May 022013
 

Photo credit: Jeff Vinnick via NHL.com

After an abbreviated season, the Vancouver Canucks opened up the postseason with a 3-1 loss to the visiting San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night. Looking back at the game and looking ahead to the next one, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

Searching for the Right Line Combinations

The Canucks forwards simply did not create enough shots or scoring opportunities. This continues a trend of low-scoring games as the Canucks have not scored more than 3 goals in a game since their 4-2 win over Nashville on April 15. I must admit that I was a tad befuddled when I learned the line combinations on Monday for last night’s game.

We know that Burrows with the Sedins is pretty much a given (for now) and that the fourth line will consist of any combo of Ebbett, Weise, Sestito, Pinizzotto, and sometimes Lapierre. The Canucks started game one with a second line of Kesler between Higgins and Kassian, and a third line of Roy between Raymond and Hansen. While Roy and Kesler were likely separated to spread the Canucks’ centres over three lines to counter Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski, I was surprised that Higgins was placed on Kesler’s wing and not Roy’s. In the few games that they played together, Higgins and Roy looked like a dangerous combo. Instead, they found themselves on different lines to start the series.

We all know that coach Alain Vigneault has no problem with juggling his lines. I’d like to see Roy between Hansen and Higgins leaving Kesler to centre Raymond and Kassian. Who knows – if AV is confident in Lapierre, we might see Kesler and Roy reunited on a second line to give the Canucks more scoring potential. Moving Lapierre up would likely mean Kassian moving down to the fourth line… a position he found himself in by the end of game one.

Home Ice Disadvantage

With the Canucks loss, they have now lost 5 straight playoff games at home – a stretch dating back to game 7 on June 15, 2011 against the Boston Bruins. Obviously, a lot has to do with the quality of opposition, but for whatever reason Rogers Arena is not a difficult place for opposing teams to win in during the playoffs.

The Canucks’ regular season home record was decent at 15-6-3 while San Jose’s road record was a pathetic 8-14-2. By contrast, San Jose’s regular season home record was a sparkling 17-2-5. Thus, you can see just how important it will be for the Canucks to triumph in game two and tie the series up. If they lose, they won’t be able to beat this strong San Jose team 4 times out of 5 (with 3 of the games in San Jose).

Canucks fans need to get a lot louder and a little more rowdy (much to the chagrin of Rogers Arena employees). After all, isn’t this what we live for?

Every Game is a Pivotal Game

Get ready to hear about how much game two is a “pivotal” game. Captain Obvious here would like to point out that going to San Jose tied one game apiece is a lot better than going in down two games.

Then, game three will become pivotal as it will either create an almost insurmountable deficit at 3 games to 0, or one team will at least take a stronghold in the series. Game one was intuitively pivotal as both teams wanted to get off to a good start.

The point being that every single game in the playoffs is a pivotal game. Now the Canucks need to start playing like it.

May 022013
 

Ahhh… the playoffs. White towels galore, Roberto Luongo in net, and U2′s “Where the Streets Have No Name” blaring as the Canucks skate on the ice.

Lu was great too. It’s just too bad the rest of the team weren’t.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

May 012013
 

In the 7th episode of CHB TV, Clay, Chris, Ed, our special guest, Shanel Pratap from Global TV, and myself break down the Canucks/Sharks playoff series.

(Note: This episode was taped on Sunday, April 29th, prior to Roberto Luongo being named tonight’s starter. So yeah…)

May 012013
 

It took until the second last day of the regular season to find out that the Canucks would face the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Coming down the stretch, there were a few possible opponents (a rematch against the LA Kings and a battle against the bruising St. Louis Blues among them), but at the end of the day, they drew the Sharks and it sounds like the matchup that everyone wanted.

Game 1 goes tonight in Vancouver, and many expert analysts have favoured the Canucks to win the first round against the Sharks, but should they be?

The most obvious question heading into Game 1 is the Canucks’ goaltender situation, but because this subject has been beaten like a dead horse – chicken, pony (insert any sort of animal) – and because the team announced Roberto Luongo as its starter a couple of hours ago, allow me to talk about something else.

I don’t think I’m the only Canucks fan who doesn’t have the highest of expectations for this postseason. After two seasons of Presidents Trophy wins and expectations as high as Snoop Dog on 4/20, this season is a little different. We can easily count on two hands, maybe even one, how many dominant performances the Canucks out of the 48 regular season games they played. It’s hard to imagine them playing 4 dominant games in a row, considering we haven’t seen that this whole year.

One of the reasons for the Canucks’ lack of dominance this season is that their special teams play and faceoff win percentage has declined. And if you look at recent championship teams like the Kings and the Boston Bruins, they had excellent special teams and faceoff wins so we know those areas were a big part of their success.

Now, circle back to this series and we’ll see the Sharks have the better special teams numbers and the higher faceoff win percentage.

In fact, one of the biggest advantages for the Sharks in this series is their depth down the middle. In the regular season, they were the 2nd-best faceoff team in the league with a 53.4 % efficiency. The Canucks, whose game plan revolves around having the puck, started the play without it more than they did with it, finishing with a 47.6% faceoff win percentage – a woeful 25th in the league.

On special teams, although the Canucks improved their special teams somewhat by the end of the regular season, their numbers are nothing to write home about. Only a couple of seasons ago, they had the best PP and PK in the league. This season, their PP struggled to find consistency – or more specifically, SHOTS! – and converted on just 15.8% of their man-advantages (22nd in the NHL). Not having Ryan Kesler for most of the season most likely played a role in that, but still. On the other hand, the Sharks’ PP converted on 20.1% of their PP opportunities (7th in the league); needless to say, the Canucks can ill-afford to take stupid and unnecessary penalties.

Speaking of Kesler, I’ll give the Canucks’ PK the benefit of the doubt. They’ve been better since Kes’ return and finished 8th in the league with an 85.0% PK rate. But don’t get too excited yet – the Sharks’ PK was actually still a little bit better at 85.0% – good for 6th in the league.

The bottom line is, the numbers favour the Sharks, and the Canucks will have to play near perfect hockey to beat them. Certainly, if they want to be playing past the end of next week, they’ll need to show up more than the handful of times they did during the season. And if they do, I believe they’ll pull through in this series.

May 012013
 

On paper, the Vancouver Canucks probably couldn’t have drawn a better match-up in these first round of the NHL playoffs than the San Jose Sharks.

Or maybe put it another way, at least they don’t have to play a 7-game series against a bigger, more physical St. Louis Blues team.

The Canucks and the Sharks resemble each other in many ways. Both teams have veteran-laden rosters that have experienced a lot of regular season success. But also, save for an extended run or two, both teams have a history of crashing and burning in the postseason.

Since the 2004 lockout, the Canucks have put together 5-100 point seasons and have won 6 playoff rounds. Ditto the Sharks, but they won 1 more playoff round (7) than the Canucks. Of course, both teams met in the Western Conference Finals in 2011. And of course, following that, both teams also flamed out in the first round of the playoffs last year.

With an aging core, a lot of pundits predict that whichever team loses this series will be forced to undergo major changes in the offseason. But then again, with a decreasing salary cap, maybe both will be forced to make changes anyway.

Why the Canucks will win

Except for Chris Tanev, who is expected back sometime in the middle of this round, and David Booth, the Canucks are finally healthy, and what a healthy roster can do to improve how this team looks can’t be understated.

Now, coach Alain Vigneault can roll out 3 potentially potent scoring lines consisting of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Kesler-Kassian, Raymond-Roy-Hansen. Or, if he wants to load up the top-6, he can roll out Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Roy-Kesler, and roll out a checking line of Raymond-Lapierre-Hansen. Either of these combinations match up well against the Sharks.

On defense, the group of Hamhuis, Garrison, Bieksa and Edler, is deeper than the group of Boyle, Vlasic, Stuart and Irwin.

We’ve seen what a healthy Canucks lineup can do, evidenced by a complete effort against the Chicago Blackhawks just last week. The only question is whether or not they will be motivated enough to do so for the next 2 months.

Why the Sharks will win

Antti Niemi may very well hold the key to a Sharks series victory. He’s been great this year, finishing the regular season with 2.16 GAA and a 0.924 save percentage. Particularly against the Canucks, he was lights out, stopping 82 of 87 shots (0.943 save percentage) in 3 San Jose wins; for those counting at home, that’s 5 goals allowed in 3 games.

Now, this is not an indictment on Cory Schneider because, statistically, Schneider was a shade better (2.11 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage). However, Niemi has much more playoff experience than Schneider does. Schneider has only appeared in 8 playoff games. The last team with a relatively inexperienced goaltender to win the Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010… with Niemi in net, who at the time had 42 NHL games under his belt and was appearing in the postseason for the first time.

If Niemi shuts the door on the Canucks’ 20th-ranked offense, the Canucks will have to rely on Schneider and hope he’s equally up to the task.

[Update]

Scratch that. It looks like Roberto Luongo is starting tonight.

Quickies

May 012013
 

Vancouver Canucks "This is What We Live For"

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Is there a more exciting time of year here in beautiful BC than during the Canucks playoffs?

The Canucks are trying to capture your excitement with a microsite – thisiswhatwelivefor.com – where fans can submit photos, videos and other media using Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and use the hashtag #TIWWLF, and then view them in the mosaic on the site.

On the ice, the Canucks will try once again to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup. For those whose disappointing early exit against the Kings are still fresh on their minds, it’s a fresh start and another opportunity to give Canucks fans that elusive Stanley Cup.

Of course, for that to happen, someone has to step up and lead and will this team. Well, everyone has to step up, but someone has to step up higher than everyone else.

And to win a pair of lower bowl tickets to tonight’s playoff Game 1 vs the San Jose Sharks, courtesy of our friends from the Vancouver Canucks, let us know: If a Canucks player were to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, who do you think it will be?

To enter:

  • For one entry: In the comments section of this post, tell us which Canucks player you think will elevate their game the most in these playoffs and win the Conn Smythe Trophy. (Make sure you enter your email address when you log-in so we can contact you if you win.)
  • For a bonus entry – Tweet the following:
    I entered and RT to win #Canucks game 1 playoff tickets at http://nucks.co/6p from @canuckshockey @VanCanucks @lyteforce #TIWWLF #CHB

We will randomly draw the winner at 1:00 PM today so make sure your entries are in before that. The winner will win one (1) pair of lower bowl tickets to tonight’s playoff Game 1 vs. the San Jose Sharks. You must be able to pick up the tickets at Will Call at Rogers Arena.

You don’t have much time. What are you waiting for?

UPDATE: Congratulations to Kurt (@KurtPenner) on winning the pair of tickets to tonight’s game!

Apr 302013
 

Vancouver Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 NHL playoffs

Photo credit: CBC.ca

As we await the first drop of the puck in the 2013 NHL playoffs, we at CHB put our reputations on the line and make our predictions for the first round. Like last year, we’ll keep a running tally of who makes the most correct predictions. And also like last year, the winner gets nothing but bragging rights.

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild

Clay: Chicago in 5. Chicago is simply too strong for Minnesota. There’s a reason why one team won the Presidents’ Trophy and the other got in on the last weekend of the regular season. Chicago has too much high-end talent – this won’t even be close.

Victoria: Chicago in 5. I hate to admit it but Chicago has been a force this short season and I don’t see the Wild taking any of the flame from their fire.

@cherry_grant: Chicago in 5. I hate saying this because I, as a good Canucks fan, hate the ‘Hawks. That said, I feel pretty certain that Minnesota will be decimated by them and I will be sad, but somewhat pleased to be basking in my correctness.

J.J.: Chicago in 4. Maybe I like the Hawks that much. Or maybe I just want to jinx them.

Matt: Chicago in 5. This comes down to simple physics: The Blackhawks are a team with firepower up front, adequate defense, and decent goaltending, while the Wild have a popgun offense that barely got them into the postseason. What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?

(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Clay: Anaheim in 7. While Detroit has more momentum heading into the playoffs, Anaheim had a better regular season including an amazing February when they won 11 out of 13 games. They’ve faltered a bit since then but I still think they’re a better team.

Victoria: Detroit in 7. If any team can pull off a come-from-behind and out-of-nowhere unexpected victory or 7, it’s Detroit. And as the Capitals have proven time and time again, if any team can perform an epic playoff meltdown, it’s a team coached by Bruce Boudreau.

@cherry_grant: Anaheim in 6. Mainly because they have Reverend Lovejoy on their team. (Note: I don’t actually care if his first name is Reverend or not, it will be to me either way.)

J.J.: Anaheim in 7. Given their roster turnover, both teams probably overachieved this season. Datsyuk and Zetterberg elevated their games at the end of the season, and Jimmy Howard has been tremendous, but Getzlaf, Perry, Bobby Ryan and company aren’t slouches either. Plus, I like the Ducks’ kids (Bonino, Fowler) a tiny bit more than the Wings’ kids (Brunner, DeKeyser).

Matt: Anaheim in 7. To answer the question a lot of people are asking, yes, the Ducks are for real. The team doesn’t have to rely solely on Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne because their young kids are getting the job done too. But don’t expect the Detroit old boys to go down quietly.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Clay: Canucks in 7. Very similar teams: strong goaltending and deep down the middle. Two main differences to me: the Canucks have a deeper blue line and the Sharks are horrible on the road. Game 7 at Rogers Arena may be the difference – stanchion or not.

Victoria: Canucks in 7. To be honest, other than a game against Chicago, the Canucks play hasn’t given me a ton of confidence. But they’ve beaten the Sharks in their sleep before so hopefully they can do it again, even if they’re scoring and defence are sleeping through games.

@cherry_grant: I’m going to say Vancouver, in 6. San Jose’s playoff hockey has been pretty weak in past years. Then there’s the whole “being a staunch fan” thing, which makes me want to say “VANCOUVER IN 4, SUCKAS!”

J.J.: Canucks in 7. If the Canucks team that played the Chicago Blackhawks last Monday shows up, they can beat any team in the league. If the Canucks team that didn’t show up for about 40 of the other games this season suit up against the Sharks, it’s going to be a quick exit and a long summer in Vancouver. I have to believe the Canucks can flip the proverbial switch.

Matt: Canucks in 7. What happens when two teams who have a reputation of being playoff “choke artists” meet in the first round? Both teams find a way to make it hard for themselves. With home ice and a healthy-ish lineup, the Canucks should normally get this done in five or six, but they’ll find a way to mess up a game or two.

(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

Clay: LA in 7. I’m looking forward to these two big teams try to run each other through the boards. I believe that the Kings will prevail in the end: they hammered the Blues on the way to the Stanley Cup last year. It will be closer this year but with the same result.

Victoria: LA in 5. Kings don’t seem to have much of a Stanley Cup hangover, so I’m thinking they’ll at least get through the Blues without a meltdown.

@cherry_grant: Ewwww. St. Louis is my pick for this, in 7. Though really, nobody does as well against St. Louis as Gino Odjick.

J.J.: St. Louis in 7. The Kings have won 8 straight regular season and playoff games against the Blues. So of course, I’m putting my money on St. Loo.

Matt: St. Louis in 7. The last two teams to represent the West in the finals have been bounced in the first round? Coincidence? Probably, but why not keep the trend going? These two teams are strong defensively and physically and will beat the crap out of each other, but the Blues have more incentive to do it.

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders

Clay: Pittsburgh in 5. Crosby or not, the Penguins will over-match the Islanders. While New York might be a feel a good story, there’s a reason why the Penguins loaded up at the trade deadline. Fleury won’t have to be awesome for the Penguins to win this series; he just has to be good.

Victoria: Pittsburgh in 6. The last couple of seasons the Penguins have had a way of melting down in the playoffs against teams that they should easily beat. I think it’s time that trend stops. I think they think it too.

@cherry_grant: Pens in 7. Iginla will totally win it for them, single handedly! Right?!

J.J.: Pens in 5. You just know the Islanders will promote Evgeni Nabokov to the front office and bring back Alexei Yashin for some playoff punch, and cause a kerfuffle in what has been a relatively worry-free season in Long Island.

Matt: Pittsburgh in 5. The Penguins are this year’s “sexy” pick to win it all, but the fact the Islanders are in the playoffs for the first time in a gazillion years should provide them a little pep to steal a game. Otherwise, this isn’t a matchup that’s even close.

(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Clay: Montreal in 7. This is going to be an entertaining season to watch. The Senators will get a lift from the early return of Erik Karlsson but they’ll miss Jason Spezza. Look for Carey Price to find his game just in time to help his team squeak out a narrow victory.

Victoria: Montreal in 7. Ottawa is definitely on it’s way back from near disaster but Montreal is hungry after missing the playoffs last year. Habs want it more and they’re generally better at playoff battles.

@cherry_grant: Ottawa in 7. No reason for this choice at all.

J.J.: Ottawa in 6. Carey Price has owned the Sens recently. But Carey Price also has an 0.871 save percentage and has allowed 32 goals in his last 10 games.

Matt: Ottawa in 7. Montreal started the year on fire but have been mediocre down the stretch, while the Sens have been given a lift with Erik Karlsson — and potentially Jason Spezza’s — return. The Sens have been underdogs all season but won’t go away, why should the first round be any different?

(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers

Clay: Washington in 6. Washington and New York enter the playoffs as two of the hottest teams in the East and they were separated by only one point in the final standings. Ovechkin is on an amazing run right now and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.

Victoria: Rangers in 7. Both these teams always seem to struggle to get in and stay in the playoffs. But the Rangers have more fight in them and I predict Ovie will fall into his regularly scheduled playoff coma nap.

@cherry_grant: Washington in 6, which is a purely arbitrary decision because I have unreasonable, baseless dislike of the Rangers.

J.J.: Washington in 7. The Caps are peaking at the right time, losing just twice in April and posting an 11-1-1 record. Ovie is back in beast mode, and Ribeiro, Backstrom, Brouwer and Johansson have played great in support. Defenseman Mike Green is back too, which gives the Caps’ back end a different dynamic.

Matt: Rangers in 6. This might be a bold pick given the Caps were rolling in the second half, but I’ll take a stingy defense and all-world netminder over a vaunted offense. The Rangers have a core group that’s more battle-tested and playoff-ready (Callahan, Stepan, Richards over Ovechkin, Backstrom, Ribeiro).

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs

Clay: Boston in 6. As much as I dislike both of these teams, I must admit that I’m very interested in seeing how this series pans out. While Toronto is much improved, the Bruins are much more seasoned and playoff-tested. Jagr and Redden add to their experience.

Victoria: Leafs in 7. There is no rational thought process involved in this pick. If Leafs manage to pull this off then pigs really will fly. But I’d rather see pigs fly than Boston win so, oink! oink! Watch out for that jet, Wilbur!

@cherry_grant: Leafs in 7. I’m SHOCKED (and feel more than a little dirty) to say this, but GO LEAFS GO. I like the Bruins even less than the Blackhawks, so the Leafs had better continue being GOOD, for once.

J.J.: Boston in 5. It’s hard enough to tolerate the early media coverage now that the Leafs have made it back to the postseason for the first time in 9 years. I can’t imagine how insufferable things would be if the Leafs won a playoff game, never mind a playoff series.

Matt: Boston in 6. If there was an option to have both teams eliminate each other, I’d be picking it, just for sheer reasons fraught with anger and dislike. But there can only be one winner, and it’ll be the Bruins. The hard-nosed B’s will keep Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel under wraps, and Patrice Bergeron has established himself as a playoff force.

Apr 022013
 

Another game, another 3-goal deficit.

Still ravaged by injuries, the Canucks couldn’t muster enough emotion to keep up with the San Jose Sharks until it was too, too late.

The Canucks eventually lost 3-2; here, in your tweets, is how you saw the game.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Apr 012013
 

Ryane Clowe, San Jose Sharks parks himself in front of Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks.

Photo credit: sharks.nhl.com

The Canucks suffered their first loss in 6 games in a lackluster 4-0 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. It’s easy to spin the loss – one in which they allowed 3 goals in the Oilers’ first 3 shots in the first 3 minutes of the game and then couldn’t generate any sort of offensive momentum to try and at least claw their way back into the game – as “just one of those games”. But the truth of the matter is, the Canucks right now are struggling to score.

Only two seasons ago, the Canucks’ offense – their 3.15 goals per game average and 24.3% efficiency on the powerplay – was the best in the NHL. And despite a slight dip last season, their 2.94 goals per game average and 19.8% powerplay percentage – were still 5th and 4th best in the league, respectively. This season, the Canucks’ are averaging just 2.51 goals per game (19th in the NHL) and converting on just 12.8% of their powerplay opportunities (30th – yes LAST place – in the league).

With no clear sign of a breakthrough, with Ryan Kesler and David Booth still injured, and with Zack Kassian still bothered by an injured back (and re-assigned to the Chicago Wolves yesterday), something has to give. In a desperate attempt to find some sort of offensive spark, the Canucks recalled wingers Nicklas Jensen and Bill Sweatt from the Chicago Wolves on Sunday.

Drafted in the first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, tonight with be Jensen’s first career NHL game, and it sounds like he will be lining up next to the Sedins. A big body with good wheels and good hands, Jensen can score. In two seasons in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, he potted 54 goals, plus another 8 goals in 16 playoff games. In his first stint with the Wolves, he had 6 goals in 8 games, including 2 goals in 2 playoff games. He started this season with AIK in the Swedish Elite League, where he scored 40 points (17G-23A) in 50 games, before coming back to North America to play with Chicago (11GP, 2G-2A-4P).

Billy Sweatt has had to cope with injuries this season, but has been decent season with the Wolves, recording 12 goals (5th on the team) and 29 points (4th on the team) in 56 games.

With Wednesday’s trade deadline looming – tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks is the Canucks’ last game before the deadline – there is hope the Canucks can find another top-6 forward (preferably a center) to help them in the postseason. GM Mike Gillis apparently took in the Sharks’ game against Phoenix over the weekend, and the Canucks are among the teams rumored to be interested in Sharks winger, Ryane Clowe. Clowe hasn’t scored in 28 games this season, but he does have 5 assists in his last 8 games. At this point, it seems anyone who can help ignite the Canucks’ offense would be a welcome sight.

Canucks Record

19-10-6, 44 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This is the third and final meeting between the Canucks and Sharks this season; the Sharks won both earlier meetings.

The Canucks cannot afford to the come out flat and lose the game within the first 8 minutes again, like they did in Edmonton. The Sharks are beginning to find their groove and have won 4 straight games and 5 of their last 6. They’ve allowed a total of just 10 goals against in their last 6 games, and have moved to 6th in the NHL in GAA (2.68) and 3rd on the penalty kill (86.8%) – this isn’t good news for the offensively-challenged Canucks. If the Canucks fall behind early, it’ll be a tough task to try and catch up later.

Who’s Hot

Antti Niemi has won his last 4 starts. He has 2 shutouts and has allowed just 5 goals in that span.

Now in his 3rd season as the Sharks’ starting goaltender, Niemi is having a great season so far. He’s won 16 games (4th in NHL) and has a 2.13 GAA (7th in NHL) and a 0.925 save percentage (3rd in NHL).

Who’s Not

Jannik Hansen has gone pointless in his last 4 games.

Mar 062013
 

The Canucks are back home against the San Jose Sharks, looking to bounce back after a loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

There’s lots of baby talk prior to this game – baby honey badgers, baby Hansens, and now, baby Burrows.

I suppose we can thank the Kings for that circumstance, but for now, let’s go to the game.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

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