chris Kunitz was called for hooking.  Coach Sullivan was incensed.  But before Bonino could return from the sin bin to make it a five on four, Jerome Iginla, the ex-Pen (a Pen so briefly two years ago, he barely had time for a cup of coffee) had been stopped by Fleury. Iginla wasted no time getting the puck back to the net scoring from between the circles and through four bodies to make it 2-1.

Defenseman Patrick Wiercioch scored on a wicked slap shot from just inside the blue line to tie it at 2-2 with 2:10 left. And it would have been 3-2 Avs had not Fleury made a big save on Landeskog at the goal mouth with 90 seconds left.

A few minutes into the second period, Fleury made key saves on right wing Rene Bourque in front of the net and two long slappers from blue liner Francois Beauchemin, one off the chest and one in the glove, and then two more from Bourque and Iginla.  Pickard made some key saves as well on Letang, Hornqvist and Malkin just five minutes into the second period.

With 11 minutes left in the second, Andreas Martinsen kicked the puck into the net with his right instep, which was quickly disallowed.  For the next several minutes, the Pens spent a lot of time in the Colorado zone, working hard, passing and grinding, until Nick Bonino drew a penalty on Patrick Wiercioch for holding.  In the ensuing power play, a rebound from a Malkin shot went into the neutral zone and the Avs went the other way short-handed until the speed of Kris Letang enabled him to get back in the play and break it up, which then allowed Malkin to feed Phil Kessel coming back into the Avs zone and wrist it into Pickard’s glove.

Late in the period, 37-year old Chris Kunitz and former teammate, 39-year old Jerome Iginla, decided to scrap.  It wasn’t much but the fans loved seeing these two old warriors of the NHL going at it.  After that, Joe Colborne of Colorado split the Pens’ defense and came in all alone on Fleury, but the buzzer rang just as he was teeing it up.  It was 2-2 after two.

Things were appearing good for the Pens in the third.  Just three minutes in, Avs’ Rene Bourque was called for hooking Pens’ fourth line winger Tom Kuhnhackl and the Pens went on another power play.  But Avs center Nathan MacKinnon came back short- handed, rang one off the left post and Phil Kessel took a hooking penalty, negating the power play. Then Chris Kunitz was called for high-sticking and all of a sudden, a Pens’ power play became a four on three Colorado power play…soon to be a five on three when Rene Bourque returned from the box.

Coach Sullivan has been vehement about his players staying out of the box when someone is already in the box, creating these five on three situations for this team.  Already the Avs had a five on three goal.

In that configuration, Fleury stopped Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie from the top of the slot, then flopped on his back to stop a scrum shot, until Matt Cullen cleared the puck.  Barrie again had the puck and Fleury stopped him again, as other Avs scrambled in front of the net, peppering Fleury, until he dove out into the paint to grab the puck.  The crowd gave Fleury a standing “O” and every teammate on the ice came to Fleury with a head slap.

At 12:53 left in the third, Malkin skated through the Avs’ crease behind goalie Pickard who was stopping another shot that came from just inside the blue line from Phil Kessel.  Avs’ defenseman Fedor Tyutin tripped over Pickard’s skate and both went down.  The puck drifted out to Pickard’s right, Malkin turned and fired, and the Pens had a 3-2 lead.  Pickard immediately skated over to the officials claiming goaltender interference.  This resulted in a coach’s challenge from Avs’ head coach, Jared Bednar.  Indeed, Malkin’s stick made contact with Pickard’s glove as Malkin glided through the crease before Pickard and Tyutin collided.  The goal was disallowed and the game remained tied.

With 11:26 left, Colorado’s Joe Colborne was called for high-sticking on Chris Kunitz.  Defenseman Trevor Daley scored on a rocket shot from inside the blue line.  Pickard never saw the puck due to the speed of Daley’s shot and bodies in front of him.  The Pens reclaimed that disappearing lead.

Malkin took a tripping penalty with 6:50 left in the third and Landeskog scored from the right circle just 18 seconds in, and all of a sudden it was tied 3-3.  And the period ended that way with the Pens facing overtime for the second time in three games.  Overtime and its three on three format allows for much more ice to make plays and this OT was no exception.  Just 22 seconds in overtime, Landeskog scored again to win it for Colorado..

Fleury was 9-3 with a 1.89 GAA lifetime against Colorado but it wasn’t enough tonight, giving the Pens their first loss.  Next up… a short trip to Montreal.

Tuesday, October 18th

As we look back at 50 years of hockey and that first season in 1967, we see the aging star, the first star for this new franchise… Andy Bathgate… score for the newly christened Pittsburgh Penguins, the teams’ first hat trick against the Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars), also an expansion team–today, October 18, 1967.

The Pens went on the road for the first time this season to face the Montreal Canadians and their former coach in Michel Therrien, who coached the Pens in 2008, taking them to a third Stanley Cup final, and losing to the Detroit Red Wings.  He then subsequently was fired in March of ’09, to make way for Dan Bylsma, who took the Pens back to their forth finals and won it over those same Red Wings for Cup # 3.

But that was then and this is now.

There was great pomp and circumstance pre-game as Montreal (the Mecca of all hockey in the world) had their home opener.  With a huge steel drum pounding on the ice, the Habs (short for Les Habitant…early farmers in Quebec) introduced legendary former coach and now a Canadian politician, Jacque Demers, who was wheelchair bound after a stroke.  Coach Therrien pushed the wheelchair to the edge of the ice.  Demers passed a torch from the side boards to Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty.  Then an eight-piece brass band played both anthems.  It was a huge moment for the Habs’ fans, players, coaches and brass.  And of course, Montreal is the hometown of Mario Lemeiux.

The action started early with Montreal centerman Alex Galchenyuk having a quality scoring chance just 16 seconds in, which missed the net when Fleury miss handled the puck, only to have captain and centerman Max Pacioretty score seven seconds later at the :23 mark.

Just one minute in, the Pens’ Wilson, Malkin and Hornqvist scrambled at the Canadian net but couldn’t score.  The Habs’ goalie, Al Montoya, who was filling in for the veteran goaltender Cary Price (who got a standing ovation during the pre-game fanfare.) made the stops.  Wingers Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary came in on Montoya at the four minute mark but the Habs’ goalie came up big.  The Pens had seven shots in just the first four minutes.  An interesting note on Chris Kunitz…he leads the league in hits at 37 years old.

Bryan Rust returned to the line-up for his first game of the season after an undisclosed injury throughout the summer.  The speedy Rust was a hero in last years’ Cup win as a rookie.

At six and a half minutes in, winger Scott Wilson had his doorstep shot go through the paint behind Montoya, passing Malkin up at the other side of the net.

At 9:52 in, Max Pacioretty took a holding call, only to see the Habs have a short-handed chance for Arturi Lehkonen from one foot out.  Fleury made the save but the Pens wasted the power play opportunity.  At 6:18 left in the period, Phil Kessel found himself behind the Habs’ net and fed both defensemen Justin Schultz and winger Nick Bonino.  Schultz took the pass and shot but Montoya was up to the task. Then center Matt Cullen had a front door opportunity when Montoya got confused in handling the puck but stopped Cullen anyway.  The Pens were getting bang-bang opportunities throughout the period.

Center Tomas Plekanec rang one off the Pens’ left goalpost at the 15-minute mark and Fleury stopped right wing Alexander Radulov twice and center Galchenyuk as well.  With 3:24 left in the first period, defenseman Alexei Emelin fed centerman Andrew Shaw, who was robbed by Fleury with a toe save at the left post.

At 1:25 left, Radulov was busted for interference on winger Phil Kessel.  The shortened power play had scoring chances but nothing developed, nor did some short-handed chances for the Habs.

In the second period, both teams traded chances early on with pucks going through the paint, until Habs’ right wing Brendan Gallagher, from a Max Pacioretty feed, was stopped by a Fleury glove save five minutes in.  Then Montoya made a stop on Phil Kessel on the front door step from a puck that bounced off the end boards.  Nearing the mid-point of the period, Radulov went off for sticking Conor Sheary in the eye.  The Pens had a four-minute power play.  However, Nick Bonino used his hand on the face off… a penalty, and once again, the Pens’ power play is negated to a four on four, an all too common theme so far this year.

The Pens did little on the four on four and when Bonino returned from the box, the Pens had part two of the four minute minor to Radulov.  In that, Fleury made a spectacular stacked pad save on left wing Paul Byrons’ short-handed attempt.  At the end of the power play, Scott Wilson missed a close range attempt after splitting the Montreal defense by lifting his puck over the defensemen’s sticks and then knocking it down to the ice so he could get the shot off….something very Sidney Crosby like.

But seconds later, the Habs center David Desharnais scored point blank from a behind the net feed from Andrew Shaw.  The Pens’ defense was nowhere to be found.  Seconds later, Max Pacioretty had the same chance but Fleury was there with a left pad save.

With six minutes left in the period, the Habs went on their first power play as defenseman Kris Letang went into the box for holding. The Habs wasted the opportunity. Montreal center Brian Flynn was called for high-sticking in the last two minutes of the period, but on the face-off, Evgeni Malkin was called for hooking. It mattered not, the Canadians led 2-0 after two.  There was no question that the Pens squandered opportunities in this game.

Things stated to unravel in the third.  Just seconds in, Pens’ defenseman Justin Schultz took a tripping penalty.  Fleury was subsequently peppered with shots but was up to the task until fourth line center Eric Fehr took a boarding call and yet again, the Pens had to fend off another five on three.  But Habs’ defenseman Shea Weber quickly took a tripping penalty on Pens’ defenseman Ian Cole and the Montreal power play was reduced to four on three. Then Max Pacioretty tripped Ian Cole and the teams now skated at three on three.  Pacioretty hurt his leg on the play and had to be helped off the ice.

On the ensuing play, Habs’ center Tomas Plekanec came in alone on Fleury and missed the net but Kris Letang was called for slashing.  With thee Pens in the box, and since there is no such thing as a three on two power play, the last penalty would be extended.  So the three on three continued for another two minutes.  Fehr’s penalty ended and the Pens had a brief four on three.  When Weber returned to the ice, it became a brief four on four.

Are you keeping up with this?  It continues.

When Radulov, who was serving the penalty for the injured Pacioretty, returned from the sin bin, the Habs had a five on four power play…yes a five on four.  Radulov rushed the net and as the penalty ended, the puck went in.  Right wing Brendan Gallagher collided with Fleury, with some assistance from Pens’ defenseman Brian Dumoulin.  Fleury lost his stick and the puck went in.  Pens’ coach Mike Sullivan challenged the play based on goalie interference.  The play was reviewed.  The call stood.  It was 3-0 Montreal.

With 12:20 left, the Pens’ were called for too many men on the ice.  Montreal had chances but did not capitalize.  Around the seven-minute mark, the Habs mounted some offense.  Fleury had to stop the Habs’ Emelin and others until Deshamais poked it in to make it 4-0. Habs’ goalie Montoya stopped defenseman Trevor Daley from in front of the net a couple minutes later.  Then Montreal took a delay of game penalty, giving the Pens their seventh power play but it was all too late for the Pens.  With 34 shots and 0-7 on the power play, the Penguins went away quietly.  Not only did they lose the game, they lost Kris Letang to injury.

Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Scott Wilson (23) celebrates his first goal of the season with the help of defenseman Trevor Daley (6) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Scott Wilson (23) celebrates his first goal of the season with the help of defenseman Trevor Daley (6) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Thursday, October 20th.

They’re baaaack…. budda… budda… budda…..buddabuddabudda…buh buh buuuuuh!

Ok,…this is not the proper forum to make sound effects.  They just don’t translate.  But if you’re aware of the Pens schedule, you’ll get that the San Jose Sharks are back in town.  Yes, those same Sharks that were here in June.  The last time they were here, they spoiled the party…you know, the 20,000 plus street party to raise The Cup downtown, uptown, crosstown.  So the Pens went to California to clinch The Cup instead.

Looking back at 50 years of Pens’ hockey, that first season in 1967, the Penguin roster had 20 Canadians and one lone American.  In fact, according to NHL.com, the league was made up of 302 Canadians and 6 Americans in 1967.  302 to 6.  Holy Mackerel Andy!

But that was then and this is now.  Today this Penguin roster has 10 Canadians, 10 Americans, plus two Swedes, a Fin, a Russian and a German.

And this roster (still without Sidney Crosby) started the game against San Jose with defenseman Kris Letang and forward Conor Sheary out with injuries. That made room for defenseman Derrick Pouliot and forward Bryan Rust.  Rust was the speedy winger who soared in the playoffs last year.

The Sharks brought former Penguin defenseman Paul Martin to town along with heavyweight skaters Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Captain Joe Pavelski.

The Pens had a nice chance just 90 seconds in with third line center Matt Cullen missing to the left of the net.  He had another sweet chance four and a half minutes in, stopped by goalie Martin Jones after a rebound.  The first period showed very little scoring chances. Both teams had a total of 16 shots…only six for the Pens.

The first penalty of the game was called on defensemen Brenden Dillon of the Sharks for high sticking at 13:14.  That Pens’ power play proved fruitless.  The Pens themselves were penalized at 18:20.  Ian Cole was called for interference.  That didn’t sit well with coach Mike Sullivan, but what penalty does?  Fleury made a nice save with :38 left on Thornton and the period ended with little fanfare.

Kris Kunitz started the second period with a tripping penalty at :56.  The Pens killed it but a Fleury rebound gave way to a goal by Tomas Hertl at 5:01 of the second.  Mike Sullivan discussed the goal for several minutes with officials before play resumed.  The Sharks were up 1-0.  The Pens continue to give up the first goal of the game.

The Pens drew a penalty when left wing Mikkel Boedker was busted for holding at 8:04.  The Pens had another power play.  They did very little with it.  Their shots were either stopped, blocked or missed outright.  At the mid-point of the game, the Pens had a measly seven shots on goal.  The Sharks had 23.

With 7:12 left in the second, the Pens went on their third power play after defenseman David Schlemko went off for slashing.  Finally…the Pens did something positive.  They scored on a Phil Kessel goal after a rebound save on Patric Hornqvist.  The game was tied 1-1.  Or was it?  The officials gathered, conferred and concurred that Horqvist interfered with goalie Martin Jones and the game was no longer tied.

After the penalty, Fleury made a great toe save after an initial save on winger Joel Ward.  But with 3:45 left, Patrick Marleau scored on a nifty give-and-go with Logan Couture. It was 2-0 San Jose at the end of two.  The Penguins had only 10 shots in two periods.  The Pens were now in danger of going on a three-game losing streak early in the season.

In the third period, Malkin was called for tripping four minutes in.  Left wing Carl Hagelin had a short-handed opportunity on Jones but the puck wandered off his blade as he attempted a cross ice pass.  But after the penalty expired, Malkin scored on Jones on a turning shot off of a high in the air deflection.  The Pens were on the board and Malkin displayed some high emotion on the celebration, as if to say “I told you so.”

At the nine-minute mark, winger Scott Wilson scored the tying goal, much to the delight of some 17,000 fans who had sat through two torturous periods.  The crowd erupted when Paul Martin of the Sharks was called for delay of game at 10:17.   And it being Martin, the ex-Pen, and not always a popular Pen at that, just made the power play that much sweeter.  The Penguins had chances, plenty of them, including a scrum inside the net with Hornqvist and four Sharks…but no goal.

The Sharks came back into the Pens’ zone and Fleury made a great glove save, only to have the puck lay in the blue paint, which was cleared by Justin Schultz.  Things were heating up now, The Avs were called for slashing and the Pens went on power play number five.  Jones was peppered again and again, making stops on Kunitz and Rust.  Then Patric Horqvist snuck it in past Jones to take the lead.  The game had turned around drastically. Malkins’ goal early in the period sparked the Pens and the crowd.

After losing the Stanley Cup to the Pens, the Sharks must have come looking for redemption, and maybe they thought they found it after two periods.  If so, they were mistaken.  Fleury shut the door in the third period and the crowd responded with “The Chant.”

San Jose pulled Jones from the net with two minutes left.  Center Nick Bonino missed an empty net twice.  It didn’t matter though.  The Pens won 3-2 and avoided that third loss, and stand at 3-2 for the early season.  The crowd left in stitches.

Saturday, October 22nd.

A couple years ago, the Pens made a shocking trade.  The highly productive, highly popular, highly gritty James Neal, who came from the Dallas Stars a few years before, was traded to the Nashville Predators for the aging 35-year old center Matt Cullen and winger Patric Hornqvist, the 230th pick overall in the 2005 draft.  At the time, the trade raised eyebrows.  Who could have known that these two would contribute so much to the Pens winning Cup #4 last June?  I guess GM Jim Rutherford did.

And it was the passionate play of Horqvist who had the game winner in the come-from-behind win over the Sharks of San Jose, whom were just itching to beat the Pens, who had beaten them for the Cup last year.

In that game against the Sharks, the Pens lost both Olli Maatta and newly activated Derrick Pouliot on defense.  The Pens played with four defensemen for half of that game, none of them being Kris Letang, who left the Montreal game with an injury.  Defensemen Daley, Schultz, Cole and Dumoulin all logged over 21 minutes each of ice time to preserve the win over the Sharks.  Mike Sullivan called them warriors.

And on this day in 1992, Coach Bob Johnson, who won the Pens’ very first Stanley Cup (and would have won more had he not died of a brain tumor just a few months later), former Pens’ player and eventual head coach, Rick Kehoe, and right wing Jean Pronovost, who was on the Penguins roster in their second year…all were inducted into the Penguins’ hall of fame.

But that was then and this is now.

The Nashville Predators have several ex-Pens on their roster.  In some cases that might be advantage Preds.  But just 52 seconds in, the Pens had a two on zero, with Horqvist feeding winger Scott Wilson, beating Preds’ goaltender Juuse Saros, who was replacing veteran Pekka Rinne.  And just like that it was 1-0 Pens…a rare first goal.  A couple minutes later, winger Phil Kessel was all alone in on Saros who made the save.  Then defenseman Trevor Daley took a delay of game penalty, shooting the puck over the glass.

The Preds have, to this point in the season, 10 goals, eight of them on the power play.  That’s bad news for any team taking penalties.  The Preds made it nine of 11 when left wing Viktor Arvidsson scored from in front of the net after Matt Cullen blocked a PK Subban shot from the left circle.  It was tied 1-1.

Then Olli Maatta gave the puck away in the Pens’ zone and Austin Watson came in alone on Fleury, who made a glove save to keep it at 1-1.  With 10:51 left in the period, left wing Tom Sestito was called for interference.  Pens’ coach Mike Sullivan was screaming at the refs, telling them the Preds had seven men on the ice during the delayed penalty call on Sestito.  The Pens survive the power play.

With 50 seconds left in the period, Fleury tripped center Mike Ribeiro who was skating around the net.  Hornqvist served the penalty.  The silver lining was that this power play would be interrupted by intermission.  No damage done.

In the first two minutes of the second period, the Preds had a defensive lapse that let Malkin, Kessel and Maatta all have scoring chances.  At 2:26 in, Kevin Fiala came in from the left circle and put it past Fleury.  It’s now 2-1 Nashville.

At 3:47 into the period, Horqvist, from behind the Nashville net, fed center Nick Bonino who was eight feet from the goal mouth.  Saros made a glove save.  With 11:48 left in the period, left wing Colin Wilson and center Calle Jamkrok came boring down on Fleury who made a great sliding save on Jamkrok.  But the Preds scored their third goal two minutes later on a wrister from Jamkrok.  3-1 Nashville.

This team, the Nashville Predators, had lost three games in a row, had played the night before, had a roster decimated by food poisoning, and were without captain Mike Fisher (ex-Pen) and star goalie Pekka Rinne.  They certainly didn’t look depleted.  Seconds later, left wing Kevin Fiala scored again on a Fleury rebound from a shot by left wing Filip Forsberg playing the right wing.  4-1 Nashville.  The Pens now face four unanswered goals.  Would coach Mike Sullivan bring in back-up goaltender Mike Condon, filling in for the injured Matt Murray?

The Preds took a hooking penalty with 3:58 left in period two.  Saros made multiple saves during the power play, the first one for the Pens…on Hornqvist and Kessel and Daley.  The power play was over.  And with 36 seconds left, Preds’ center Mike Ribeiro fed winger Viktor Arvidsson with a cross ice pass that was plunked in by Arvidsson for his second tally of the game.  5-1 Nashville.

Surely now Mike Condon would make an appearance in the third. Not that the issue is necessarily with Fleury but there were just too many opportunities for Nashville to get behind the Pens’ defense.

Indeed, the third period started with Mike Condon in goal.  In the first minute of play, Malkin and Hornqvist had a two on one and failed to launch a shot.  At four minutes in, Preds’ defenseman Yannick Weber was called for playing with a broken stick.  Condon had the opportunity to get some work in.  He made numerous saves including a short-handed attempt by the Preds’ on this Penguin power play.

Kunitz had a doorstep chance at the nine-minute mark when he took a slap pass from Olli Maatta but goalie Saros was there.  In fact, Saros stood tall on everything the Pens shot at him in the third period which wasn’t a whole lot except for Trevor Daleys’ golden chance from 10 feet at the 11-minute mark, which missed the net.  The Pens went quietly as Predator goalie Juuse Saros got his first NHL win.

 

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