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BOSTON — Andrew Peeke might owe his NHL career to Stanley C. Panther.

Peeke was 4 years old when his parents took him to a skating event hosted by the Florida Panthers mascot. From there, the Parkland, Florida, native fell in love with hockey and, in turn, fell in love with the Florida Panthers.

That love was fostered by his father, Cliff Peeke, a Michigan native who was a season-ticket holder for the Panthers. Andrew practically grew up going to their arena in Sunrise, watching exciting if not always successful hockey.

“As a fan, there wasn’t a lot of playoff games or playoff atmospheres, so obviously being a fan at the time was tough,” Peeke said.

A lot has changed since then. Florida’s arena is packed for home games. The Panthers are Stanley Cup contenders. And Andrew Peeke is now rooting against them.

He has to, because they’re trying to end his season.

Peeke is defenseman for the Boston Bruins, who are facing the Panthers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. He spent most of his life hoping that one of the league’s least successful franchises could finally find success. Now, he’s trying to help his team prevent it.

“Being able to see that building full and the passion [Panthers fans] have … right now, that’s not what I care about,” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to knock them out in the next couple of games. Being able to basically say ‘screw you guys.'”

Peeke, 26, was acquired by Boston from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade on March 8. It’s his fifth season in the NHL, one limited to 38 regular-season games due to injury. He has played his first three career postseason games with the Bruins, including Game 3 against his childhood team, the Panthers.

“It’s pretty cool. If you’re going to tell young me that one day I’ve been playing against this team, I would tell you ‘no way,'” he said. “But being in this spot, obviously playing for the Bruins and having that honor, is pretty special. That it’s against your hometown team makes it even better.”


WHEN NHL PLAYERS talk about facing the team they cheered for as a young fan, they’re usually speaking of someone who used to wear Maple Leafs pajamas. It’s not typically someone who cheered for Ed “JovoCop” Jovanovski, Peeke’s favorite Florida Panther, in an arena where fans throw rubber rats on the ice.

(For the record, Peeke said he has never thrown one. Or at least he believes he hasn’t.)

Peeke is one of nearly a dozen current NHL players with roots in Florida, some of whom also grew up Panthers fans. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere idolized Pavel Bure growing up. Ottawa Senators defenseman Jakob Chychrun played in the Florida Jr. Panthers program. So did Colorado Avalanche forward Brandon Duhaime, a Coral Springs native who grew up a die-hard Panthers fan.

Like many Florida-born players with designs on a pro hockey career, Peeke left the state at 15 years old to hone his skills and get the attention of the hockey world. He credits his parents for making the financial sacrifice to send him to South Kent Prep School in Connecticut. From there, he played for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL before being drafted by the Blue Jackets No. 34 in 2016. He played three seasons for the University of Notre Dame and was the team’s captain in 2018-2019. He made his NHL debut the following season.

Could he have still forged that path had he remained in Florida?

“It’s tough to say. I don’t have the crystal ball, but every year you stay in Florida past a certain age, it’s more and more unlikely,” he said. “If you’re a scout, you’re probably not going down there as much as coming to see players in Boston.”

That might eventually change. According to USA Hockey, participation numbers in Florida continue to trend up: Over the past five years, the number of players ages 15 and 16 in Florida increased by 28%, and the number of 9- and 10-year-old players has increased by 32%

The Panthers’ recent success will only help that growth. After making the playoffs twice in 18 seasons, Florida has appeared in the postseason for five straight seasons, losing in the Stanley Cup Final last season to the Vegas Golden Knights.

“Obviously being a Florida guy, I want the game to grow, so them being in the playoffs is a great thing for Florida hockey,” Peeke said.

Unfortunately, what’s good for Florida isn’t good for Andrew Peeke this postseason.

“I have a ton of Florida fan friends, so they’re torn. But that’s their problem,” he said. “I’ve got to focus on wearing the ‘B’ and playing for the guys.”

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Braves star Acuña out for season with torn ACL

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Braves star Acuña out for season with torn ACL

Atlanta Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. will miss the rest of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Sunday’s 8-1 victory at Pittsburgh.

The reigning NL MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuña started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee gave way. Acuña remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

The Braves’ initial diagnosis was left knee soreness. But the team announced Sunday night that an MRI showed a complete ACL tear that will require season-ending surgery.

Acuña tore his right ACL on July 20, 2021. Wearing a brace in the clubhouse after Sunday’s win, the 26-year-old outfielder said this injury felt less severe.

“(I) don’t feel that painful, any pop or anything. … Don’t think it’s that bad,” Acuña said.

Acuña said he was looking to take third when he anticipated a slow throw back to the mound from catcher Joey Bart. The toss came in harder than expected, leading to an abrupt pivot back to second with his knee twisting.

Acuña is batting .250 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Atlanta already was missing All-Star right-hander Spencer Strider, whose season ended on April 13 when he had internal brace surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Third baseman Austin Riley is day to day with a left intercostal strain, and catcher Sean Murphy remains on the 10-day injured list with an oblique injury after he got hurt on opening day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Reds extend Dodgers’ skid to 5; Ohtani at ‘90%’

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Reds extend Dodgers' skid to 5; Ohtani at '90%'

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of their longest losing streak since 2019, but first baseman Freddie Freeman has no doubt that there’s no concern.

“It’s May, it’s baseball,” Freeman said. “Two weeks ago, we were winning every game. I don’t think anybody needs to question in our lineup. We’ll be fine.”

The Cincinnati Reds finished off a sweep of the Dodgers with a 4-1 victory Sunday, extending LA’s slide to five games — it’s longest since dropping six in a row April 8-13, 2019.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani went 3-for-12 in the series while dealing with a bruised right hamstring. He batted second Sunday and went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter, reaching on an infield single while scoring the Dodgers’ only run.

“It’s right around 90%,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Ohtani’s hamstring. “Assuming it will keep getting better, I feel confident that he can play smart and not push it. Talked to him about not trying to steal a base. Be smart. The value of having him in the lineup is everything.”

Los Angeles’ lineup has been hampered by inconsistency. The Dodgers scored six times in the series opener, and then scored two more over the next two games.They have been shut out twice this month while scoring two or fewer runs six times.

“When you’re not hitting, it certainly seems lifeless,” Roberts said. “Seems like we’re running cold. I know it’s not from care or preparation. Bottom line, it’s about results and we’re not getting them right now. They outplayed us this series and won three.”

Roberts hinted at a couple of changes to the lineup when the Dodgers begin a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

“Some guys might be pressing a little bit,” Roberts said. “Every time I write the lineup, I feel good that we’re going to put up some runs. It’s not a big picture-type thing. It’s certainly been two weeks where it hasn’t been good.”

Jonathan India and Nick Martini each drove in two runs for the Reds, and Brent Suter, Nick Martinez, Carson Spiers and Alexis Diaz combined for a five-hitter.

Martinez (2-3) pitched 4⅓ innings of one-hit ball on a bullpen day for Cincinnati, and Díaz got two outs for his 10th save.

“It starts with our pitchers,” Reds manager David Bell said. “They’re ready to take the ball. Starting with Brent Suter, who did his job. That’s where it starts. Nick Martinez took over. Nick continues to show when he executes his pitches how good he is. To pitch so well against this team really says a lot.”

Freeman hit an RBI double in the ninth, stopping a 0-for-22 slide for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position. Freeman then advanced on defensive indifference, but Díaz struck out Teoscar Hernandez and Andy Pages swinging.

The start of the game was moved up from 1:40 p.m. EDT to 12:10 p.m. due to the threat of severe storms that arrived in the sixth inning. The teams then waited through a delay for just over an hour.

Cincinnati scored four times in the third off Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-2). India had a bases-loaded single, and Martini’s bloop hit scored two more.

Yamamoto allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked two in five innings.

“They found a way to fight with two outs and find some outfield grass,” Roberts said. “They stayed inside the baseball. When you fight, you get those breaks sometimes. Outside of that, I thought Yoshi was fantastic. He was one hitter away from going five scoreless.”

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Dodgers: Right-hander Gavin Stone (4-2, 3.60 ERA) will oppose Mets right-hander Tylor Megill (0-2, 3.00 ERA) on Monday in the opener of a three-game series.

Reds: Left-hander Nick Lodolo (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will come off the injured list to start the series opener against the Cardinals on Monday. Lance Lynn (2-2, 3.68 ERA) starts for St. Louis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

DETROIT — Matt Vierling homered twice, including a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Jordan Romano in the ninth inning that gave Detroit a wild 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday after the Tigers wasted a five-run lead and recovered from a two-run deficit.

Vierling had four hits and tied career highs with two homers and four RBIs.

“My brother and I in the back yard, we’d always be doing situations like that,” Vierling said. “It’s kind of cool when it actually happens.”

Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and Spencer Torkelson hit a solo shot for Detroit, which led 5-0 after three innings, 8-3 after five and 9-5 after six. The Tigers set a season high for runs and tied their high with 17 hits.

Torkelson had three hits and scored three runs.

“He’s really easy to root for,” Torkelson said of Vierling. “To see him come through, we had all the faith in the world and confidence he’d get the job done there. That’s exactly what he did.”

Toronto’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa homered in the seventh off Tyler Holton, and the Blue Jays took an 11-9 lead with a five-run eighth when Bo Bichette hit a two-run single off Jason Foley and Daulton Varsho hit a three-run homer.

Toronto manager John Schneider drew some consolation by the way his team kept fighting back.

“It’s easy to kind of quit after that and the guys did the exact opposite,” he said. “Chipped away and came back with huge hits from Bo and Varsh.”

Mark Canha tied the score with a two-run single against Yimi Garcia in the bottom half, his third hit.

Vierling, who hit a solo homer in the fifth off Zach Pop, drove a full-count slider from Romano (1-2) over the left-field wall for his first big league walk-off hit. A two-time All-Star, Romano has allowed three homers this year, half his total last season.

“I was ready for that pitch that he threw me 3-2,” Vierling said. “I was kind of looking for it 2-2, as well, but it was low and I was able to check my swing enough. The next pitch was the same pitch, just a little more up.”

Mason Englert (1-0) pitched a hitless ninth for the Tigers (26-27), who won the last three games of a four-game series against the last-place Blue Jays (23-29).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his second four-hit game of the season for the Blue Jays.

Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs and eight hits in 4⅓ innings. Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings. Mize and Kikuchi are 0-3 each in their six starts.

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