Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland, back from a much-needed couple of days away.
In today’s SI:AM:
🥊 Vault: Ali-Liston II
Don’t overlook the twice-defending champs
Two weeks ago, the Lightning’s hopes of winning a third straight Stanley Cup were dwindling. They lost Game 5 of their first-round series against the Maple Leafs on May 10 to fall behind 3–2 but managed to stave off elimination with an overtime win in Game 6 and prevailed in Game 7 on Toronto’s home ice to advance to the second round. Their prize for surviving such a grueling series? A date with the Panthers, owners of the NHL’s best regular-season record.
But Tampa Bay made quick work of the Presidents’ Trophy winner, finishing off a sweep last night with a 2–0 win at home. The star, as he has been during the team’s previous two Cup runs, was Andrei Vasilevskiy. He made 49 saves (a playoff career high, excluding the 61 saves he made in a five-overtime game in 2020) as he continued to stifle Florida’s high-powered offense. The Panthers scored more goals than anybody else in the NHL this season but managed just three over the course of four games against the Lightning.
Vasilevskiy was modest when reviewing his performance after Game 4.
“It’s my job to just give our boys the chance to win, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job doing that the whole series,” he said.
“Nothing special. I think it’s just the way the whole team is playing in those games. The whole series just constant blocked shots, sacrifices, and boys literally breaking bones to stop the puck,” he added. “Just such a great effort by everybody on our team. It’s obviously not just me. I’m just trying to do my job as best I can.”
Vasilevskiy has been nearly unbeatable during the previous two postseasons, but he struggled in the first round against the Leafs, posting a 4.00 GAA in the first six games of the series. Since then, though, he’s averaging less than one goal allowed per game.
The Bolts have now won 10 straight playoff series, joining the 1970s Canadiens and ’80s Islanders as the only franchises to reel off that many series victories. They’ll attempt to make it 11 straight in the Eastern Conference Finals against the winner of the Hurricanes-Rangers series. Carolina holds a 2–1 lead in that series with Game 4 tonight at Madison Square Garden.
The best of Sports Illustrated
Today’s Daily Cover, by John Walters, is all about the latest sporting craze sweeping the nation: pickleball.
“You might have read about the sport with a silly name and 4.8 million adherents. Or seen your local park or tennis club—or Leo DiCaprio—install a pickleball court, or a dozen. Or heard that college hoops coaches Scott Drew (of Baylor) and Mark Few (Gonzaga), played each other in the Final Four bubble last year. Or caught Drew Brees’s recent tweet about his football afterlife: ‘I may train for the pickleball tour.’”
The Celtics won Game 4 against the Heat in a blowout as the Eastern Conference finals continued to be unpredictable, Chris Mannix writes. Ross Dellenger details the fight over future SEC football schedules. … Tom Verducci paid tribute to his friend Roger Angell, who died over the weekend at 101. … Novak Djokovic made his return to Grand Slam tennis after months of controversy with a first-round win. “The French don’t have a perfect direct translation for ‘business as usual.’ This, though, was it,” Jon Wertheim wrote.
Around the sports world
Dwayne Haskins had drugs and alcohol in his system when he was struck and killed on a Florida highway last month. … Josh Donaldson was suspended one game by MLB for calling Tim Anderson “Jackie” during Saturday’s Yankees–White Sox game. … The mayor of Anaheim resigned amid a scandal over the sale of the city’s baseball stadium to the Angels. … The Bulls and Pistons will play a regular-season game in Paris in January. … A helium shortage means Nebraska fans won’t be able to continue their tradition of releasing red balloons at football games this season.
Which stadium hosted MLB’s first night game on this day in 1935?
- Crosley Field
- Forbes Field
- Sportsman’s Park
- Comiskey Park
Yesterday’s SIQ: Which professional golfer born on May 23, 1934, shared a name with a current NFL backup quarterback?
Answer: Mason Rudolph. He won five times on the PGA Tour and was part of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team in 1971, but I came across another interesting anecdote about his career.
In 1960, Rudolph took part in a televised match against the great Sam Snead. The match, which was filmed at a course in Bermuda in December ’59, became a subject of controversy after it was aired on NBC in April ’60.
On the 12th hole of the match, Snead discovered that he was carrying too many clubs in his bag. Under the rules of golf, Snead should have forfeited the match. But rather than cheat the TV audience at home out of the chance to enjoy the last third of the round, Snead kept his realization to himself. Instead, he decided to lose the match on purpose.
Snead apologized, saying “it was just an honest mistake.” And insisted there was nothing nefarious about his decision. “I wouldn’t throw a golf match for any amount of money,” he added.
From the Vault: May 24, 1965
The second fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston on May 25, 1965, was one of the most anticipated boxing matches in history. Ali had won the first fight in a colossal upset and the rematch, against the backdrop of all sorts of controversies (Ali’s recent name change, the fight’s move from Boston to the small town of Lewiston, Maine, over concerns about the Massachusetts-based promoters’ ties to organized crime), was a flashpoint. And even setting all that aside, it was an enticing matchup between two talented heavyweights.
SI’s Tex Maule had high hopes for the fight, offering this prediction in that week’s magazine:
“Some time after the eighth round on the night of May 25, in the small and unlikely town of Lewiston, Me., Cassius Marcellus Clay (who would much rather be called Muhammad Ali) will certify his claim to the heavyweight championship of the world by knocking out challenger Sonny Liston.”
Maule was right about one thing. Ali did knock out Liston. The decisive punch was thrown not in the eighth round but the first. Ali’s right hand connected with Liston’s jaw so quickly that hardly anybody believed he had actually landed the punch, leading immediately to accusations that Liston (rumored to be connected to crime bosses) had taken a dive. All told, the match lasted just two minutes.
As Liston tried to get back on his feet, Ali ran circles around the ring taunting him, at which point SI photographer Neil Leifer captured what is likely the most famous photograph in boxing history, of Ali standing over a lifeless Liston. Leifer’s photo, in full color, occupied a full page in the June 7 issue of Sports Illustrated.
In that same issue, Maule wrote that there was no question Ali’s win was valid. The so-called “phantom punch” was anything but.
“The knockout punch itself was thrown with the amazing speed that differentiates Clay from any other heavyweight. He leaned away from one of Liston’s ponderous, pawing left jabs, planted his left foot solidly and whipped his right hand over Liston’s left arm and into the side of Liston's jaw. The blow had so much force it lifted Liston’s left foot, upon which most of his weight was resting, well off the canvas. It was also powerful enough to drop him instantly—first to his hands and knees and then over on his back.”
Still, plenty of people remained convinced that Liston had thrown the fight. Maule wrote:
“In the wake of the Lewiston fight there was a somewhat predictable outcry by press and politicians for the abolition of boxing. Bills to ban the sport were planned in several state legislatures, including New York’s, where Clay’s next fight may take place. Elderly ex-champions, among them Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, proclaimed the quick victory a fatal blow to boxing. ‘I didn’t go because I knew what would happen,’ said Dempsey, rather obscurely.”
They were wrong, of course. Ali’s career was just getting started.
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