Rangers Morning Skate Report (10/31)

In case you missed it, our John Giannone and Dave Maloney looked ahead to tonight’s Rangers-Golden Knights tilt, as the Blueshirts face Las Vegas for the first time.


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Complete Effort Needed Against Golden Knights

It’s Halloween and the Rangers are looking to scare up some sort of 60-minute effort tonight as they face one of the feel-good stories of the early season, the Vegas Golden Knights.

The first-year Golden Knights have kicked off their year with a stellar 8-2-0 start. The Blueshirts are coming off another floundering first period, this time in Montreal, and saw their record drop to 3-7-2 with a 5-4 loss to the Canadiens.

[Watch Tonight’s Rangers-Golden Knights Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

Last night in Brooklyn, Vegas began a six-game road trip against the Islanders and were handed a 6-3 loss. The injuries at their goaltending position keep on coming. Third-string Oscar Dansk took an awkward fall in the second period and was replaced by fourth-string Max Lagace. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury is out indefinitely with a concussion, while recently acquired Malcolm Subban is out at least a month with a lower-body injury.

In post game comments made in Montreal, both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh acknowledged the lack of compete in their club, as did Alain Vigneault when he met with the media after the game. Most explicitly cited was the lack of effort in the first period as the club fell behind 3-0.

No compete manifests itself most plainly when it comes to one-on-one battles, those competitive situations in the smaller areas of the ice. This malaise has to stop for this group to have any chance of rectifying what has been a very disappointing start. The good news was rallying to tie the game at 4-4 in the third, but the hole that was dug by a lack of compete early proved too deep to overcome.

Alain Vigneault talks to the media about Henrik Lundqvist's adjustments and what he needs from the Rangers as they get ready to battle the Vegas Golden Knights.


1. Decision Making

The Rangers must be better when it comes to deciding where to go and when to go with regards to covering their own end of the ice. Helter-skelter decision making leads to helter-skelter coverage and that won’t work against this quick, swarming opponent.

2. Attack the Net

The Golden Knights goaltending situation is in dire straits due to injury and must be exploited to the max. Traffic and pucks to the net must be the foremost thought entering the offensive zone.

Henrik Lundqvist discusses how the Blueshirts need to focus on what they can control and how they can help each other gain confidence.

3. Lundqvist

In the net after two games off, it will fall to Henrik Lundqvist to make the important save that needs to made at that time of the game where we all acknowledge, “that was a huge save.” Particularly early.

[Watch Tonight’s Rangers-Golden Knights Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

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Trick Or Treat With the Rangers…

The New York Rangers will be spending Halloween at The Garden playing their first-ever game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Since they’ll be clad in Rangers sweaters instead of costumes, we decided to dress them up ourselves. Swipe right and tell us if it’s a Trick or Treat!

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It’s All About Progress For Knicks

Knicks 116, Nuggets 110

1. There is nothing better than hearing The Garden roar like it did. These people are starving for something to believe in. It’s hard to explain to anyone outside of this city why there is so much passion for the Knicks. In most cities, an 0-3 start would mean a half-empty building and no buzz with a team like the Denver Nuggets coming in on a Monday night.

So, yeah, I’ll say it. The 76ers had “Trust the Process.” For the Knicks, it should be “Trust the Progress.”

That was the word team president Steve Mills used on Sunday as his measurement of success for this season. Of course, fans want wins, but the presence of tangible progress is enough of a pacifier in a rebuilding season. Show development, improvement and, most of all, effort.

They say New York fans are too demanding. Too intense. Too impatient. Well, when you have to knife through the overgrowth of taxis and ubers (seriously, does EVERY car on the road now have a T&LC tag?) or elbow your way into a subway just to get to the game, you’re already on edge and you’re in no mood for incompetence. You can hear the conversations on the concourse: I sprinted down two flights of stairs and got crushed by those closing doors to get here and I gotta watch these guys not box out???

So understand, what most of the 19,812 who live and die with every possession, despite the fact it’s only October — *glares at LeBron* — are looking for is satisfaction.

This game against the Nuggets was an enjoyable cocktail of euphoria and excitement mixed with a hint of anxiety. And it was chased down with a shot of satisfaction.

“We’re not there,” Jeff Hornacek warned after the game. “We still have to get better at a lot of things.”

Yes, that’s abundantly true. But what’s important is there is room to grow and evidence of potential.

Trust the Progress.

2. With three straight wins, the Knicks (3-3) are back to .500 and it’s quite a contrast of the first week of the season compared to the second.

The numbers don’t lie:

First three games

Regular Season Table
Team Opponent
1 1 2017-10-19 @ OKC L 84 105 32 79 .405 7 24 .292 13 20 .650 11 41 19 8 4 25 23 39 90 .433 11 38 .289 16 22 .727 13 41 26 14 7 18 22
2 2 2017-10-21 DET L 107 111 37 81 .457 8 30 .267 25 31 .806 12 39 20 6 2 12 21 44 91 .484 9 30 .300 14 15 .933 15 43 21 5 2 12 25
3 3 2017-10-24 @ BOS L 89 110 36 85 .424 1 12 .083 16 25 .640 11 43 20 8 2 14 17 37 75 .493 14 29 .483 22 27 .815 5 41 26 11 7 12 24

Last three games

Regular Season Table
Team Opponent
4 4 2017-10-27 BRK W 107 86 44 98 .449 9 27 .333 10 17 .588 19 55 19 7 6 11 19 30 74 .405 11 29 .379 15 21 .714 4 34 18 5 1 16 20
5 5 2017-10-29 @ CLE W 114 95 42 89 .472 13 28 .464 17 21 .810 11 51 27 9 6 14 26 31 81 .383 10 33 .303 23 27 .852 7 41 20 5 5 15 23
6 6 2017-10-30 DEN W 116 110 41 82 .500 13 32 .406 21 23 .913 11 49 27 8 10 22 27 35 85 .412 18 41 .439 22 31 .710 13 36 20 13 5 13 22

Most notable to me? The rebounding and three-point shooting.

The Knicks were -0.7 on the boards in the first three games, but over the last three, they’ve dominated the boards on an average of +14 per game. From downtown, the Knicks were shooting 24% in the first three games and since then they’ve been en fuego, at 40%.

And since taking just 12 threes in the loss at Boston, the Knicks are utilizing the three-ball at 29 attempts per game, which is above the league average.

3. Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t do anything in real-time, does he? As a rookie, he was expected to be a bit of a project who needed time and patience to develop. Then he earned a starting spot on opening night, broke franchise records that date back to the Patrick Ewing era and became an All-Rookie sensation that had the NBA talking and Kevin Durant dubbing him a “unicorn.”

This season was, again, supposed to be a transition for him into the lead role vacated by Carmelo Anthony. But there was to be a learning curve. Six games into his first season as The Man, Porzingis is doing things never done before in franchise history.

He had a career-high 38 points against Denver to give him five 30-point performances in his first six games this season. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game, which is the third-highest in the NBA.

KP also set a tone early in this game, as if he wanted to send a message to Nikola Jokic, who put 40 points on him last season at The Garden. As he drained three-after-three to put up 13 points in the first quarter, KP let everyone know this season things will be different.

And things ARE different this season. Porzingis is proving to be an unstoppable force in the mid-post. Most of his work is coming in the mid-range area — coincidentally, where Melo used to work. He’s like a combination of Melo and Dirk Nowitzki, yet way more active on defense than both.

I also took note of Hornacek sending a message to officials after the game by pointing out how defenders are getting into KP’s legs when he rises up for a shot. That’s technically illegal now in the NBA — the Bruce Bowen Rule — and it’s called more often on the perimeter than on the post. I wonder if the NBA will make this a point of emphasis when officiating KP.

4. If Porzingis has been the Knicks’ best player this season, I think you can make a serious case that Kyle O’Quinn has been their second-best player. While some were irate about O’Quinn getting minutes in the rotation ahead of Willy Hernangomez, O’Quinn just went about making it impossible to sit him.

In past seasons, O’Quinn has been inconsistent with his effort level and that has led to unpredictability in his role and minutes. But this season so far his effort has been outstanding and deserving of attention.

As usual, the numbers don’t lie. The most impressive is a Defensive Rebounding Percentage (percentage of rebounds he gets when on the floor) of 32.4%, which is tied with Joel Embiid and DeAndre Jordan for fourth-best in the NBA (and those guys are starters).

O’Quinn is also 7th in the NBA in Overall Rebounding Percentage at 23.3%. The player one spot ahead of him? Enes Kanter (23.8%).

The Knicks bigs collectively have been terrific on the boards. While O’Quinn has been a beast on the defensive boards, Kanter is among the best in the NBA in offensive rebounding. He is posting a 20.9% Offensive Rebounding Percentage, which is second-best in the league behind Portland’s Ed Davis (23.5%).

5. I’m old enough to remember the “Bomb Squad” Knicks, who averaged 14 three-point attempts per game in 1988-89. Back then that was considered a ridiculous rate. Today there are players who take 14 in a game. The Nuggets used the three-point shot to keep from getting blown out in the first half and then used it in the third quarter — along with active defense — to turn a 23-point deficit into a short-lived two-point lead.

The Nuggets were 18 for 41 in the game (44%). It’s no longer a novelty that some teams use, the three-point shot is as common of a shot in the NBA as the layup. And what we’ve seen over the last few seasons is everyone from 1-through-5 can, and will, shoot it.

So as I watched Jokic & Co. draining rainbow threes to hold off what would have otherwise been a blowout win for the Knicks, I thought about what we’re seeing in Major League Baseball this season with the home run renaissance. It’s not the players who are juiced this time, but, reportedly, the ball.

Reports say the ball is wound tighter and the seams are not as raised, so the ball cuts through the air easier and travels farther. In the World Series, there’s talk that the ball is also slicker than usual and pitchers who have dominated with the slider can’t get the movement they usually get from that pitch. As a result, we’re seeing a fireworks display of home runs and riveting games that are getting great ratings.

So here’s my question: As an NBA fan, with the three-point shot so much part of the game and a quick way to erase a big deficit — and keep eyeballs on the game rather than tuning out — would you be OK if you found out the NBA secretly “softened” the rims in arenas to allow for better bounces and more shots going in? Ask anyone who has played the game and was a mediocre shooter (or just ask me, because, well, that’s what I was), soft rims make a huge difference.

Do you really want to see bricks and put-backs or is it more fun to watch three-pointers rain from all angles of the court? The commercial from the 1990s said, “Chicks dig the longball.”

Can the same be said for the NBA?

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What Does Hannibal Lecter Have to Do With Hockey?

In an airport hangar, a group of men in suits and trench coats surrounds Senator Ruth Martin.

As they await their guest, Senator Martin slowly walks forward. From the opposite end of the hangar, a group of police officers approaches. Two of them are wheeling forward a large upright gurney. On the gurney, at an angle, is a man wearing orange slacks, in a straight jacket, with a muzzle over his mouth.

As both parties stop face to face, an introduction is made, “Senator Martin … Dr. Hannibal Lecter.”

Why did I just spend 30 seconds explaining a scene in Silence of the Lambs? Because believe it or not, there is a hockey connection.

Anthony Hopkins (who played Lecter) proceeds to reveal the identity of Buffalo Bill (SPOILER ALERT ON A MOVIE THAT IS 26 YEARS OLD!), speaking through his muzzle.

Except, it’s actually not a muzzle at all. It’s a re-purposed goaltender’s mask.

And the man who created it, Ed Cubberly of Frenchtown, New Jersey, is a well-known goalie mask designer.

“Colleen Atwood, the head costume designer and head of the prop department (for the film) called me asking if I could make a mask for Anthony Hopkins,” Cubberly explains.

“I asked her to describe the scene in which it would be used. She said, ‘He’s a schizophrenic who goes around biting people.’ I said, ‘So you want me to make you a muzzle.’ She said, ‘So what do you have in mind?'”

Then, Ed Cubberly went to work.

By then, Cubberly had over a decade of experience making custom molded fiberglass goalie masks, as well as designing them. His NHL resume is a who’s who of goalies from the 90s: Mike Richter, Tom Barrasso, Olaf Kolzig, Sean Burke, Jim Carey (the Net Detective!), and much more. This is no surprise since Cubberly’s NHL goalie mask design career spanned from 1988-2000.

A signature of his masks was the “C” around the ear of the mask. “Look for the ‘C'” and you’d know it as an Ed Cubberly original. For the one and only movie project of his career, he knew exactly how he was going to do.

“It took me all of five minutes to design the Hannibal mask,” Cubberly confesses. “I simply took a photo of an old-time goalie mask I had made and drew on it with a blue sharpie to the shape of the Lecter mask. It was merely the lower half of an old-time goalie mask.”

And now you know. It almost makes ol’ Hanny Lects seem … less scary.

Ok, not really. Of course, Silence of the Lambs won like every award at the Oscars because it was terrifying and Anthony Hopkins is a cinematic treasure that still gives me nightmares ‘it puts the lotion’ AAGGHHHH!

Back to Cubberly and the Lecter mask design.

“She asked, ‘What color would you make it?’ I said, ‘You told me the setting in the movie was where Dr. Lecter was in a dungeon type jail.’ Being fiberglass is naturally a greenish/brown color, I decided to leave the mask the natural fiberglass color to make it appear to have been made in the dungeon-like setting.”

The decision paid off. Both in creativity and in time-saving.

“(Late Silence of the Lambs director) Jonathan Demme said, ‘Brilliant!’ He loved the idea. It also saved me from having to paint it!”

Though it was ultimately chosen to be the one, Cubberly’s design wasn’t the only option. Twelve other masks were in play, including fencing headgear and a beekeepers mask. I think they made the right choice, and suddenly “half a goalie mask with metal bars over the mouth” doesn’t sound as ridiculous.

Decades later, Cubberly is still recognized for having created that mask, an iconic prop in film history. He is the sole copyright owner of the mask and makes commissioned replicas upon request.

When speaking with Ed for this piece, he did share a great story about Mike Richter’s mask. Though by the early ’90s “Look for the ‘C'” was already in vogue around the NHL, Richter was a late adopter. So when Cubberly brought the mask to a Rangers practice, No. 35 was reluctant to commit to it but decided to test it out.

How? By putting on the mask, taking off his gloves, putting his hands behind his head and letting Bernie Nicholls ping slap shots off his noggin. It passed the “headbutt save” test and the famed “Lady Liberty” Richter mask was born.

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Vote: Who Will Win the First Ever Meeting Between the Rangers & Golden Knights?

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All Eyes on Rangers Start … Again

It’s fairly obvious what everyone will be watching Tuesday at The Garden when the Rangers play the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time.

The start. The start. The first few minutes. The first goal(s). The first period.

Those were all nightmares for the Rangers on Saturday in Montreal, with a start that has become terrifyingly familiar and costly. The Rangers have won three of their first 12 games (3-7-2), and the starts have been fits, with the Blueshirts allowing 18 first-period goals, and eight of those in the first six minutes.

Brady Skjei, Marc Staal and Rick Nash analyze how their upcoming battle with Las Vegas and what needs to happen in order for their club to right the ship.

“It’s obviously a mental thing going into it for us,” Marc Staal said after practice Monday. “We’re just not in the right frame of mind to start the game and it’s causing us to get outplayed.

“We’re giving up some goals and playing from behind a lot. Coming into the locker room and it’s the same room, the same things are being said, the same type of things where you’re going into the game feeling good about it, and then it just doesn’t happen on the ice.

“We need to be more locked in when the puck drops.”

Easier said than done.

Vegas is the surprise (is that a strong enough word?) team in the league, entering Monday’s game in Brooklyn with an 8-1 record to start their inaugural season. The Knights swarm, they come at you. Suffice it to say they will be pumped for their first Garden visit. Suffice it to say, they will be a handful.

Alain Vigneault talks to the media about Henrik Lundqvist's adjustments and what he needs from the Rangers as they get ready to battle the Vegas Golden Knights.

Henrik Lundqvist, who sat and watched backup Ondrej Pavelec play the last two games, will be back in goal, and obviously, the Rangers will count on him to help them get back on track.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I got a couple days here of practice, take a deep breath, and try to gather as much energy and focus as you can going into (Tuesday’s) game. It’s a good test for us right now, where we are and also who we’re facing this upcoming week.”

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said that Lundqvist and goalie coach Benoit Allaire “worked extremely hard the last three or four days here, a couple of technical things that I think Benny addressed with Hank. And, you know, he’s going to be ready. Hank’s a true professional, hard worker and he’s going to be ready.”

Henrik Lundqvist discusses how the Blueshirts need to focus on what they can control and how they can help each other gain confidence.

Asked if he needs Lundqvist to win a game for him right now, Vigneault said, “I need our team to have a good start. There are a couple of areas we need to focus on as far as the front of our net, and making a good first pass to be able to get out of our zone and through the neutral zone. If we focus on those areas we’re going to be in good shape.”

Vigneault believes most of the slow starts to date have been a matter of breakdowns and mistakes, not so much across-the-board unpreparedness. But Montreal was different, he said.

“Everybody knows there are two games where we really got outplayed (in the first period) – the Toronto game and obviously the last Montreal game. The other games where we haven’t gotten off to the way we wanted were more, in my estimation, individual mistakes than a collective disarray that we saw in Montreal.

“I could try and spin it positively and say, ‘in both those game we came back.’ But at the end of the day, right now, we need as a group to come up with a real solid effort both offensively and defensively.

“Obviously, in the last game,” he added, “that execution and that compete level … was not nearly good enough in the first period.”

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John Tavares Named NHL First Star of the Week

New York Islanders captain John Tavares was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the week ending October 29.

In three games, Tavares recorded six goals and one assist, including two hat tricks.

The first one came Tuesday against the Coyotes, in a four-point performance that also saw him score the game-winning goal.

Tavares failed to record a point Thursday, but then recorded the second natural hat trick of his career, scoring three goals in the third period in a 6-2 win over the Predators.

Tavares now leads the Islanders in points with 13 and ranks third in the NHL in goals with nine.

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Vote: Who Will Win the First Ever Meeting Between the Islanders & Golden Knights?

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Can Hardaway, Knicks Bring Same Energy Tonight?


1. So they finally beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It had been three years almost to the day — Oct. 30, 2014 — since the Knicks beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re talking 10 straight games, including a 30-point blowout loss last December at The Garden when LeBron was so bored he played the bottle flip game on the bench during garbage time.

The Knicks had only that one win over the last 19 games against the Cavaliers when LeBron James wore the wine and gold.

[Coverage of Knicks-Nuggets Starts Tonight at 7 PM on MSG and MSG GO]

So regardless of what LeBron said after the game about it being October and how he’s not concerned about the Cavs’ 3-4 start and getting blown out by the likes of the Knicks, Magic and Pelicans, this was an important win on many levels for the Knicks. In the fourth quarter, the Cavs pushed to cut a 17-point deficit down to six and the Knicks held firm and put the game away. If only they were able to do that against the Pistons in the home opener, they’d have a 3-2 record instead of 2-3.

But perhaps this is all part of the education and the development of this team.

2. No one needed this game more than Tim Hardaway Jr. Over the first week of the season, you could see the tension on his face after every missed shot. As we’ve said here before, he was playing as if he had to justify his contract. Team president Steve Mills said he and GM Scott Perry would text him after games to keep him positive.

“We all tell him to calm down and let the game come to him,” Mills said.

He also added that Hardaway Jr.’s struggles were “just the pressure of him coming back and wanting to be a leader of the team and wanting to do well.” Can you really fault a player for that?

Steve Mills gives his thoughts on the Knicks through the first few games of the season, while Wally Szczerbiak and Alan Hahn chime in on what they’ve seen from the team.

After he missed his first couple of shots, Hardaway Jr. suddenly got on a roll. He is the ultimate heat-check player who, when hot, can burn for a while. He made 11 of 19 from the field and 5 of 10 from three-point range. Hardaway Jr. smoked his old teammate, J.R. Smith, throughout the game.

It was good to see Hardaway play with confidence and play freely. It will be interesting to see if, after 41 minutes, he can bring the same energy again in a back-to-back.

3. It’s easy to do, but you can’t overlook the subtle move Jeff Hornacek made with the starting lineup by moving Jarrett Jack into the point guard position in place of Ramon Sessions. Jack has gotten the offense organized over the last two games and against the Cavs he recorded 9 of the team’s 27 assists.

Combine that with rookie Frank Ntilikina‘s emergence in the rotation and you see two games where the Knicks are getting good production out of the point guard position. Ntilikina averaged 7 points and 4 assists in under 20 minutes per game against Brooklyn and Cleveland and yet the stat sheet doesn’t tell the entire story of the noticeable impact he has in these games.

[Robbins: Ntilikina Makes Debut 50 Years After Clyde]

Point guard play is vital to success in the NBA. The best Knicks season in the last 15 years was in 2012-13 when Hall of Famer Jason Kidd ran the offense. Derrick Rose had a good start last season as the Knicks were 14-10 in the first quarter of the season, but once his performance (and health) fell off, so did the team. Rose is now in Cleveland and came back after missing four games with an ankle sprain. He was 6 for 14 from the field and a -22 in 31 minutes.

Ntilikina is going to endure growing pains, which is expected of a 19-year-old in this league. But the Knicks, as Mills said, are committed to his development. But how long can the Knicks expect to get positive production out of Jack, who, at 34, is coming off two seasons of knee injuries? And if Jack, who signed a non-guaranteed veteran’s minimum deal, is the “bridge quarterback” to Ntilikina, what does that mean for Ramon Sessions?

4. Kristaps Porzingis had three 30-point games in the first two seasons of his career. This season, he already has four in the first five games after posting 32 points and 12 rebounds against the Cavs small front line. And it’s quite clear KP isn’t the same player this season that he was his first two years. We’re seeing a 7’3″ player who is absolutely dominating on the mid-post, especially if you try to guard him one-on-one.

He was 13 for 27 from the field in his game and it really didn’t feel like he took that many shots. Why? They were quick decisions and mostly in the flow of the offense. He’s really becoming a modernized version of Dirk Nowitzki, who could shoot over smaller defenders in the post and beat you from three-point range (2 for 5) if you don’t close out.

And beyond the offense is his defensive activity. KP had two more blocks in this game (7 on the season) and has been a presence not just at the rim but on closeouts. He held Kevin Love to 5 for 15 shooting from the field in the game. His 11 defensive rebounds capped off some good defensive stops for his team.

He’s got an interesting matchup tonight with Paul Millsap and Nik Jokic, the latter of whom dominated him with a 40-point performance at The Garden last season. Both teams are on a back-to-back, so this will be a good test of that endurance KP worked on this offseason.

5. Talk about dominating a matchup, how about what Enes Kanter did at the center spot? Kanter put up 18 points and 12 rebounds while Tristan Thompson had 1 point and did not record a single rebound in the game. Kanter’s energy at the start of games continues to be valuable. He is in attack mode from the very beginning on offense and tries to establish his matchup. It’s as if he has something to prove every night when the ball is tipped.

So as the Knicks take on Denver’s front line of Millsap/Jokic, where should we rank the Knicks’ front line of Porzingis/Kanter? Wally Szczerbiak and I were discussing it on the train home after the game. I would say the standard for the best 4-5 combo in the NBA has to be Anthony Davis/DeMarcus Cousins of the Pelicans.

Aaron Gordon and Nik Vucevic of the Magic are starting to establish themselves as a formidable front line in the East. Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond of the Pistons are solid. You also have to include Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers.

Anyone else? Tweet at me @alanhahn to discuss.

[Coverage of Knicks-Nuggets Starts Tonight at 7 PM on MSG and MSG GO]

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