Panthers are right back in the Final, plus Oklahoma softball completes historic three-peat

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The Panthers have been counted out before: when they were outside the playoff picture, looking in. When they snuck into the postseason but drew the record-setting Bruins. When they went down to those Bruins, 3-1, in the first round. And again Thursday night, when they trailed the Golden Knights 2-1 late in Game 3, already down 2-0 in the series.

But, just like we’ve learned from South Florida’s NBA team, we should never count out this South Florida NHL group.

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Matthew Tkachuk scored a 6-on-5 equalizer late in regulation, and Carter Verhaeghe nabbed the game-winner in overtime as Florida rallied to go from brink of elimination to right back in the thick of things with a 3-2 win over Vegas.

Brandon Montour opened the scoring early for the hosts, but Mark Stone knotted things later in the first period on the power play.
Jonathan Marchessault put Vegas up with another power play goal in the second period. He’s just the third player ever to have a power-play goal in three straight Stanley Cup Final games.
It looked like that would be the winner until Tkachuk tucked home a rebound 17:47 into the third period. His 11 goals this postseason are a franchise record.
Florida finally, crucially, got a penalty kill to start overtime before Verhaeghe rifled one past Adin Hill to give the Panthers their first-ever Stanley Cup Final win. They had been 0-6.
Florida is 7-0 in overtime games this postseason, and its most clutch star deserve enormous credit for that, writes our Chris Bengel.

Bengel: “Tkachuk is entering some very elite company after scoring his fifth game-winning goal in the 2023 postseason. The Panthers star sits among several of the sport’s all-time legends with five game-winning goals in a single postseason, a list including Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Jari Kurri… With the way Tkachuk has been playing in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, moving up the list wouldn’t be out of the question.”
Florida will look to tie things up tomorrow.

Honorable mentions
The Braves rallied to beat the Mets again, with Ozzie Albies crushing a walk-off three-run home run.
The Broncos added Frank Clark.
Seahawks rookie Derick Hall signed an unprecedented contract.
Here’s the future of Big Ten football scheduling.
Ricardo Pepi is reportedly heading to PSV.
Not so honorable mentions
Diamondbacks-Nationals was postponed due to poor air quality.
Alex Verdugo got benched for not hustling.
Oklahoma softball wins national championship again 🥎
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Another game, another win. Another year, another national championship. No. 1 Oklahoma softball defeated No. 3 Florida State, 3-1, to sweep the Seminoles in the Women’s College World Series finals. It’s the Sooners’ 53rd straight win (extending the all-time record) and third consecutive national championship.

Mack Leonard put the Seminoles up 1-0 with a solo home run in the fourth inning, but Cydney Sanders and Grace Lyons went back-to-back in the fifth to put Oklahoma up 2-1. Oklahoma made it 3-1 on a sixth-inning RBI single from Alynah Torres.
One day after a complete-game shutout, Jordy Bahl got the final nine outs of the game. In the Women’s College World Series overall, Bahl pitched 24 2/3 innings and gave up zero runs.
Oklahoma finishes the season 61-1, the best single-season record ever. The Sooners join UCLA (1988-90) as the only teams to three-peat.

Vikings will release Dalvin Cook: Where could he land? 🏈
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What’s long been expected is finally happening. According to reports, the Vikings are releasing longtime running back Dalvin Cook, who immediately becomes the top available player at the position.Cook, 28, posted his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season in 2022 and is the only player with at least 1,100 rushing yards in each of the past four seasons.

However, Cook also posted the lowest yards per rush (4.4) of his career, and of the 22 players with at least 200 carries last year, Cook ranked 20th in success rate.
The biggest issue, though, is the money: Cook was going to count roughly $14.1 million against the salary cap in 2023, $15.6 million in 2024 and $14.5 million in 2025.
By releasing Cook, the Vikings will clear up $9 million in cap space in 2023 and take on $5.1 million in dead money.
As our Cody Benjamin writes, there are clear pros and cons to this move for Minnesota, but this was always the likely outcome.

So, where to next? Our Jordan Dajani has potential landing spots for Cook, and No. 1 is…

Dajani: “Dolphins: He’s a Florida native — born in Opa-locka and played his high school ball at Miami Central. … The Dolphins don’t necessarily have a need at running back… but that won’t stop head coach Mike McDaniel from exploring this opportunity. He found success with the San Francisco 49ers scheming for the run, and wants Miami to run the ball better than it did in 2022.”
A few other reasons Miami could be the next stop?

The Dolphins are reportedly one of the frontrunners.
Cook had 83 yards from scrimmage — including a game-clinching 53-yard touchdown run — against Miami in 2022.
Cook hinted at joining the Dolphins in an Instagram post.
You can follow the latest Cook rumors here.

Champions League final preview: Finally Manchester City’s time? ⚽
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There hasn’t been a treble winner from England this millennium. Manchester City are one match from changing that. The Citizens — with the Premier League and the FA Cup already won — go for European glory when they face Inter in the UEFA Champions League final tomorrow in Istanbul.

Manchester City are massive favorites, and for good reason: there’s record-setting goal scorer Erling Haaland, a defense that has allowed just five goals in 12 Champions League matches and, of course, the brilliant Pep Guardiola managing it all — though he has some hiccups on his Champions League resume.

But don’t underestimate Inter, a team that’s been as impressive as any in this competition. Our Chuck Booth has keys to victory for both teams, and Inter might just have one key advantage:

Booth: “City are a team that can stop you no matter what you try to do, so the best way to slow them down is by matching up in midfield. Inter are a team that can do that due to their balanced midfield and organized defense. Being able to slot in Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Hakan Calhanoglu, Simone Inzaghi has quite a crew of midfielders, and it’s one that will only get deeper if Henrikh Mkhitaryan is available for the match. … Each midfielder brings different skills to the table but they’re also not afraid to play defense and sacrifice attacking numbers for the sake of the team.”
Still, our experts are unanimously picking Manchester City. Our James Benge explains:

Benge: “City have the quality and surety to assert themselves from the off and for all Inter’s midfield qualities, it is impossible to see this being anything other than a game where Guardiola’s side dominate the ball. In those circumstances, an early goal could lead to quite an underwhelming final, City trusting a defense that is one of the best this competition has ever seen to grind their way to a convincing and controlled victory. Pick: Manchester City 2, Inter 0”
Here’s more:

How to watch
Manchester City’s path here
Inter’s path here
Expert picks for the Belmont Stakes 🏇
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The final of the three Triple Crown races is this weekend — air quality-willing — as Belmont Park hosts the 155th Belmont Stakes.

Here are the horses, jockeys, trainers and owners in the nine-horse race, with favorite Forte running out of the sixth post position. Over at SportsLine, we have picks from all of our experts, including…