|Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Lightning 1||03.31.09 at 10:28 pm ET|
Maybe the most important aspect of Tuesday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was that it wasn’t pretty.
After all, in two weeks, style points are going to mean even less than they do now.
The Bruins have won four straight and are 6-1-1 in their last eight, and their coach can already see an improvement in the way they’re approaching the game.
“I think we’re starting to get back to that so-called North-South type of game,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the win. “We’re going in direct lines and our speed is much better coming out of our own end as a unit instead of being all spread out. That part of our game is slowing coming back.”
Manny Fernandez looked much better between the pipes on Tuesday night, after surviving a 7-5 win in Toronto on Saturday night.
“We sat down and we’ve talked to each other and looked each other in the eyes and I think from here on out we let the personal stats take a hike and what’s important is the two points every night,” Fernandez said. “There won’t be any easy ones from here on out.”
And that will be especially true after the regular season finale on Easter Sunday, April 12. The Stanley Cup playoffs will begin several days later and captain Zdeno Chara will be one of the key players the Black and Gold will look to for leadership.
They certainly didn’t have to wait long to see it on Tuesday when he got into it with Evgeny Artyukhin eight minutes into the game. The fight set the tone and the Bruins followed in step.
The punch of the night was delivered by Cam Neely-reincarnated Milan Lucic. His right cross to the face of Tampa Bay blue liner Josef Melichar with 12 seconds remaining in the second showed that the Bruins hadn’t fallen asleep in this one. Melichar turtled but the Bruins didn’t.
But Julien reminded everyone that he would like to see his team finish with more of a killer instinct as the Bruins allowed the Lightning hope when they made it a two-goal game with 12 minutes into the third. A long shot from the top of the slot got by Fernandez only to ring off the post behind him and keep the B’s ahead 3-1.
“It almost seems like we’re afraid to run up the score and all of sudden there’s times where we’re starting to make those cute plays again and those are the things that you can’t have once you get into the playoffs,” Julien said.
“We can’t be looking at who we play,” said Chara, who netted two goals on the night. “We just have to be playing our way and bring the intensity and determination from every game now on.”
|Bye week gives Bruins a unique opportunity going forward||03.25.09 at 12:17 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins took a spirited approach to practice for the second consecutive day while working on the forecheck, and keeping sharp during their current five day stretch without any actual hockey games. There’s almost a bye week feel to the practices at Ristucca Arena this week, but Claude Julien and his staff are doing what they can to keep the compete level on a high note.
The interesting dynamic is how the break of five days off — and only two total games played in 12 days — will affect each individual player heading into the final nine game of the regular season in a grand total of 16 days. Call it the final stretch run for a team that has enjoyed nearly wire-to-wire dominance at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Milan Lucic, for example, is only a couple of years removed from junior hockey where a squad might have only played weekend games and then taken a 5-7 day span of practice before their next actual game. At 20 years-old Lucic can still recover quickly after a particularly violent, physical game like Sunday’s grudge match with the New Jersey Devils.
“After a great effort like (Sunday) you want to keep things going, but you can’t complain really having a break like this either at this time of the season,” said Lucic. “It’s a good time to step, re-energize the batteries, refocus and then get back to work Saturday. This is just like juniors (for me), Usually you played a three in three on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and then you wouldn’t play again until the next Friday or Saturday.
“It’s the same sort of thing,” added Lucic. “I think if you asked (the veterans) they’re not going to complain about it. They battle hard and it’s not the same when you’re 20 as compared to what you are when you’re 30. They’re using it to the full advantage.”
For older veterans it’s a time to a time to heal some of the wounds incurred over a long season of hockey, and almost enjoy something akin to a bye week in the NFL leading up to the final push before the playoffs begin. While certain injuries aren’t enough to keep a battle-hardened older player out of the lineup, aches and pains can gnaw away at the player’s overall effectiveness. Maybe it’s an aching knee that’s affecting skating speed, or a sore shoulder that’s taken the bite away from a player’s shot. The week of rest can replenish these skaters as much as possible before one final rush up the ice.
The key, according to Ward, is the ability to keep the team’s game at a razor-sharp edge and play with the same brand of team-wide intensity that characterized last Sunday’s win over the Devils, while reaping the benefits of some off-time.
“It presents a great opportunity to rest, but it also worsens the capacity that you can mentally get away from the game,” said Ward. “Too far away from it. You’ve got to simulate the game as much as possible and really try to raise that intensity level in practice and keep your preparation level sharp.
“I don’t know,” added Ward. “I’m a little worried about it. The good thing is that we’re going to Toronto, which is a divisional foe that should be enough on the game that we’re going to show up come game time. I’ll definitely be practiced out by the end of this week.”
–Chuck Kobasew had a second consecutive day off the ice on Wednesday morning, but Julien said that it was just scheduled time off the ice rather than a serious injury issue for the scrappy winger. Kobasew leads the Bruins with 10 goals scored since the All-Star break, and has clearly upped his scrappy/skill game down the stretch.
“He’s alright,” said Julien. “He’ll be on (ice) tomorrow. There’s no hidden agendas. Everybody is good, and they’re all maintenance things.”
–Julien noted that the pressure has noticeably alleviated from the Black and Gold dressing room following Sunday’s win over the Devils, and the smiles were coming a little easier to players’ faces after temporarily beating back their closest rival last weekend.
“The win did us a lot of good, but the way we won did us even more good,” said Julien. “The guys remembered those types of feelings coming in after a game and knowing that you’d really performed well, worked hard and did the right things.
“The pride that came with that was just as important as the win was.”
–Congratulations to the Ference Family and the Ward Family for the new additions over the weekend. Both Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward became fathers again on Sunday. Ference’s wife Krista gave birth to a second girl ‘ Stella Haliday James Ference, and Ward’s wife Kelly gave birth to the couple’s second daughter and third child ‘ Phoebe Grace Ward. Both babies were happy and healthy, and both dads were back on the practice ice Wednesday morning following the blessed events.
–Julien said, according to team stats, that Patrice Bergeron has been the B’s best faceoff man all year, and “he’s a good 4-5 percent better than the rest of the centerman when it comes to faceoffs.” The faceoff success is a good example of the intangible-type skills that Bergeron has brought to the table all season, but now his offensive game is rounding up to form as well.
The Bruins will be back to work at Ristucca Arena tomorrow morning, but it may not a full bore skating practice.
|Bruins have cooled down following the All-Star Break||03.24.09 at 2:02 am ET|
Had an exercise on the blog in the first half where I listed out the scoring pace that each member of the Bruins was on — a set of figures that actually gave a pretty good glimpse at the kind of seasons the B’s were having.
Players have settled in, injuries have occurred and rookies have slowed down a bit since the glory days of January, so here’s a bit of a rundown of each player’s production since the All-Star break. Hide the women and the children for this because some of these numbers are downright grisly for a hockey club that was on a record-breaking pace earlier this season.
Marc Savard: 7 goals and 15 assists in 26 games. .085 points per game since the ASB. Not up to the 1.19 points per game he averaged in the first half, but he got a lot more of the defense’s attention once guys like Phil Kessel and David Krejci cooled off. Savard is also playing at a -4 since the All-Star break.
David Krejci: 4 goals and 8 assists in 26 games. That’s 12 points in the last two months of hockey. Wow, didn’t see this coming. Krejci has clearly been pressing lately, and should start capitalizing on some of the opportunities he’s had around the net recently. The 22-year-old could really use a big game soon. Has gone from 1.11 points per game in the first half to 0.46 PPG in the second half. Krejci is +9 since the All-Star break, which speaks to me about how the young player has continued playing responsibly despite the down tick in his offense.
Phil Kessel: 7 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. Kessel really struggled coming back from mono following the All-Star break, but has heated up as of late. A 35-goal season and 60 overall points would be a pretty successful season for the 21-year-old Kessel, who was on pace for 50 goals after the season’s first few months. Went from 0.98 PPG in the first half to 0.52 PPG in the second half.
Michael Ryder: 7 goals and 6 assists in 18 games. 10 power play goals for Ryder, who may begin getting things going with a tip that he turned into a power play goal against the Devils.
Dennis Wideman: 3 goals and 10 assists in 26 games. For all the Wideman bashers out there, he’s also gone from +26 to a +32 over the second half of the season.
Blake Wheeler: 4 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. Wheeler is also a +9 in the second half along with Krejci, but has watched his scoring really slow down. Wheeler really looked a step behind the action for a long multiple week stretch — and is still taking ill-advised penalties — but he’s looked much better as of late.
Zdeno Chara: 5 goals and 9 assists in 26 games. Big Z is +2 since the All-Star break, but has appeared to slow and out of position at times in the second half. He was at his best against the Devils on Sunday, but is only a +2 since the All-Star break.
Milan Lucic: 3 goals and 7 assists in 23 games. Looch isn’t expected to provide as much offense as Krejci and Kessel, but he’ll likely finish with a 40-point season and close to the 20 goals he’d targeted for himself before the season started. Not bad for a 20-year-old kid from Vancouver still finding his way in the rough and tumble NHL. Lucic is a -4 since the All-Star break.
Chuck Kobasew: 10 goals and 4 assists in 24 games. Kobasew has the most goals of any Bruins skater since the All-Star break and is the kind of player that every playoff hockey team could use. The fearless winger is willing and able to bang his body, but also blessed with enough skill to score some points.
Patrice Bergeron: 3 goals and 13 assists in 26 games. The 23-year-old Bergeron has started showing his phsyical spark and flashing his offensive abilities over the last few weeks. Bergeron has played even hockey over the second half.
P.J. Axelsson: 2 goals and 5 assists in 26 games. P.J. wasn’t around the PP unit or and first line much in recent games, but he did pop up again on the top line with Kessel and Savard on Sunday. So stay tuned on this one, but I’m not a fan of Axelsson heading the B’s top line despite his defensive inclinations.
Matt Hunwick: 3 goals and 3 assists in 26 games and a +3 during that time. Seems to make things happen each and every game he’s out there playing, and affects the game with his skating speed. Impressive. Most impressive.
I could put Montador and Shane Hnidy up here as well, but let’s face it: there isn’t a whole lot to break down on the scoresheet. Guys like Mark Stuart are judged almost completely by hitting, toughness and defensive abilities rather than gaudy goal totals. This shows some interesting trends: Krejci and Wheeler have obviously taken a step down, but Kobasew has rallied for 10 goals since the ASB and both Savard and Lucic are playing minus hockey during the second half.
|Yelle still in question for Thursday night vs. Kings||03.18.09 at 5:14 pm ET|
Veteran center Stephane Yelle again practiced, but is still in question for Thursday night’s tilt against the Los Angeles Kings with the ever-mysterious “upper body injury”.
“It’s a day to day process,” said Julien of Yelle’s condition. “It’s certainly looking better, and I think we’ll probably find out more about it tomorrow at the game day (skate). We’ll see if he’s ready to go.”
If Yelle can’t go, it’s likely that the Bruins will once again place Byron Bitz in the middle between Shawn Thornton and P.J. Axelsson. Bitz, by the way, spent a good 5-10 minutes at the end of practice in front of an empty net taking all manner of shots aimed directly at him while he practiced tipping and redirecting pucks in front of the high traffic area.
If the rest of the Bruins team is looking for a player that’s proving he’s willing to pay the price on a daily basis, it was Bitz as he was taking direct hits to his feet and body while searching for the perfect tip.
–Odd Julien comment when the line of questioning moved toward Manny Fernandez and whether the B’s bench boss still has confidence in the second portion of his goaltending duo. Fernandez hasn’t played in a game since his famous pirouette move during a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers nearly two weeks ago, and has coughed up four goals in four of his five games since returning from a lower back injury.
“There are no issues there. What people see on the outside and what’s happening on the inside are two different things. We talk. He knows exactly what’s going on,” said Julien. “There are things that not everybody needs to know about. We’ll leave it at that.”
–A bit of good-natured ribbing for Big, Bad Milan Lucic, who told his teammates that his girlfriend dragged him to go see the Britney Spears concert at the TD Banknorth Garden on Monday night. Looch said he was a fan of Spears’ early work when he was in the sixth or seventh grade, but the hulking left winger was more than a little surprised when he found out that Spears lip-synchs throughout her entire concert.
Looch was the only B’s player that admitted taking in the Circus Show at the Garden, but several Bruins players wondered if Marc Savard might have also made it over to Causeway Street for a rousing rendition of “Womanizer”. According to Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference, Savvy is an actual “Britney Fan.”
“It was so funny because (Lucic) came in here the next day (after the concert) and Looch was like ‘You wouldn’t believe it…she lip synchs.” said a laughing Ference. “I was like ‘No (expletive)’. What do you think that she did? He was like … surprised or devastated. I don’t know what.”
It was a busy week for Lucic, who also took in the Dropkick Murphy’s St. Patrick Day show on Wednesday night at the House of Blues.
–Marc Savard wasn’t ducking any criticism after Julien touched upon the center’s giveaway at the end of Penguins game on Sunday afternoon — a turnover that led to the Penguins banking the empty net goal and really salting away a hotly contested hockey game.
“I’m out there trying to make plays, and I just need to make them stronger ones at times. That’s part of the game. I’m going to continue to try to make plays. That’s what I do, and that’s my game. I just need to make smarter plays at times. Unfortunately when things aren’t going well it goes in your net. And that’s what has happened on a couple of occasions.”
|Incredible Looch mad, Looch smashing opponents again||03.09.09 at 11:02 pm ET|
Milan Lucic has heard some of the speculation.
The brawling hulk of a left winger was a destructive, decisive force on the ice through the first half of the season and was sitting atop the NHL leader board in the painful department of official hits. Big Looch certainly set the bruising B’s tone early in the winter when he blasted Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn with such awesome force that he actually shattered the glass above the boards at the Garden.
But a shoulder injury just before the NHL All-Star break knocked Lucic out of the lineup and kept him away from the All-Star weekend festivities up in Montreal. The 20-year-old forward didn’t seem to be himself upon returning from the injury, and was shying away from his signature violent body checks. Looch also wasn’t dropping the gloves and brawling, and he certainly wasn’t huffing and puffing, gathering up a head of skating steam, and crunching opposing skaters like annoying little bugs on a speeding windshield.
Was it the lingering effect of the shoulder injury that made Lucic tentative when it came to doling out his usual diet of punishment and pain to the other hockey team? Was it simply a valley in the intensity department during his second season on the NHL roller coaster – a career point when many young hockey players are still figuring out their game and learning to conserving their energy over a long 82 game schedule.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has stressed on multiple occasions throughout the season just how important Looch’s physicality and willingness to finish off thunderous checks are to Boston’s ultimate hockey fate. Quite simply: when Lucic skates and hits and intimidates, the Bruins are a far, far better hockey team.
“(Looch’s physicality) is something that’s a part of our team identity and when you lose that part it takes away from our game. When you have that in our lineup with the understanding that he’s got to bring that night in and night, it certainly makes us better and tougher to play against,” said Julien. “There have been times when you’ve seen him slip a little bit in that area, and we’ve had to remind a little bit of what it does for the team and his game.
“But everybody seems to have something that they bring to the table that’s really good for the hockey club, and it slips and it needs to brought back to their attention in one way or another,” added Julien.
So what was it that kept slipping Lucic into snooze mode, and prevented him from knocking the living bejesus out of opponents?
Would you believe the Big, Bad Looch simply wasn’t snortingly mad enough to go out onto the ice and start banging bodies? The Incredible Looch was much more Dr. Bruce Banner than Hulk during the stretch of largely invisible performances.
“For a guy like me, I really start to get into the game when (a hit) happens early,” said Lucic. “It’s good to go out and be a presence and be a physical player. Obviously there’s a lull (to the season) and whatnot, but I just wasn’t getting there to make the hits. A lot of people use the expression that I was just ‘sleeping’. Nobody did anything to get me mad, I guess, and I was back on my heels more than I was on my toes.
“It’s good when you get the emotions and competitiveness into it, and I need to take it upon myself to get revved up before every game so I’m ready to get going. There’s no excuse for not being a physical presence if nobody out on the ice is getting me mad.”
That’s something that gives the term “anger management” a whole new spin for Lucic in the violent world of ice hockey.
But have no fear Bruins Nation, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder said the problem is “under control” — and the results seem to agree with his assessment. Lucic is readying for the ice battles before the game begins, and those skaters in unfriendly sweaters have been put on notice that they’re again in Looch’s crosshairs. It’s a development that will continue for the final 15 games of the regular season and into the playoff battles that are sure to follow.
Whether its Shawn Thornton stealing Looch’s favorite stick just before game time or Lucic simply finding the right “flash point” song on his iPod that will fly him into a glove-dropping rage before the game, the brawny winger has finally tapped back into the anger and passion that transformed him into such a vital factor for the B’s out on the frozen sheet.
Lucic leveled a game-high nine hits in the Sunday rematch against the New York Rangers Sean Avery — who famously hit Lucic from behind and sparked a huge brawl in the memorable Dallas Stars game earlier this season — and registered Lucic-like six hit totals against both the Coyotes and Blackhawks upon returning from an “upper body Injury” last week.
It’s clear that Lucic has regained touch with his inner punisher since returning to game action, and the Bruins have been all the better for it. So, feel free to seek out Lucic on the street prior to one of the Black and Gold’s upcoming games this season, and be sure to tell him that it’s okay to get angry.
Bruins fans really like the Incredible Looch when he gets angry.
|Sounds of the game… Coyotes 2, Bruins 1||03.06.09 at 12:03 am ET|
Well, a home ice loss to the 14th-best team in the Western conference was not exactly what Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien had in mind when the Bruins dealt for Mark Recchi and Steve Montador on Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline.
There are a number of reasons this loss is troubling. First, it comes on the heels of a 4-2 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Second it comes just a day after the team made two big deals for the stretch run. Third, the return of Milan Lucic to the lineup was expected to give the Bruins a little extra jump. That never materialized.
And finally, the New Jersey Devils are coming fast and this is another loss that brings the No. 2 seed a bit closer to being able to overtake the No. 1 Bruins, who are stuck on 93 points, just six ahead of Jersey.
It’s looking more and more like when the Bruins host the Devils on March 22 at the Garden, first place in the East could be on the line.
But before looking ahead, the Bruins must look back on what was a painful Thursday night on Causeway. And you could sense the frustration, starting with head coach Claude Julien.
|Amid second-half slide, B’s searching for answers||03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET|
Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.
Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.
The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.
It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.
Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.
Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.
Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.
Is it time to worry yet?
“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.
“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”
The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times – camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.
It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.
“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.
“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.
Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.
The worst part?
The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.
The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.
The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.
If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.
“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.
Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.
Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.
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