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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are in the DNA of the Pittsburgh Penguins by @disgruntledbill

1:00:00 PM 0
Source: wbspenguins.com



It has been said Ad nauseum that a combination of Crosby, Malkin, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have carried Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final. At first glance this seems true.  The injury woes of the Pittsburgh Penguins are well-documented and routinely mentioned.

However, is it really true that the team has more players from WBS than normal? Are there more call-ups on the team or are there just more veteran WBS Penguins in Pittsburgh?

For better or worse, the WBS Penguins are in the DNA of Pittsburgh Penguins teams. Here are the numbers of WBS veterans playing in Pittsburgh during the postseason from 2008-2017.


Players Who Have Previously Skated for WB/S
Percentage of Former WB/S Players
Playoff 2008
7 of 21
33%
Playoff 2009
8 of 23
35%
Playoff 2010
8 of 24
33%
Playoff 2011
9 of 21
43%
Playoff 2012
10 of 25
40%
Playoff 2013
10 of 25
40%
Playoff 2014
10 of 22
45%
Playoff 2015
7 of 20
35%
Playoff 2016
13 of 25
52%
Playoff 2017
12 of 25
48%
                                                                                                                                                                                            
The greatest number of former WBS players to lace up the skates for Pittsburgh in the postseason was actually last season, when 13 former WBS Penguins played in at least one playoff game. This season it is currently down to 12 players, but the Stanley Cup Final is not over. The past two seasons have shown a larger uptick in WBS veterans in the lineup.

It would be incorrect to think that a longer playoff run would require more WBS players. In 2008 and 2009, the Penguins reached the Final dressing only seven and eight former WBS Penguins respectively.

All the coaches from 2008 to 2017 have been former WBS head coaches called up to Pittsburgh and have a solid knowledge of players in the system. Yet the use of former WBS players is not uniform among the recent coaches. 

 Year
Percentage of Former WB/S Players
 Head Coach
Playoff 2008
33%
Michel Therrien
Playoff 2009
35%
Dan Bylsma
Playoff 2010
33%
Dan Bylsma
Playoff 2011
43%
Dan Bylsma
Playoff 2012
40%
Dan Bylsma
Playoff 2013
40%
Dan Bylsma
Playoff 2014
45%
Dan Bylsma
Playoff 2015
35%
Mike Johnston
Playoff 2016
52%
Mike Sullivan

The switch from Dan Bylsma to Mike Johnston represented the greatest single year drop in former WBS players (-10%)

The greatest increase in WBS players in a single year came during Sullivan’s first year ( +17%).  This is likely due to the successful incorporation of AHL players into the NHL lineup, but it is unlikely that this would have happened if not for Pittsburgh’s  relentless parade of injuries.

However, just because a player has at one time skated for WBS doesn't mean that they are an “AHL call-up” per se. Kris Letang played 10 games for WBS in 2008. He is a former WBS Penguin. No one has considered him an “AHL call-up” though.

What about a player like Conor Sheary? In the 2016 Playoff run, Sheary was certainly a call-up. In 2015-2016, Sheary played 30 AHL games. By 2016, Sheary was an NHLer and no longer a call-up like Jake Guentzel.

The next table shows a list of players appearing in a playoff game for Pittsburgh that played at least one game with WBS earlier in the season.

Year
Number of AHL Callups
Percentage of AHL Callups
Playoff 2008
3 of 21
14%
Playoff 2009
3 of 23
13%
Playoff 2010
2 of 24
8%
Playoff 2011
2 of 21
9.50%
Playoff 2012
3 of 25
12%
Playoff 2013
3 of 25
12%
Playoff 2014
3 of 22
14%
Playoff 2015
4 of 20
20%
Playoff 2016
6 of 25
24%
Playoff 2017
4 of 25
16%

When this new definition of “call-up” is applied it becomes much harder to fillet Mike Johnston. He was not the right coach for that Penguins team, but he did deploy a fair number of AHL call-ups. His numbers were second only to Sullivan’s. The number of AHL call-ups were actually higher in the playoffs in 2016 (24% versus this year’s 16%).

The Penguins won a Stanley Cup last year when there were six call-ups on the team and seven other WBS veterans. This post season there are a ton of WBS veterans for sure, but in actuality there are less call-ups on the roster, despite all of the injury woes, than last season. 
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The Phil - 035 The League Hates the Predators by @ryank_119

8:00:00 AM 0





Check out this salty video analyzing the disallowed goal from Game 1:



I don't agree with the offside review either, but let's not pretend the League is working for the Penguins, haha.  If you can't take advantage of a team getting 0 shots in 37 minutes that's a whole different problem.
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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Asset Management by @AlfaM1keFoxtrot

9:00:00 AM 0




If you want your team to win a championship, you better hope your team's general manager views his roster like a bucket rather than a collection of talent.

There are other factors that are intangible, like character and compete level. But when the salary cap puts the lid on the bucket, all the intangibles in the world won't make up for large chunks of wasted space.

Jim Rutherford has done a great job of maximizing the space in the bucket during the last two seasons. The signings and trades that followed last year's Stanley Cup championship aren't less significant than the player movement in 2015-16. In fact, the last player the Penguins traded for this past March 1st is a perfect example of it.

Mark Streit cost the Pens no more than a fourth round pick in 2018. The real beauty of the deal rests with the fact that Rutherford went through the Tampa Bay Lighting to get him out of Philadelphia. That alone makes the trade a "delightful" (for you WWE fans) troll job. Add in the fact that both Philly and Tampa retained salary in the two trades, and the end result has to produce a wry smile from the most jaded Penguins fan.

Ron Hainsey, falls into a similar general category as he was scooped up for a second round pick in 2017, and Carolina also agreed to retain salary for the deal to be consummated.

Whether you think Streit and Hainsey have been appropriately used or have had enough tangible impact to justify the cost of each player is legitimate food for discussion. However, with 13 wins under the Penguins belt and the glaring absence of Letang ever present, it can't be argued that they've augmented a depleted Penguin's defense in a satisfactory manor.

Their combined cap hit of roughly 3.2 million is a perfect example of an attempt to maximize the space in the bucket. And when that number is put in the perspective of a last-minute necessity back in March, those deals should be viewed in the same vein as the five major trades that were made during the 15-16 season.

With that being said, I don't think Rutherford is above criticism. His decision to sign Brandon Sutter to a two-year 3.3 million deal when he first arrived in mid-2014 might be evidence item number 1.

A quote from Sunday's Media Day in Ken Campbell's article on Hockeynews.com:


The problem with this train of thought is not the awareness of the problem, but his conclusion on how to solve it. If he ends up signing guys in the Tom Wilson/Tanner Glass model, he has reverted back to the questionable roster decisions that doomed many Ray Shero built teams with the likes of Aaron Asham.

I'm hopeful that Rutherford has a more creative solution, and to Rutherford's credit, the fix to the Brandon Sutter mistake was nothing if not creative. Selling Vancouver on Brandon Sutter's "leadership skills" (insert eye roll here) and replacing him with Nick Bonino should only be second to swapping Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi.

Is Bonino perfect? No. But 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who Rutherford signed in 2015, has augmented Bonino's responsibilities in a traditional third line (shut-down) role. Hence, why the HBK line was given so much freedom offensively in last season. The total cost for for Bonino and Cullen was 3.7 million combined in 15-16 and 3.9 this year.

The key to Rutherford's ability to fill the bucket has been his focus on maximizing the strengths of his best stars. Because of this, there hasn't been a need for guys like Tanner Glass anymore.

In a Players Tribune article last October, Rutherford would reflect:

"The league always moves in cycles. And there’s not just one way to win."

This speaks to the mind of a thinker who is aware that different roads can lead to the ultimate destination. His predecessor, while stronger in areas such as maximizing the return on a given trade, lacked this quality. And it isn't particular to Shero as many teams are built around the principle of trying to create a roster which can adapt to a given style of play. Whether it be size-based intimidation, skill, or structural discipline.

There is an inherent flaw in this type thinking that Rutherford is aware of. The idea that if you try to be good at everything you will be great at nothing, holds true because flaws always remain as one moves from one style or image to another.

That is why Rutherford's version of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been so good and why the quote above makes me skeptical at best, and concerned at worst.

The degree to which Rutherford has maximized the space in the bucket is not small. The following breakdown of how every player who has pulled on a Penguin's 16-17 jersey arrived in the organization, attests to that:




Ultimately what Rutherford seems to realize is that if the foundational pieces of a team are "high-end," the key is to create a structure around them that doesn't minimize their flaws, but increases the intensity of the light coming from their strengths. In a metaphorical way it's the best way to counter the darkness.

To help with this, the coach he hired as his Plan B back in 2015 is as good of a manager of people and circumstance as he is "in game" and "game to game" adjustments.

All of those factors have maximized the space in the bucket for a second straight year and hopefully for three more wins this year (knock on wood).

No general manager is perfect but Rutherford is creative as well as experienced, and it has paid off thus far. It's safe to say that Penguins fans hope it continues.
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Hockey After Dark: the "NHL Rigged Pekka Rinne to Suck, I Guess" edition by @DXTraeger

12:59:00 AM 0
"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," a rehab clinic for hockey junkies and pop-culture dealers.  Topics include the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Nashville Predators, the RAAAAGGE nature of Twitter, and various jokes at the expense of the Philadelphia Flyers & their delusional fans)

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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Phil - Player Cards by @ryank_119

6:36:00 PM 0

We thought it would be a blast to have player cards for the Finals this year!  Feel free to save and share these as much as you want!  Click here to find the full collection: https://imgur.com/a/me6bj


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Chris Kunitz Isn't Done Yet by @SpinMeWrite and Guest Contributor @ChitownPensFan

5:00:00 PM 0
Photo Credit: Associated Press
*I invited Mark Argall (@ChitownPensFan) to collaborate with me on this post due to our many discussions/ALL CAPS SHOUTING arguments about Kunitz over the past year. Mark was the first to call me out on my irrational opinions about Kunitz.*

Over the course of the season, Chris Kunitz metamorphosed from Sidney Crosby's longtime linemate to a diminished role in the bottom six. His offensive production declined over the past few seasons. Now in the latter half of his 37 years, his skills are declining and he missed most of April with a lower-body injury. In the game of life, Father Time is undefeated.

That doesn't mean Kunitz isn't an impact player anymore. His double-OT goal to close out the series against Ottawa won't be his last goal this postseason.

Beyond his goal-scoring, Kunitz's fingerprints were all over Game 7. His perfectly-timed screen in front of Craig Anderson ensured that Justin Schultz's shot would find the back of the net. And the Pens' season might've been over early in OT if Kunitz hadn't blocked Mark Stone's shot.

“One of the most dangerous shooters walking right down the pipe and Kuni had an unbelievable block,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “Those little things that our team really gets excited about.”

Even with his reduced ice time, Kunitz is an effective player. He makes plays that don't show up on the score sheet. As Mike Sullivan would say, he's "hard to play against." He's relentless on the forecheck and battles hard against the boards. After leading the team in hits last year, his 216 hits this season were second to Hornqvist's 227. In a distant third was Scott Wilson with 167. (All of whom played 70+ games.)

There's no denying that Kunitz is a big-game player. Sid scored his 1000th point with an assist on Kunitz's last goal in February. During Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against San Jose, Kunitz summoned the speed to deny Joel Ward on a breakaway without drawing a penalty.




Or dial it back to 2009 when he won a 2-on-1 puck battle to spring Max Talbot in what would be the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings.




I'm just saying, I think Chris Kunitz has a case for "Mr. Game 7."

One of the most admirable and endearing qualities about Kunitz's leadership is his willingness to step up for his teammates.  And not in a way that's going to get him tossed from the game. He's a better man and player than guys like that.

Something awoke inside Kunitz after Crosby was concussed at the feet and stick of Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen. For the rest of that game, I heard the familiar thuds of Kunitz slamming various Capitals into the boards. Even if it's not apparent from looking at the score sheet, Kunitz has elevated his play since that game.

Kunitz is the UFA this off-season that few people were talking about before Game 7. Kunitz isn't going to play for another team. Either he returns as a Penguin or he retires as a Penguin. I wouldn't be surprised if he took a big pay cut to stay with the Pens. He's still a good role player who has a lot to offer in terms of leadership and intangibles. Don't forget that he wears an "A" and the younger guys look up to him.

“He’s one of our leaders in this room for a reason,” Conor Sheary said. “He’s been here before, and he’s a great player. Just because he’s a little bit older doesn’t mean he can’t play anymore, and I think some people think that. He’s an awesome player and a great teammate. To see him play that way was awesome.”

A lot of fans (myself included) have been unfairly tough on Kunitz over the past few seasons. At times, he's been an easy target to project our frustrations at. It's easier to focus on the mistakes he makes in the spotlight, rather than admire what he offers this team when we're not watching.

Lest we forget, Kunitz may not be a Hall-of-Famer in the minds of many, but if the Pens win he'll be collecting his fourth Stanley Cup ring.














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2017 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Nashville Predators by @msteiner90

12:00:00 PM 1

2017 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Nashville Predators
MATCH: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Nashville Predators
SERIES: Stanley Cup FInal
The 2017 Stanley Cup Final begins tonight at 8:00PM on NBC.  The Pittsburgh Penguins look to cement themselves as one of the elite teams in NHL history who have repeated as Stanley Cup champions in back-to-back years (which hasn't been done since the Red Wings in '98, and not yet in the Salary Cap era).  Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators are hoping to bring the Stanley Cup back to Nashville for the first time since joining the league in 1998.
Phil Kessel chasing down P.K. Subban earlier this season.
SEASON SERIES: The Penguins and Predators have met twice, once on October 22 when the Predators won 5-1 at home and once on January 31 when the Penguins won 4-2 at home.  The game films don't necessarily lend to either team having a structural advantage against the other.  Marc Andre Fleury had a bad game in Nashville in October, and the Penguins let the game run away.  And Pekka Rinne had a bad second period coupled with an onslaught of penalty kills to stymie any rally energy late in the game when the Penguins won in January.  The teams are largely the same, minus two big names - Ryan Johansen and Kris Letang.
ADVANTAGE: Neither team showed a definite edge in either game.  The team that won was opportunistic, and stayed out of the penalty box.  That's not a preview, but just a rule of hockey.
Scott WIlson lighting the lamp for the Penguins against the Predators in January at PPG Paints Arena
FORWARDS: The Penguins' forward depth in unrivaled by any other team in the NHL - and it's not even close.  In the salary cap era, teams generally have to chose between star power and depth - but somehow General Manager Jim Rutherford has been able to have both, thanks to a glut of talent on entry-level deals.  At center, the Penguins will have Crosby/Malkin/Bonino/Cullen squaring off against Sissons/Jarnkrok/Fisher (maybe)/Fiddler.  Since the center is the distributor of pucks, it should be safe to say that the Penguins will have a decided advantage in terms of forward possession.  The Nashville Predators will lean on Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and James Neal to carry the offensive load for the team - and they certainly have throughout the playoffs preceding the Stanley Cup Final.
ADVANTAGE: Pittsburgh Penguins - they have the forwards to outmatch any team in the NHL, especially the Nashville Predators.  The Penguins forwards most difficult opponent this Stanley Cup Final will be fatigue and health.  Speaking of which - Hornqvist looks like he will be good to go for Game 1.
DEFENSE: The Nashville Predators have a defense that looks great on paper, and statistically.  The top 4 of Subban/Josi/Ekholm/Ellis are difficult to reckon with, as the Western Conference has seen.  But there is a key weakness - they play a LOT of minutes.  So I imagine that they're tired, and will only become progressively more tired throughout the series.  They have an advantage over the Penguins in this category, and really in this category alone, so in order to beat the Penguins I would theorize that they need to do it in the quickest way possible.  The longer the series goes, the more mileage they will be putting on their workhorse defense core - and run the risk of the core breaking down.  Managing minutes on defense is a task that the Penguins have struggled with, but they have been able to spread minutes across all 6 defensemen evenly.  Brian Dumoulin leads all remaining players in time on ice this playoff with 416 minutes - but not far behind him are many Predators (Josi 415, Subban 414, Ekholm 409, Ellis 384).  
ADVANTAGE: Nashville Predators - but I only say this in the sense that I believe their advantage in defense exists only in a shortened series.  Their four workhorses will not age well as the series progresses.


GOALTENDING: The two best goaltenders left, statistically speaking, were the two best goaltenders in the NHL playoffs in 2017.  Pekka Rinne's splits against the Penguins throughout his career have been abysmal (1-5-2, .880 SV%).  Additionally, the Penguins have a decided edge in the fact that they have a goaltender who has won a Stanley Cup before, and if for any reason he is injured or plays poorly - have a backup who has won a Stanley Cup before.  Pekka Rinne has had a shaky career in the playoffs and during the regular season.  He is what many fans describe Marc Andre Fleury as - a rollercoaster of emotion.  If the Penguins want to runaway with this advantage, parking a player in the blue paint to agitate or running up the scoreboard in a game or two could yield a meltdown - which you would never, ever, ever see from Matty Ice.
ADVANTAGE: Pittsburgh Penguins - goaltending is a tricky subject. Goalies can be hot and cold.  But Matt Murray has ice running through his blood, and if Pekka Rinne of old ever shows up this series - he is volatile enough to run the whole team into the ground.

PREDICTON: Pittsburgh Penguins in 7.  I think that the Nashville Predators will give the Penguins (and the entire fanbase) a scare with their ability to do something with the 1-3-1 trap.  They have a counterattack and will expose the Penguins' defense in a game or two.  But, the Penguins coaching staff has been terrific at turning the team around.  Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin realize that these opportunities to win a Stanley Cup are rare, and I think that they both will carry the team to a grueling series win - and whoever carries the team more this series will win the Conn Smythe.


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Hockey After Dark: the "HOLY $&!7, the PENGUINS HAVE A CHANCE TO REPEAT!" Edition by @DXTraeger

12:58:00 AM 0
"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," where we discuss the Penguins, the Nashville Predators, the Philadelphia Flyers and their delusional fans, and a smattering of pop-culture references that apparently only I appreciate)

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hockey After Dark: the "Trying to Hate the Otherwise-Likeable Nashville Predators" Edition by @DXTraeger

1:50:00 AM 0
"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," my own version of "That Thing You Do" without the catchy theme song and without Tom Hanks chewing comedic scenery.  Topics include the Penguins, the Stanley Cup Finals, constant pop culture references, and insults toward the Flyers, Capitals, and their fans.  Click the links, I do more research for each article than Donald Trump has done for his Security Council)

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

The (Black and) Golden Age by @Nick422

3:00:00 PM 1
It was late.  Exhaustion and tension, at home and in PPG Paints Arena, were high as eyes were peeled on the action.  And then it erupted.  Kunitz scored.  An unheralded cornerstone instantly rewrote his history.  The Penguins were back to the Cup Final.


A lot has been said about the Penguins place in the Salary Cap Era.  With four more wins it's easy to say they're the dynasty, the best team, of this era.  That debate can wait.  What's not up for debate is that this is truly the brightest days in Penguins history.

Take a step back and think on that.  A franchise that, before Crosby and Malkin, had two Cups.  A franchise that had Jaromir Jagr, Bryan Trottier, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, Paul Coffey, and countless other Hall of Famers (including the Mario Lemieux guy) in their history is somehow, now, even better?  That when their history is looked back on in another 50 years this period will likely be their most prosperous?  That seems surreal to think but look at the numbers.

Even without the salary cap in place it's hard to replicate four Cup trips in 10 years.  In the expansion era, very few franchises have accomplished such a feat.  Only six times in 50 years have one team made that trip so often.  

Going back to the Salary Cap Era (2005-06-Present, for those of you keep track at home) no team has won more games in the playoffs.  None.  Only the Penguins sit perched atop the mountain.




(Let's hope Sid can be okay with that number no longer being 87)

For perspective, the Lemieux/Jagr Era Penguins (1991-92 through 2000-2001) won 81 playoff games.  The acknowledged asterisk of Mario's retirement is not lost, however that run (from the first Cup to losing to the Devils before the Jagr trade) was long considered the brightest beacon in the franchise's ocean.

With four more wins the Penguins can claim the title of the Salary Cap dynasty from the Penguins (and the NHL can put Evgeni Malkin in the Top 100 over Jonathan Toews).  With one more Cup the Penguins become, without debate, one of the best franchises of all time without exception.  Even without those four wins, however, this latest era of the Pittsburgh Penguins will go down as their greatest.

And we're here to witness it.

No matter what happens between now and the next team to win four games soak this in.  It's living history.  We're a part of it.
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ECF Game 7 as Told by Toddlers by @MedinaMarie_PI

9:00:00 AM 0
After the Penguins defeated Ottawa to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, I sat and stared at my computer screen wondering what to write. The only real thought going through my head is, "I really need to go to bed."

A double overtime victory that took the game into, well, Friday ensured that tens of thousands of people would be getting little sleep. For Ottawa Senators fans, the feeling of defeat made getting through Friday even more of a challenge. For the Pittsburgh Penguin fan base, spurts of joy and nervous excitement of returning to the Stanley Cup Final cut through the nodding heads and blank stares in the workplace.

No matter what side you are on, everyone was tired. Everyone was crabby (even friends of the flightless foul reveling in the win). Everyone just didn't want to adult on Friday.

These shared characteristics sparked a thought and revelation -- yesterday, we were literally just toddlers. Some are probably still suffering from hockey hangover today. Both fan bases are snappy, whiny, and sleep-deprived due to the excitement or anguish. We want our blankies, a cup of juice, and a nap.

Here's a recap of Game Seven's emotional roller-coaster from a toddler's perspective.

One hour before puck drop:
Game Time!
After 1st period:
1st goal by Kunitz:
20...seconds...later
End of 2:
SCHULTZY! Power Play goal!
Senators tie it up...again:
Overtime:
DOUBLE overtime:
WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!
Pens fans the next day:
Nap Here GIF from Tired GIFs

Prepare yourself accordingly for the next two weeks. The Pittsburgh Penguins will defend the Stanley Cup Championship versus the Nashville Predators beginning Monday, May 29, 2017.





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Hockey After Dark: Penguins OBLITERATE NBCSN Hockey Ratings Records by @DXTraeger

2:17:00 AM 2

"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."

 (Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," a late-night recap of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  You're going to want to bookmark today's article, as it provides plenty of cannon fodder for those pesky Philadelphia Flyers fans who just insist on telling you how GREAT their fan base is.)

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Friday, May 26, 2017

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