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Saturday Sports: Stanley Cup finals, surprise cricket win for the U.S.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Stanley Cup finals - can a Canadian team finally make it? Caitlin Clark and the line between tough play and playing dirty. And a cricket miracle in Texas, and I don't mean Jiminy. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: Howdy, Scott.

SIMON: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals tonight - Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers - Panthers would like to win their first ever Stanley Cup. Oilers haven't won it since 1990. Michele, it has been 31 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. Oh, my gosh - the horrors. Can they do it this time?

STEELE: Yeah, 31 lonely years for the Montreal Canadiens who won it way back when in '93. The Oilers could end that streak. You know, they do have the best player in the league right now, Connor McDavid.

SIMON: Yes.

STEELE: And it's going to be an incredible matchup tonight at puck drop. But, Scott, the Americans, the Florida Panthers, they're just a deeper team, you know? They got a 60-goal scorer who might be the third or fourth best player on their team. They have the better goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, who's been outstanding all postseason. And you know what? They've got motivation. The Panthers were in this exact same spot...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...A year ago. They lost in the Stanley Cup final, and they want to finish the job this time.

SIMON: You reported something for ESPN this week (laughter) about a superstition the Panther players have developed.

STEELE: Yeah, it's kind of, like, a weird reporting niche for me. I really love talking about superstitions with guys. And this is not routine. This is something that you do that might be a little bit irrational, that, for whatever reason, is working. And that 60-goal scorer I talked about - Sam Reinhart - he's on the Florida Panthers. He told me that a superstition that he's developed this season after pregame skate during Round 2 of the playoffs - this was, like, a month ago in Boston - he and a couple guys decided to take an Uber back to the hotel instead of the team bus. They won the game that night. They have avoided the team bus ever since. So whatever works...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...For them. And, you know, hopefully for him, they take more Ubers the rest of this series.

SIMON: And I hope they tip well - whatever, OK.

STEELE: I'm sure...

SIMON: Those guys are millionaires.

STEELE: ...Well, they will have to now.

SIMON: Yeah. Thank you. Look - WNBA getting a lot of attention this week. And the league's physicality came under scrutiny after Caitlin Clark was painfully shoulder-checked by Chennedy Carter of the Chicago Sky. Some called it dirty play. Others say it's just a welcome-to-the-WNBA-kid moment. Is it more than hazing?

STEELE: Well, it wasn't a basketball play. That much is clear. Chennedy Carter from the Sky uttered an expletive, actually, before she shoved Clark, before the ball had even been inbounded. I was at Sky practice this week, and Carter expressed no regrets. She essentially just said she was playing Clark really hard.

And agree or disagree with that, we have seen Clark and a number of high-profile rookies, like Angel Reese in Chicago, experience those hard fouls so far this season. And we've seen this in other leagues and other generations, whether it's Shaq or Jordan or Kobe. When you come into the league as a generational talent with a little bit of hype on you, sometimes veteran players want to show it's not going to be as easy as it was in college. And I think that's a little bit of what we're seeing so now - right now.

You know, Clark is bringing in a lot of new eyeballs to the WNBA. Maybe people aren't used to seeing the women's game be so physical. We're seeing a lot of debate and discussion about it right now. I think it's great for the WNBA. More is more for them, and Caitlin Clark talked about it, and she's fine.

SIMON: OK. And in a few words, are you surprised she was left off Team USA's Olympic roster this summer?

STEELE: You know, I am surprised. I'm not shocked, just 'cause I heard mumblings earlier this year in the women's basketball world asking, you know, who could you really leave off this roster for Caitlin Clark? It's a really, really deep talent pool on the U.S. side for the women. I'm a little surprised because there would have been a lot of eyeballs on those games...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...But not shocked.

SIMON: Finally, a massive upset in men's T20 Cricket World Cup. The United States beat the perennial powerhouse...

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Pakistan. And I can't even - cricket scores are impossible to give. The most important victory ever for American cricket - help put this victory into some perspective, Michele.

STEELE: Yeah, you know, I had to consult with a cricket expert here. I have a colleague, Ben Baby, who covers the NFL, but he watches a lot of cricket. And he said this is like Trinidad and Tobago beating Germany in the World Cup. Others have called it the biggest upset in international play since the...

SIMON: That...

STEELE: ...Miracle on Ice.

SIMON: You know, that's an analogy that is lost on me but go ahead.

STEELE: (Laughter) Yeah. Well, the Miracle on Ice - we all know that, right?

SIMON: Miracle on Ice I know, yeah.

STEELE: A bunch of college hockey players from the United States defeating the Soviet Union - this is on that level. I'll say this much. Most of us don't understand the rules of cricket. I am one of them. But we are dominating right now, so on that note, USA, Scott.

SIMON: Yes. Ooh, ooh, ooh, USA. Michele Steele of ESPN...

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Thanks so much for being with us.

STEELE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.