Sunday, October 26th, 2014

The Bruins: Game Seven

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I wasn’t surprised and I don’t think anyone else should be have been surprised either. I almost wrote a pregame post about how the over the top reaction of the entire province to this Stanley Cup run had an ugly dark side, one that threatened to explode, win or lose.

In some ways, the incredible level of Canuck fever was a fun thing. Even my wife – who despises hockey 99% of the time – could not help but climb on the bandwagon. “It’s like Christmas, and then some,” she said. “Everyone is excited, everyone is smiling, everyone is nice, everyone feels like they have something in common. Go Canucks.”

Marginalized groups (like new immigrants and Natives) found – perhaps for the first time – that they weren’t marginalized in Canuck nation. Even prisoners could be Canuck fans in good standing.

When everyone is on board and and everyone is overinvested emotionally in what is essentially a reality TV show (complete with manufactured narratives), we have a situation that can turn ugly very quickly. Why? Because everyone includes Canuck fans very bitter and angry because they believe that the fix was in. (Everyone, of course, includes a lot of people who are not very bright.) Everyone also includes people who really don’t care much about the Canucks but who like smashing and burning things. Everyone includes people who, seeing a store window smashed, figure its okay to grab that Ipad they’ve always wanted. Everyone includes a lot of people who lose all self control when they have too much alcohol in them. Everyone includes people who are violent and people who are drawn to violence.

The league, the NHL hockey media, and the hockey team helped create and then exploited the fever for financial reasons. Mix in a media storyline that set the Canucks and Canuck fans against the rest of the hockey world and a city that allowed – no, encouraged – 120,000 people to flood downtown without seriously considering how easily it could all go bad… I don’t want to call the result inevitable, but it doesn’t take a large percentage of everyone in the square to turn a disappointed crowd into a frightened herd trying to escape an out of control mob in their midst.

The result was ugliness on a grand scale.

It was better in the arena as most fans politely acknowledged the Bruins victory and the Canuck season. Still, I was actually a little concerned for Gary Bettman when he came out. The booing was vicious, of course, but a number of yahoos were throwing garbage that bounced around Bettman as he approached the microphone.

As to the game itself, my wife was more disappointed by the result than I was. She had been looking forward to Christmas day and somehow the holiday had been cancelled at the last minute. “It was just a hockey game,” I said. “We lost, but it is not the end of the world. The league is going to do it all again next year. It is merely entertainment. ”

Had the Canucks won I would not have felt unrestrained joy and I refuse to accept that defeat is agony. Had the Canucks won, I would have been delighted for the players, but – notwithstanding the Canucks marketing slogan – we are not all Canucks. We don’t win anything and we don’t lose anything. We are entertained. I would have enjoyed a much more entertaining experience with a win, but what will be, will be.

Because the Canucks did not win, I lost a great deal of my entertainment value, but that’s all I’ve lost. That’s not much, certainly not enough to make me feel sorry for myself. I do feel really, really badly for the Alain Vigneault and all the players. They are the ones who worked so hard all year long. They are the ones who endured the pain and the pressure and a devastating loss – more than one along the way – with grace. They are the ones who have to take the (mostly undeserved) slings and arrows.

I think we kid ourselves if we think the players are actually trying to win for the fans. They are trying to win if for themselves and for each other. They are beyond consolation today because they (barely) failed each other and because they (barely) failed to meet the goal they set for themselves 10 months ago. If it is any consolation to the Sedins, Roberto, Kes and all the rest – and I know it is not – the Canucks did not fail anyone except perhaps themselves.

They sure as hell didn’t fail me. In a real sense, we failed them.

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Comments

31 Responses to “The Bruins: Game Seven”
  1. James Mirtle says:

    Tough one for sure. I’m going to be consoling a lot of people on my trip home to B.C. here next week…

    • Dean says:

      My consolation is that I think there is a good chance that Recchi will bring the Cup to Kamloops and that might let me show my 3 year old what the big deal was. :-)

  2. Rajeev says:

    Fantastic post, Tom. And a fantastic series of posts. I came to enjoy reading your playoff posts more than watching the games themselves. These playoffs have turned me off from the NHL farther than ever before, and I think that’s probably a good thing. While the games were ridiculously intense, and players’ efforts were extreme, the hockey itself was mostly poor, or at least uninteresting. Braindead hockey played at a million miles an hour with people getting nearly killed every game just does not do it for me regardless of the speed, strength, and courage of the players. The game is too fast, the rink is too small, the players’ are too hurt, and the stakes are too high for the true beauty, creativity, and imagination of the sport to emerge. There were maybe a dozen really pretty goals scored the entire playoffs. But revenues are up and cities will continue to subsidize private playpens for the rich, so who cares. The booing of Bettman last night was deafening, but the ringing of the sponsors’ cash registers was even louder.

  3. Brian says:

    I think this is the first time I’ve commented here, but you’ve always struck me as the most thoughtful and sensible hockey blogger, certainly in the Canucks orbit… This post nails it.

  4. Boxcar says:

    I have really enjoyed reading your posts throughout the playoffs and the regular season. You bring a thoughful perspective to the game and I like the fact that you don’t simply spout the company line as a lot of sports writers do.
    Its lousy to make it so close and then see it all slip away, but as most people say it was a heckuva run. I do think that a small part of the reason for the rioting was the build up by the media about how The Canucks were always getting the short end of the stick. Gillis and Vigneault also used this tool more than maybe they had to, probably to deflect crtisism away from the players. Most of the rioting however, was the fault of a bunch of spoiled young men who saw an opportunity to cause mayhem.
    Anyway, this is an extremely talented group of players who have a very good chance to be right back in the final next year. I have a feeling next year they will let their play speak for itself.

  5. beingbobbyorr says:

    If it is any consolation to the Sedins, Roberto, Kes and all the rest – and I know it is not – the Canucks did not fail anyone except themselves.

    I don’t even think they failed themselves, unless any of them can conclude through introspection that there was something left in the tank or a particularly egregious mental lapse.

    Just because the outcome wasn’t the one desired, doesn’t equate to failure.

    Vince Lombardi was wrong about winning. In sports, the journey is more important than the destination.

    • Tom says:

      I don’t even think they failed themselves, unless any of them can conclude through introspection that there was something left in the tank or a particularly egregious mental lapse.

      I think every one of them can point to many things they could have, should have, or might have done. While I agree with your general point, the players will see it the way I wrote it, I think. The biggest difference is that each of them is immediately forgiven for every failing.

      Lombardi was wrong, but even if he had not divided his league into one winner and all the rest losers, it would be that way today. There is too much money in winning to have it work any other way. We ain’t turning this clock back.

  6. Gerald says:

    Tom, this is a very well-written and well considered post. It may come across as treason to some of the faithful, but it is an adult approach that puts professional sports in (IMO) the proper perspective.

    As much as we differ in respect of matters pertaining to the business of the NHL (and we always will), I find myself agreeing with you consistently on macro-level issues such as this (and violence in hockey, for that matter).

    To balance off the understandable loss of entertainment value, you should have had the opportunity to listen to the talk-radio crowd chanting the mantra that the media have NOTHING to do with inciting this type of incident with their nonstop hyping and creation of a seething mass of aggrieved fans. Nope, they don’t have a thing to do with that – not a thingy-dingy. Now that was some entertainment.

  7. ColinM says:

    Like many other’s here I was disappointed with the outcome on and off the ice. I was disappointed on the ice because for the second straight year another former Senator that helped propel the Senators to elite status is raising the Stanley Cup with a different team. Off the ice I was disappointed because what could have been the reaction to the 2010 Olympics Part II turned into Canada’s version of Soccer Holiganism at the World Cup. Sadly I think the next time a Canadian team makes a run at the Stanley Cup the types of large gatherings Vancouver tried to setup will be discouraged or even outright banned.

    On the upside the Sedins, Kesler, and Luongo are all going to be back next season. They are not yet old enough to expect a signifigant decline so Vancouver’s window to win a cup is not closed yet.

  8. antro says:

    Thanks Tom for your excellent post and perspective. A President’s Trophy and a game 7 loss in the SCF seems like a pretty good season to me. Damn good season, in fact. I think the injuries just kinda piled up on the Canucks, and Tim Thomas had remarkable series.

    I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy the “hatred” narrative, both the “hatred” of the Canucks and/or Bruins (mostly the former), and the apparent “hatred” on the ice. Don Cherry spoke of this in his segment on G7, and although I am always skeptical of his memories of the good ol’ days, I couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe Rajeev is right. Maybe there are too many big and fast players now. Who knows. But it was a big turn-off.

    • Tom says:

      I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy the “hatred” narrative, both the “hatred” of the Canucks and/or Bruins (mostly the former), and the apparent “hatred” on the ice. Don Cherry spoke of this in his segment on G7, and although I am always skeptical of his memories of the good ol’ days, I couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe Rajeev is right. Maybe there are too many big and fast players now. Who knows. But it was a big turn-off.

      I think Cherry was spouting nonsense. It had nothing to do with how the players felt about each other and everything to do with how the NHL chose to referee the series. Cherry mentioned that, too, and raved about the game quality while bristling about chintzy penalties. That was so bogus. I hate the chintzy one handed hooks and barely holds and calls on accidents that have no impact on the play whatsoever. I rail against phantom calls all the time. Less penalties are always better than more penalties in my books.

      But for long stretches in this series, the game was played by Hudson Bay rules which means there were no rules at all. Under those circumstances, the players are going to get a good hate on very quickly. If nobody is going to get a slashing penalty, you are going to see slashes all over the ice. If you are not going to call cross checking or interference in front, hardly anybody can get to the front of the net. If they do get there, they can’t stay there. Chara dumped Kesler in front for the umpteenth time in the series – and, for once, was called for it – and Simpson wondered out loud why that one was picked out. We have the ludicrous sight of Chris Higgins leaping up to elbow Chara away from the play without getting called.

      The biggest story – the one that has not been written anywhere – was the officiating. They lost control of the games and they lost control of the series. I’m going to do a post about it eventually, I think, but since the decision to ignore obvious fouls clearly favoured Boston, it sounds like sour grapes.

      Also I want to think about why the NHL decided to not call the game in any way resembling any standard of enforcement at all. Right now, I don’t get it. This was not incompetence. This was a choice. Anything goes. Why?

      • beingbobbyorr says:

        Also I want to think about why the NHL decided to not call the game in any way resembling any standard of enforcement at all. Right now, I don’t get it. This was not incompetence. This was a choice. Anything goes. Why?

        Like the real estate salesmen in Glenngarry Glen Ross: ABC (Always Be Closing)! The NHL is trying to sell a spo . . . . I was going to say sport, but we all know it’s an entertainment experience . . . . and the SCF brings as many casual American fans as they can coax into watching hockey outside the Olympics. Televising trips to the penalty box isn’t going to convince the casual viewer to “sign on the line which is dotted!” (Sorry, I just love that movie)

        • Tom says:

          “Coffee is for closers” is one of my favourite Mamet lines. Not one of my favourite Mamet movies though.

          But I thought the league had decided to sell the sport by marketing the speed and the stars.

          So why did they let the officials suck the speed and skill out of the game? Why did they decide to let the Bruins pound the Sedins away from the puck? Why did they allow the two teams to continually and constantly – during the play and after the whistle – hit each other with their hockey sticks? That isn’t physical hockey. That isn’t hockey.

          Everybody always copies the Champion, and Boston is pretty easy to copy. Is this the new normal? This is the direction the league has decided to go to save the zombie markets in the US? That doesn’t really make sense for a league that is already under fire for unrestrained violence and is supposedly trying to dial it back.

          I don’t think the result would have been a parade to the penalty box. One or two calls early ends it. I hate penalty parades when it is one soft call after another because it is very hard for the players to avoid taking phantom penalties. But this series should have had a penalty parade with one very legitimate call after another. It would not come to that though because the players quickly stop the slashing, spearing and crosschecking.

          • antro says:

            I think your question about “why” is exactly to the point. On the other hand, I don’t think that this was necessarily a conscious choice of (say) Mike Murphy or Colin Campbell. I think the NHL is having trouble controlling the “ramped-up” play the playoffs is supposed to create, with all the narratives about banging each other. To control it, they needed to call a lot of penalties. When that drew complaints, they just said, “let them play.” Vancouver shot itself in the foot when its powerplay went cold (and Thomas got hot), which meant that Boston wasn’t as worried about getting called for all the post-whistle scrumming.

      • Boxcar says:

        This is going to be an unpopular post but the opinion of most of the folks I talked to (hardly a representative sample) is that if the refs called the dives, Canucks win, if they ignore them they lose. I have already been kicked off one Canucks blog for suggesting this, but there is more players who embelish calls on this team than any other. Burrows, Kesler, Lapierre and both Sedins to begin with. Being a Flyer fan myself I hate it when Carcillo does his thing, and I think the refs don’t give you the benefit of the doubt after awhile.
        I’m sure the Canucks have learned a lot during this playoff run and unfortunately for my Flyers and their murky goaltending/cap situation I’m betting the Nucks are 2012 SC favorites.
        Two questions Tom, Luongo/Schneider situation, how does this play out? Do you re sign Kevin Bieksa? Scneider and KB would look fantastic in orange and black!

        • Tom says:

          This is going to be an unpopular post but the opinion of most of the folks I talked to (hardly a representative sample) is that if the refs called the dives, Canucks win, if they ignore them they lose. I have already been kicked off one Canucks blog for suggesting this, but there is more players who embelish calls on this team than any other. Burrows, Kesler, Lapierre and both Sedins to begin with.

          This is bullshit. We’re not talking about any benefit of the doubt here. We’re not talking about non-penalties not being called because a head snaps back too hard. (And even in the cases, a Sedin went down “too easy” or a Burrows head snapped back too hard, there was a real foul involved.)

          Why should Chara get to crosscheck Henrik three times before he goes down away from the play? I don’t care whether you think the checks were not hard enough to knock Sedin down. Why does Chara get to do that at all? “I hit him illegally several times but I didn’t hit him that hard.” is a pretty shitty defense. When the “not that hard” slash does not get called, the next one is a little harder, and very quickly even two handers are let go because there are no rules any more.

          We are talking about clear penalties simply not being called. We are talking about guys getting worked over in front like it was 1995. Nobody could get in front of Thomas and nobody could get in front of Luongo. Why? (A big reason that the Canuck power play tanked was because Kesler could not hold position in front of the net. He’d get there just like he got there all season, but defensemen were allowed to knock down forwards in front for the first time in at least five years. Or they cross check, cross check, cross check and the forward no longer has position.)

          Two questions Tom, Luongo/Schneider situation, how does this play out?

          They trade Schneider for almost nothing.

          Do you re sign Kevin Bieksa?

          Yes.

          • Boxcar says:

            Can’t blame you, but a slight case of rose colored glasses I think. Many times Kesler was seen using his stick craftily on his opponents in front of the net. Won’t belabour the point but the “We always get screwed” mentality gets old. Ed Snider was ranting about the reffing after the Flyers lost last year, and I thought that was silly as well.

          • Tom says:

            Can’t blame you, but a slight case of rose colored glasses I think. Many times Kesler was seen using his stick craftily on his opponents in front of the net.

            That’s not the point. Of course, Kesler was whacking back. Burrows got away with a two hander that was nearly as vicious as Peverly’s on Bieksa. I mentioned the Higgins hit. I also mentioned that Boston couldn’t get a crowd in front of Luongo either because of Canuck cross checks and interference.

            There were literally dozens of uncalled penalties. It went both ways. My rose coloured glasses tell me that the Bruins got away with more as everyone applauded their “physicality”, but that too is beside the point. The shitty refereeing was shitty both ways? Okay by me.

            The point is that they decided to let the teams – both teams – do anything. They were free to hit each other with their hockey stick. A slash broke a couple of Edler’s fingers in Game 6. They were free to punch each other. Deliver butt ends to the face. They were allowed to present the dirtiest Stanley Cup final in memory.

            Two questions:

            1) Why?

            2) Which team benefited most from the decision to play the games without rules?

          • Roberto says:

            The point is that they decided to let the teams – both teams – do anything. They were free to hit each other with their hockey stick. A slash broke a couple of Edler’s fingers in Game 6. They were free to punch each other. Deliver butt ends to the face. They were allowed to present the dirtiest Stanley Cup final in memory.

            Two questions:

            1) Why?

            2) Which team benefited most from the decision to play the games without rules?

            You have the questions reversed, I think.

            2) The team that benefited the most was obviously the bigger, tougher, slower Bruins.

            1) Why?

            Well, let’s play the game:

            Which team would produce the most buzz in the US for the attention-starved NHL? Vancouver, a place most Americans couldn’t find on the map, and if they did wouldn’t know what to think about it, anyway. Or, Boston, America’s “City of Champions”. A major market sports town and one of the few left in the States with a passion for hockey. Add in the fact that Jeremy Jacobs is one of Bettman’s staunchest supporters, and you have the makings for a lot of grumbling in Lotus Land.

            Could the fix have been in? Did it have to be? Why not just create a playing field which would give the favoured team its best chance to win? If it doesn’t work out, well, you tried. Nobody would be talking Stanley Cup now on Fox or ESPN if the Canucks had one. I guararantee you that.

          • Tom says:

            I don’t buy it. I don’t think there is enough benefit for the league. The money difference between a Boston win and a Boston trip to the Final is small. The buzz that was created was mostly local anyway, with hockey markets in the Northeast into it big time. A Boston victory won’t do anything more for the league in the zombie markets than a Vancouver victory.

            If anything, I think it hurt the selling of the sport over the longer term. It made the league look really bush.

  9. Dave says:

    Looking back on the last two months, I’m struck by how little I enjoyed it. The Chicago and Boston series were miserably unpleasant to endure, the Nashville series was boring hockey, and the nasty media narratives took a lot of the joy out of things. I had way more fun in 1994.

    • Dave says:

      As an afterthought: part of it must be that I don’t live in Vancouver any more, so I wasn’t part of that community this time around. It was just me at home with the TV set.

      • Tom says:

        I think your assessment of the hockey was pretty much right on. In Vancouver it was never about the hockey. It was about winning. It didn’t matter how or why the victory was achieved, just so long as it was achieved.

  10. Roberto says:

    My brother had an interesting take on the loss. Not interesting in that he lays the blame squarely on Luongo, but interesting in how he arrives at the conclusion. With his permission, I’ve just copied it here:

    1) Thomas 238 saves on 246 shots = 96.7% save
    the MOST shots faced in Finals history
    the MOST shots *saved* in Finals history
    the BEST save percentage in Finals history
    only 8 goals against in 7 games

    2) Luongo 163 saves on 183 shots = 89.1% save
    20 goals against
    pulled twice

    (BTW Schneider was 39/41 = 95% with 2 goals)

    3) IF Thomas was just *merely fantastic* with a 94% save percentage (his amazing playoff and regular season average), the Canucks score 15 goals, not 8

    IF Luongo just rises to *merely good* with a 92% save percentage (his playoff average before his brutal Finals), the Bruins score 15 on him, not 20. IF Luongo just matches his regular season average of 92.8% (very good), then Bruins score only 13 on him

    What would the series have looked like then ?

    3) Canucks outshot Bruins 35-32 on average, and that is skewed somewhat by two Bruin blowout wins. (Except for game 5 Canucks shot consistently in mid-high 30s. Bruins shot 30 or less in 4 games.)

    On a goalie playing well(~92 %sv), Canucks score 3 a game – on Thomas they got 1

    So the forwards DID DO what they could control, namely getting shots on goal and lots of good scoring chances. That’s all they can try to do. They of course could not control Thomas’ performance.

    4) Was the Canucks Defence at fault ? Look at the overall picture of the goals Luongo allowed and the answer is no. Obviously they could have been better, but it’s hard to play confidently when your keeper is blowing it.

    The Bruins D broke down a few times too, and allowed more shots on goal, so to me their respective Ds were a wash.

    5) When the Canucks needed Luongo the most, he allows 4 goals on 21 shots (game 3 til end of 2nd), 3 on 18 (game 4 by end 2nd), 5 on 8 (game 6 til middle 1st), and 3 on 13 (game 7 til end of 2nd). Those games were over by then.

    Thomas? Stops 40/41 (game 3) , 38/38 (game 4), 36/38 (game 6), 37/37 (game 7)

    BOTTOM LINE: Canucks generated lots of quality scoring chances, outshooting the Bruins, but could not solve Thomas. Thomas had an all-time EPIC series, playing over his already terrific head. OTOH, Luongo was *horrid* when his team needed him the most (75%). Thomas was even more amazing when his team needed him (98%).

    Period.

    SOMETIMES THE ANSWER *IS* SIMPLE

    • Tom says:

      On the other hand, the Canucks clearly outplayed Boston in the three games they won. In the four games they lost, Boston controlled the pace and – for the most part – the puck. The Canucks didn’t lose any games when their skaters were better than Boston.

      Thomas was clearly better than Luongo, but I don’t think he stole any games. The worst you can probably say about Luongo is that he didn’t give them a chance to win game six. That might have cost them the series, but who is to say they would have won that game had Luongo played better?

      Hockey is a simple game, but I don’t think there are ever many simple answers.

      • Roberto says:

        On the other hand, the Canucks clearly outplayed Boston in the three games they won. In the four games they lost, Boston controlled the pace and – for the most part – the puck. The Canucks didn’t lose any games when their skaters were better than Boston.

        In the starts to games 3,4 and 6, the Canucks had the edge in play, territory and chances. Then Luongo let in a couple of softies, and you could see the Cancuks’ skaters platy and demeanor change as they knew they had a monumental task ahead of them to get more than a couple behind Thomas.

        • Tom says:

          I didn’t see it this way. I thought the Canucks stopped skating before the roof fell in, but whatever. I don’t think it is fair to blame the goaltender for losing a series where the team scored 8 goals in 7 games. Which Canuck skater really distinguished himself in the Final? None of them on my scorecard. Never mind what happened in goal, how do you win if none of the skaters play particularly well?

  11. beingbobbyorr says:

    If anything, I think it hurt the selling of the sport over the longer term. It made the league look really bush.

    The only people that can tell that the NHL looks/is bush — by the inconsistency of officiating — are die-hard fans, who are sticking with the league come hell or high water. This issue is too fine a detail for the newbie/casual fan to notice. i.e., this is not a problem for the NHL ‘sales force’.

    I can only think of two explanations for the inconsistency of officiating.

    a) The NHL home office is too incompetant to be able to steer the game in the direction(s) they wish. This is akin to product variance problems in the manufacturing sector. The NHL would like to have a 6-sigma process, but they only have a 1.5-sigma process. They need to embrace some equivalent to DOE (design of experiments) to figure our the key constributors to their product’s statistical distribution. But given how they introduced a multitude of rule changes in 2005-06 all at once (strictly for marketing reasons “Look, we’re back, and we’re NEW and IMPROVED!”), it’s easy to imagine that they do not grasp the need to look outside their traditions (paragigm) to locate new tools (in science, math, engineering) to improve their product.

    b) They’ve decided that the style of play isn’t a key contributor to sales, and have let it vary pragmatically (a not-quite-rudderless, but say, a poorly-tilled boat) because they think the narrative is more important: which city is (slightly) sexier to American markets, which team has more sellable players (i.e., American boy next door Tim Thomas, jolly green giant Chara) that make for a better story when lifting the big silver thingy, etc.,

    • Tom says:

      They’ve decided that the style of play isn’t a key contributor to sales, and have let it vary pragmatically (a not-quite-rudderless, but say, a poorly-tilled boat) because they think the narrative is more important: which city is (slightly) sexier to American markets, which team has more sellable players (i.e., American boy next door Tim Thomas, jolly green giant Chara) that make for a better story when lifting the big silver thingy, etc.,

      This is pretty cynical, but simplified, it might be close to the mark. It has nothing to do with how they want hockey to be played or trying to adhere to consistent standard of enforcement.

      It was not a pro-Boston or anti-Vancouver decision. It was an underdog, overdog thing. They called the games in the way that made it most likely that the series would be very competitive. If Boston had the best regular season team and was heavily favoured, they would call the games very close to give the underdog the best chance to push the games and the series to the limit.

  12. Dennis Prouse says:

    I thought about you today, Tom, when Jeremy Jacobs got booed at his own Stanley Cup parade. I guess publicly throwing Cam Neely under the bus for not winning the Cup as a player might have had something to do with it. Great sense of the moment, Jeremy.

    • Tom says:

      He probably thought that the fans were saying “Oooooo” for the Cup, too. Jeremy Jacobs didn’t have to slag Neely to earn the enmity. Boston fans have disliked him intensely for years, as long as I can remember. It is one of the few things I find endearing about that fanbase.

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