The Florida Panthers are continuing to defy all expectations. They went from being a guaranteed first round exit to stunningly upsetting the President’s Trophy winners, the Boston Bruins, in seven games after coming back from a 3-1 deficit and then dominating the division rival Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5 game series that was close despite the short series (all the games except Game 1 were one goal games). Now they sit only four games away from their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1996, when the team they’ll be facing in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Carolina Hurricanes, didn’t even exist yet. Carolina is a formidable foe all their own, and will provide an incredibly difficult challenge for the Cats. However, this team has pulled off shocks before in this postseason and could very easily do it again.
THE CAROLINA CONNECTION
This Panthers team has a lot of connections to the Carolina Hurricanes organization. Many players, coaches, and even executives in the Panthers organization either worked or played for the Hurricanes before coming to work for the Panthers. In a way, it’ll be a homecoming for some and a chance for revenge for others. Beginning in the front office, one of the Panthers’ assistant general managers, Paul Krepelka, served as the Hurricanes’ Vice President of Hockey Operations from 2018 to 2020 before joining the Panthers’ front office when Bill Zito became the general manager. Rick Dudley, currently a Senior Adviser to the General Manager for the Panthers, served as the Hurricanes’ Senior Vice President from 2018 to 2020 before coming to the Panthers along with Krepelka in the major changes to the front office once Zito became the GM. Several coaches in the organization ended up playing or coaching with the Hurricanes’ organization as well. Paul Maurice had two separate stints with the Hurricanes, the first going from 1995-96 (when they were still the Hartford Whalers) to 2003-04, and the second going from 2008-09 to 2011-12. In his tenure with the Hurricanes, Maurice managed to get the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 (not much notable success happened apart from those deep runs though). Current Panthers assistant coach Tuomo Ruutu spent most of his prime seasons in the late-2000s/early-2010s playing with the Hurricanes, where he played under Paul Maurice, although Ruutu has been an assistant on the Panthers staff going back to the 2021-22 season, the only holdover from the staff that coached the Panthers to their President’s Trophy win. Even at the AHL level, both of the Charlotte Checkers’ assistant coaches, Jared Staal (Eric and Marc’s brother) and Bobby Sanguinetti both spent the entirety or vast majority, respectively, of their NHL careers playing for the Carolina Hurricanes. Now, we can get to the players on the ice who will get a chance at revenge against their old team. The first is Eric Staal, who was only 21 when the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup (although he was the team’s leading scorer with 100 points) and was in Carolina until 2015-16 when he was traded to the New York Rangers. Eetu Luostarinen was a 2017 2nd round pick of the Hurricanes who played 8 games for them before being traded to Florida as part of the Vincent Trocheck deal, spending the vast majority of his time with the Hurricanes organization playing for their then-AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers (who are now Florida’s AHL affiliate). Both AHL journeymen Zac Dalpe and Alex Lyon spent time in the Hurricanes organization and played several games for the Canes throughout their respective tenures there before signing with Florida. Finally, Gustav Forsling was a member of the Hurricanes organization after being acquired from Chicago in a deal for Calvin de Haan back in 2019 who was placed on waivers prior to the start of the 2021 56-game season, when he was claimed by Florida and then emerged as a legitimate top-4 defenseman at the NHL level. The links between Florida and Carolina are numerous and in some cases, pretty complicated. Whatever the case, the prior relationships and connections between these players, coaches, and executives with the Carolina organization makes for a really interesting storyline heading into the series.
The Florida Panthers offense in the postseason has been lethal; not necessarily in terms of volume scoring, but more in terms of relentlessly pressuring opposing players into making mistakes or bad turnovers that they can cash into goals. Matthew Tkachuk continues his incredible performance and even though he didn’t score during the second round series against the Maple Leafs, he still leads the team in points this postseason with 16 of them (5 goals, 11 assists) and has an xGF% of 66.1% (meaning that 66.1% of the expected goals while Tkachuk was on the ice was for his own team), good enough for 18th overall among forwards in the entire league this playoffs. Brandon Montour and Sam Reinhart both lead the team in goals this postseason with each player getting 6 goals. Carter Verhaeghe is the only other Panther to have double digit points in the postseason with 12 points in the team’s 12 playoff games (5 goals, 7 assists). Aleksander Barkov even has 9 points despite an awful shooting percentage of 5.9% and a poor xGF% of 42.66% (although that has improved as the playoffs have progressed). Sam Bennett has 4 goals and 4 assists to go along with his relentless energy and pressure on the forecheck, which has led to him having a great xGF% of 64.5%. A lot of the Panthers’ depth has come to life in the postseason if it doesn’t show up on the scoresheet. Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen have both been key cogs on a young and fast third line and Nick Cousins has been a pest that can turn the momentum of the game in the Panthers’ favor. Both those third liners also had key assists on Sam Reinhart’s overtime winner in Game 3 against Toronto and Nick Cousins scored the series winning goal in overtime in Game 5 of that series. The Panthers offense has also been able to generate plenty of chances off the rush thanks to their speed, which has also been a huge asset in the forechecking game; this offense can score in many different ways and with three different lines, which is part of what’s made them so dangerous in this postseason.
Carolina’s offense isn’t a slouch. Much of the hype around the Canes goes towards their defense and their structure, but offensively, this team is just as potent as the Panthers. Both teams have scored 40 goals this postseason so far and the Hurricanes, like the Panthers, have depth in the wings that can make life miserable for opposing defense. Leading the charge for the Hurricanes is Sebastian Aho, an excellent centerman who excels at every aspect of the game. He has 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) and has an xGF% of 59.95%, a very good number for a very good player. Jordan Martinook, usually seen as more of a depth winger, is having a breakout postseason as he’s tied with Aho on points (3 goals, 7 assists) and is an absolute nightmare to deal with on the forecheck. Even Jesper Fast is having a solid postseason with 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists), an xGF% of 60.14% (ahead of David Pastrnak’s number from this postseason), and speed and energy that makes the Canes’ middle six a pain for opposing defenses. Jordan Staal, the stalwart captain and veteran leader for the Hurricanes has also had a strong postseason with 8 points and a calm leadership that helps the youth stay steady during big moments. Seth Jarvis, a 2020 first round pick taken one spot after the Panthers selected Anton Lundell, has 8 points and his speed and tenacity are being heralded as a huge difference maker for Carolina this postseason. Carolina’s offense is far more based on getting opportunities off the cycle and an aggressive forecheck, which could cause problems for the Panthers’ more giveaway-prone defense. Much like Florida, Carolina is a team that can get scoring from any of their lines and is a nightmare to deal with on the forecheck. They have an excellent mix of veterans and youth throughout the forward core (and a helping of offense from the backend thanks to 8 points from Brent Burns and 6 points each from Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin) and are a team that can play with speed and aggression that can match Florida’s.
Advantage: Florida, but not by much. Arguably, this might be the most even aspect of the game between the two teams. Both teams have 40 goals in the postseason (despite Carolina playing one less game in the first two rounds than Florida) and both can score off opportunities from the cycle and the forecheck. I give the advantage to Florida here since the Panthers are more versatile in their attack and can score more off the rush. Panthers coach Paul Maurice may say that the rush game disappears in the postseason, but as we’ve seen from the Panthers this postseason and other teams in recent years, speed and generating opportunities off the rush is extremely important for playoff success. If this series opens up and becomes a track meet, expect the Panthers to be better suited to that style than the Hurricanes.
The Panthers’ defense in the postseason has been passable. Not great, but passable. Of the four teams remaining, they have the highest expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) and it’s not that close: the Panthers’ xGA/60 sits at 2.76, while Carolina’s sits at 2.53. That number from the Panthers is actually worse than the number from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team the Panthers eliminated in the second round, whose xGA/60 is 2.56. Offensively, the Panthers’ unit is led by breakout star Brandon Montour, whose 9 points lead the team among defensemen and whose xGF% of 57.21% is 23rd among all playoff defensemen this season. Interestingly, 22nd on that xGF% list is Josh Mahura, whose put up a mark of 58.27% despite his very limited usage out on the ice. Gustav Forsling and Aaron Ekblad have 5 points apiece, but both have been relatively caved in in the postseason as Ekblad’s xGF% is a not great 44.4% while Forsling’s is an even worse 40.9%. Even more concerning is that both of them have been very prone to giveaways this postseason, Forsling has 11 of them, 9 of which are defensive zone giveaways, while Ekblad has 7, 6 of which have been in his own zone. Marc Staal actually ties Forsling’s mark with 11 giveaways, 9 of which have been in his own zone. This giveaway-prone defense will likely be an issue for the Panthers against the extremely aggressive Carolina Hurricanes forecheck and cycle offense, which wears teams down and generates chances in bunches. The Panthers defense can produce offensively and has done a great job in the postseason of getting shots on net quickly when in the offensive zone, but they will need to be smarter with the puck and stronger in control of it in order to survive this series against the Hurricanes.
Carolina’s defense is hyped up as the strongest part of that team’s game, and that’s for a good reason. Not only can this team produce offensively, but they are excellent defensively as well. Brent Burns has had a career renaissance in Carolina, and that has continued into the postseason. Not only is he putting up points, but he also is 12th in the league among defensemen in xGF% with 61.4%, ahead of basically every defenseman on a team still left in the postseason. His partner Jaccob Slavin has contributed 5 points of his own and is 20th among defensemen with an xGF% of 58.63%. Slavin has been seen for years as one of the most underrated defensemen in the league and arguably the best defensive defenseman in the league and frankly, it’s not hard to see why. Brett Pesce also has a reputation has a solid defensive defenseman, yet he’s been caved in in the postseason with a ghoulish xGF% of 37.89%. However, he has yet to take a penalty in the postseason while drawing 10 minutes worth of penalties from opponents and leads the Hurricanes in blocked shots with 19. Slavin has 19 blocks as well. Interestingly, this is on par with Panthers blueliners like Gus Forsling, who has 20 blocks, and Aaron Ekblad, who has 19. The Hurricanes defense has only allowed 2.53 xGA/60 so far in the postseason though, and while Brady Skjei does have 16 giveaways, 10 of which are defensive zone giveaways, the only other Hurricane with double digit giveaways in Brent Burns who has 10 of them. The Hurricanes’ defense is giveaway prone is well, but is far better at getting takeaways. They have 50 giveaways collectively as a unit this postseason (the Panthers only have 45), but the defense also has 43 takeaways compared to the Panthers’ mark of 30 takeaways. The Panthers are also more prone to turning the puck over in their own defensive zone, with 39 defensive zone giveaways compared to Carolina’s 35. There are some weaknesses to this group, but they do seem to be more careful in their own zone and have fantastic structure to boot. The Panthers can force turnovers and wear this group down and they will have to in order to neutralize what arguably may be Carolina’s greatest strength.
Advantage: Carolina. Their structure and ability to get takeaways while also limiting opposition chances is something that could cause major headaches for the Panthers in this series. Florida’s proneness for giveaways in their own end also does not bode well for the Panthers in this series especially considering how good Carolina is at getting chances off the cycle and how good Carolina is at keeping the puck in the zone and keeping the pressure on. Defensively, the Hurricanes have better structure, are safer with the puck in their own zone, and better at limiting opposition chances. If this becomes a battle of the defenses, expect the series to go Carolina’s way.
The key to the Florida Panthers’ success this postseason has been in net. Sergei Bobrovsky has been absolutely fantastic during this postseason. In his 10 postseason games so far, Bobrovsky leads the league in Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAE) with 9.3 and leads all goalies remaining in the playoffs with a GSAE/60 of 0.97. The only goaltenders with a better mark than Bob’s GSAE/60 number are Edmonton’s Jack Campbell and New York’s Igor Shesterkin, both of whom played 7 games or less. Bobrovsky also had an incredible series against the Maple Leafs, putting up a SV% above .940 and a goals against average under 2.00. Almost 2.5 of his GSAE came from Game 5 against Toronto alone. Sergei Bobrovsky is scorching hot right now and his incredible performance has helped the Panthers steal several games against Boston and Toronto. I would argue that Bobrovsky should be the front runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Panthers so manage to pull off the impossible and win the Stanley Cup. Bob has firmly wrested control of the net away from Alex Lyon, who may get some time if needed, but likely will spend his time on the bench.
For the Carolina Hurricanes, their goaltending isn’t as heralded, but has put up solid performances all their own. They’ve split the net between Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta so far during this postseason. Andersen’s numbers aren’t as otherworldly, but his 3.9 GSAE actually is third in the entire league behind only Bob and Igor Shesterkin. His GSAE/60 number is 5th in the league at 0.701, so while Andersen hasn’t been as otherworldly as Bob has been, he’s been a very good goalie for Carolina in the postseason and has been a more than capable backstop for them as they look for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 2006. Antti Raanta has played the other 5 postseason games for Carolina and has played solid enough in his time even though his numbers have not been as solid as Andersen’s. Raanta’s GSAE sits at 0.4, which puts him 14th out of 28 goalies, so right there in the middle. His GSAE/60 of 0.08 also puts him right there in the middle. Raanta has given the Hurricanes average goaltending in the postseason, which can be passable, but I doubt that that would be enough to beat the Panthers if Bobrovsky continues his great form. The Hurricanes do have a choice to make in net, but will likely lean on Freddie Andersen until he hits a bad spot of form, then maybe they make a switch.
Advantage: Florida. As good as Freddie Andersen has been for Carolina, Sergei Bobrovsky has just been better. If both goalies are playing well, then Florida will likely have the better netminder in the series. Carolina can at least have a solid backup option, but you can only play one goalie at a time and Sergei Bobrovsky being as good as he’s been makes it hard to not give the advantage in this crucial department to the underdogs. Once again, if Bobrovsky plays as well as everyone knows he can, then the Panthers can easily steal some more wins and get to the Cup Finals. Andersen can at least be within spitting distance of Bob, but I doubt that he’ll be able to match or exceed Bobrovsky’s performance.
The Florida Panthers’ power play has been quite good this postseason. Unlike last year, where the team just could not score on the power play at all in the postseason, this team is at least scoring at a normal rate. The Panthers’ power play sits at 27.6%, which is 6th in the league among playoff teams and behind only Dallas among teams in the Conference Finals. The numbers have been solid and the power play has been able to make a seemingly strong unit in Boston look average at best, so there is a huge strength for the Panthers in that regard. On the penalty kill though, the Panthers have been… mediocre at best. Their performance on the kill against Toronto was an improvment over the performance against Boston, but the team’s penalty kill is 13th among playoff teams at 65.8%. Surprisingly, Vegas’ penalty kill has been worse in the postseason and they made the Conference Finals as well, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but I think that the Panthers would prefer if that PK improved and managed to be at least passable against the Hurricanes. At times, the PK for the Panthers has been criticized as overly aggressive, which is something that Carolina may look to take advantage of early in the series, but as the series goes on and the refs start to swallow their whistles more, the Panthers’ penalty kill will need to be up to the task the way they were against Toronto.
Carolina, interestingly, is on the opposite side of the coin. They have a weak power play and a very strong penalty kill. Their power play sits at an 18.9% conversion rate, which is 9th in the league among playoff teams, and of the last four teams, is only ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights (seems to me that Vegas’ special teams are having an awful postseason). Carolina’s team, built on defense and structure, seems to be taking that same philosophy and structure into their special teams play. While the power play is mediocre, the penalty kill for the Hurricanes is the best in the league this postseason with a conversion rate of 90%. If they can remain structured and force the Panthers into taking low-danger shots, then they can keep the Panthers decent power play off the score sheet, which could be very important for the Hurricanes if they want to win. Carolina will need to be able to get through the Panthers’ penalty kill and score more goals especially considering how good the Panthers tend to be 5 on 5, but they could do that if the Panthers’ penalty kill reverts back to the poor form they showed in the regular season, but the Hurricanes’ penalty kill is incredibly structured and should be able to keep the Panthers from dominating the special teams battle.
Advatnage: Neither. I think that this more or less cancels out. The Panthers’ solid power play and weak penalty kill seems to be pretty balanced compared to the Hurricanes’ mediocre power play and strong penalty kill. If I had to pick one, I’d lean slightly in Carolina’s favor considering that their PK is incredible while Florida’s power play is merely good, but I think that there isn’t much separating these two teams in this regard, so it’s too close to call as to who has the advantage in this aspect of the game. Much like the rest of the series, this seems like a relatively even match between the two teams.
Paul Maurice has been excellent this postseason. He hasn’t really put a foot wrong all postseason and has done a good job keeping the players fired up while also making sure that they don’t get too distracted from the task at hand. He’s kept the players organized and has finally gotten full buy-in on the playoff hockey style of play that he was brought in to implement. His line deployments have been good and he hasn’t really made amjor mistakes. His team easily took the series to Toronto and managed to completely dominate the series thanks to that aggressive style. He even managed to get some semblance of structure to a defense whose best defensive defenseman this season has arguably been 36-year-old Marc Staal. In the postseason, Maurice has been doing very well as a coach so far and despite the earlier criticism of him and his tenure, the team stuck with him and he’s stuck to his philosophy and it’s finally started to pay off. Credit should be due to the coach for some of the success in the postseason, and while he has not done anything particularly wrong, he may be facing arguably his toughest competition in the battle of wits behind the bench.
Rod Brind’Amour is arguably one of the best coaches in the league right now. He’s made the postseason in every season he’s been a head coach in the NHL and his teams have usually done very well in the postseason. He’s built an incredible structure with Carolina defensively and has built an offense that can withstand injuries to key players like Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov. That structure has made decent goalies look like great goalies and helped turn good players into star players. Brind’Amour has, once again, done an excellent job in the postseason coaching the Hurricanes to their second conference finals appearance in his five year tenure as head coach. He’s a coach that his players love playing for and someone who can get the best out of everyone while keeping everyone organized and structured in a way that can not only produce great advanced analytics, but also generate great results on the ice. Arguably, he’s the best coach remaining in the postseason and he seemes destined for multiple Stanley Cups as a head coach.
Advantage: Carolina. This isn’t meant to be an indictment or a criticism of Paul Maurice. This is more just a testament to how good of a coach Rod Brind’Amour is. The guy stacks up against almost any other coach in the league and again, I would argue that he’s the best coach remaining in the postseason. Maurice has been solid so far, but it’s hard to not give the advantage to Rod Brind’Amour in the coaching department.
The Panthers continue to have luck, momentum, and swagger on their side. They’ve had plenty of blocks and hits and play with plenty of toughness throughout the season. See Nick Cousins for details on where that’s coming from. The Panthers’ ability to play that playoff hockey has been terrific in the postseason and they have been terrific at the mental game that goes on in the postseason. This team is confident and clearly believes in themselves. However, there is a level of concern about experience as the only players on the roster who are actually able to play that have made it to the conference finals before this season are the Staal brothers, Carter Verhaeghe, and Nick Cousins. Not even key stalwarts like Sergei Bobrovsky, Matthew Tkachuk, or Sam Bennett have been to the conference finals before, so this is new territory for the vast majority of the Panthers roster, which could be something that maybe sullies their mojo as they face a Carolina team with a majority of players who have been to the conference finals before. That didn’t stop them against Boston though, but every series is different.
The Hurricanes are a team awash with experience and veteran leadership. Key players like Jordan Staal, Jordan Martinook, and Jesper Fast (all between the ages of 30 and 34) that have been critical performers in the postseason provide an extra level of leadership and tenacity that help shepherd along younger players like Seth Jarvis, who has plenty of youth and tenacity, but clearly is learning a lot from the experienced leaders in the room about how to properly perform in the postseason without sacrificing that energy or speed. Many key players like Sebastian Aho, Brent Burns, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Teuvo Teravainen all have experience in the conference finals before from Carolina’s appearance in the conference finals back in 2019. Carolina has plenty of tenacity and energy as well and they will be coming into this series confident that they have what it takes to finally get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. They’re energetic, tenacious, and hard-working; not much more you can ask for on that regard.
Advantage: Carolina, but only slightly. Both teams are coming in with a lot of confidence and both teams have plenty of speed, teancity, and work ethic. However, I think that the Hurricanes being more experienced in the conference finals is what puts the over the Panthers here. I expect both teams to play very gritty hockey and to rely a lot on veteran leaders and tenacious blue-collar heroes, but Carolina having been here before with a lot of their core pieces gives them the slightest advantage in the intangibles department for me.
For Florida, the X-factor is going to be defense. I could say goaltending, but I’ll mix it up for this one and say the defense. Carolina generates the vast majority of their chances on an extremely aggressive forecheck and off the cycle, so it will be critical for the Panthers defensemen to get the puck out of the zone quickly and to make sure that they can evade the forecheck and handle the pressure that Carolina is going to be sending their way. If the defense can bend and not break, then the Panthers will have a chance at limiting Carolina’s forecheck-and-cycle game, which neutralizes thier offense greatly since they don’t really have the weapons to score consistently off the rush right now with Svechnikov out injured. If the Panthers defense gives away bad turnovers, makes bad outlet passes, and struggles to clear the zone quickly, they will have a very difficult time handling the Hurricanes’ attack and could make life very difficult for Sergei Bobrovsky in the crease behind them.
For Carolina, the X-factor is going to be their forward depth. If they can keep four lines rolling and keep their guys on the ice fresh, then they can make life miserable for the Panthers and force them to over-exert themselves defensively or to make bad mistakes while they are worn down in their own zone. As long as Carolina’s depth is producing, Florida will have to be able to be conditioned enough to handle the waves of lines coming at them aggressively on the forecheck. Should Carolina’s depth struggle to score however, the task of neutralizing the Hurricanes offense becomes slightly easier for the Panthers. At the end of the day, Carolina will likely try to take advantage of the Panthers’ uneven deployment of their star players and try to tire those guys out as the game progresses. If they manage to do that while remaining structured and cashing in the chances that they get, then they’ll likely be able to finally flummox a Florida Panthers team that has punched well above their weight in the postseason.
PLAYER TO WATCH
For the Panthers, my player to watch is Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers’ #1 defenseman will need to be on his A-game this series in order for the Panthers to have a chance. Ekblad played well in the Toronto series and will now have some confidence heading into a series that will be a big challenge for him and the rest of the defense. If he can be a steady, calm presence and make sure that the Panthers can get out of their own zone quickly, then they should be able to contain that Hurricanes’ cycling and forecheck that caused so many issues for the Devils in the second round. Ekblad will be crucial for the Panthers in order to weather the storm defensively, and it would most certainly help if he could chip in some points on the offensive end as well to spell Brandon Montour, who’s played very well so far, but has looked to be slightly fading as the Toronto series progressed. Whatever the case, Ekblad will need to be playing very well in order for the Panthers to win.
For the Hurricanes, my player to watch is Sebastian Aho. Interestingly, there are a lot of people who seem to be divided on Aho. Is he a superstar? Is he a face of a franchise? Or is he just a really good top-6 shutodwn center? This series may provide the answer. Aho is an excellent center who can do basically almost everything right, yet he often doesn’t get a lot of recognition (could it be because he was merely a 2nd round pick while other centers of his country went higher in the draft? Maybe). Interstingly, he goes up against another fantastic center from Finland in Aleksander Barkov. If he can outduel Barkov, then that basically announces to the world that Sebastian Aho truly is a superstar center. Being the number one center, Aho will have to be the ringmaster of whatever offensive circus the Hurricanes try to put on at PNC Arena this series. It will be critical for him to not only produce on offense, but also to shut down Barkov and outperform his countryman in order for the Hurricanes to win. Aho has the ability to do it, but if he doesn’t, then he’ll likely be dismissed as a player who just has “great analytics” by certain sects of the hockey fandom.
HURRICANES IN 7… NO, PANTHERS IN 7… NO, HURRICANES IN 7
Ok, I’ll be honest. This one is just too close to call. I can’t really separate these two teams that much. The only thing I’m certain of is that this series will go the full seven games. Carolina could easily dominate the Panthers defensively, but I could see the Panthers giving Carolina some fits, especially since Carolina’s offense does like to have possession of the puck (which tends to not bode well for a team in the postseason) and if Sergei Bobrovsky continues to play at the ridiculously high level he’s been playing at so far in the postseason. Whatever the case may be, this will be a fun series between two very evenly matched teams. Get your popcorn and your heart medication of choice… because this is where the fun begins.
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