Extra Time: El Clsico Edition

Extra Time: El Clsico Edition

Often, sports are overrun with hyperbole. How many times can a game, a match or a fight be billed as the game, the match or the fight of the year, the decade or the century? Typically, we fall into the hyperbole trap when two rivals are set to square off. The bitter rivals narrative is easily understandable. Two people or teams compete to see which is best. There's a winner and a loser - only when there isn't and there's a tie, which is wholly unsatisfying. 
I preface this post with a warning on hyperbole and rivalry because what I am about to say is assuredly not hyperbole. This afternoon the two best soccer players on the planet will be on opposing sides as the two best soccer teams in the world face each other. Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona. Real Madrid. El Clásico.
In order to get you ready for today's Clásico I've rounded up a bunch of links covering everything from the sociopolitical implications that fuel this rivalry to a tactical breakdown of how the teams are likely to play. Vamanos...
First, beyond the rivalry this game is vitally important in the La Liga standings. Barcelona can pull to within one point of first place Madrid with a win. Each team has five league games yet to play.
Here's a nice primer on why these two clubs are such bitter rivals. The history between these two cities/regions makes our hatred of Dallas seem like child's play. There are very real social, political and economic reasons behind this rivalry.
Every great rivalry needs a villain. Enter Madrid's Pepe. Grantland's Chris Ryan writes about a player unafraid to dabble in the dark arts. Bonus, Ryan's piece includes a 4+ minute video of Pepe stepping on people, punching people and fouling people titled "Pepe - The Assassin". 

The tacticians over at Zonal Marking preview the approach, formation, team selection and tactics likely to be employed by Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. 
Speaking of tactics, this piece dates back to Spain's triumph in the 2010 World Cup, but it's as good a read as you'll find on how Barca's 4-2-3-1 has permeated world futbol
Need a break from clicking on links and reading? Check this stunning animation from Barca's 5-0 thrashing of Madrid back in 2010...

Want even more of an artistic look at one of the main players in this match. The Classical has a fantastic hand-drawn "Focus On: Lionel 'Leo' Messi".
Continuing with a cartoonish theme, Grant Wahl has a fun interview with the colorful Ray Hudson, who along with Phil Schoen will call the game for GolTv today.
ESPN.com's Graham Hunter, who literally wrote a book on Barcelona, previews the match in light of both teams having played Champions League Semifinal fixtures midweek. 
Finally, if this game is not enough for you there's a very real chance these two teams will play each other in the Champions League finals, which Spain's national team manager contemplates here.
Artwork by Matthew Craven via The Classical

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty had four goals, Brian Flynn scored twice during a six-goal first period and the Montreal Canadiens routed the Colorado Avalanche 10-1 on Saturday night.

Flynn, Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen each scored against Calvin Pickard in the opening 7:12, and then Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Flynn each had a goal among the first four shots on Semyon Varlamov.

Pacioretty completed his hat trick in the second period and added another in the third to give the captain seven goals in his last four games.

Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry also scored for Montreal, which has shown no drop-off without injured scoring leader and first-line center Alex Galchenyuk. Montreal outshot the Avs 36-16 (see full recap).

Malkin, Crosby lead Penguins past Lightning 4-3
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby had another eventful night.

The Penguins star returned after passing concussion protocol following a first-period hit to get his 20th goal, and that stoked Pittsburgh's rally for its latest victory.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored their second goals on third-period power plays, helping the Penguins come back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday.

Crosby was shaken up by Luke Witkowski's check with eight minutes to go in the first but returned for the start of the second period (see full recap).

Late barrage helps Blue Jackets beat Islanders 6-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift (see full recap).

Matthews, Hyman score in 2nd, Maple Leafs beat Bruins 4-1
BOSTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to overcome a poor opening period.

Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored in the second period, Frederik Andersen made 32 saves and the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday night.

"The last three games the first period kind of did us in," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't start on time. We were able to hold on. It still wasn't the first period we wanted, but we didn't give up the goals and we were able to execute a little bit."

After managing only two shots on goal in the first, Toronto was happy to get to the dressing room with the game scoreless (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).