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USATSI

Happy Monday morning, all. Hope you had a great weekend.

Let's get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to...

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THE TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING...

As it turns out, not only does lightning strike the same place twice... it can strike thrice, too. The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading to their third straight Stanley Cup Final after beating the Rangers 2-1 in Saturday night's Game 6. The Lightning will face the Colorado Avalanche with the chance to pull off the rare three-peat.

  • Steven Stamkos scored both goals for the hosts, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 20 of 21 shots.
  • This playoffs, Tampa Bay has rallied from a 3-2 series deficit against the Maple Leafs and a 2-0 series deficit against the Rangers -- sandwiched around a sweep of the Panthers.
  • The Lightning are seeking to become the first team to win three straight titles since the Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

The Lightning front office -- and its star-studded roster -- deserves enormous credit for yet another run to the Final, writes hockey expert Austin Nivison.

  • Nivison: "While Tampa Bay gets some criticism for the way it circumvents the NHL's salary cap, you have to tip your cap to general manager Julien BriseBois and this group of core players. The Lightning have had to make some tough financial decisions every year, but BriseBois has been able to find replacements while keeping his key veterans like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. Those players also deserve a lot of credit for staying hungry every season and not giving in to an ounce of complacency."

The road to a third straight Cup won't be easy: The Avalanche won both head-to-head matchups this season and are averaging a league-high 4.64 goals in the playoffs. But the Lightning certainly will own the experience advantage, and they've shown this playoffs that they won't be rattled by a slow start. It should be an awesome series starting Wednesday night.

... AND ALSO A GOOD MORNING TO RORY McILROY AND CHARL SCHWARTZEL

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Rory McIlroy had plenty of strong words regarding LIV Golf leading into this weekend's RBC Canadian Open. Then he let his play do the talking... until finally getting in one more jab at the Saudi Arabia-backed league.

As for the golf itself, McIlroy couldn't have picked a much better time -- both for himself and for the PGA Tour -- to play some of his best golf. It was an ideal way to go into this week's US Open at Brookline for McIlroy. For his league, it delivered some much-needed star power in the winner's circle, notes golf expert Kyle Porter.

As for LIV Golf action, Charl Schwartzel won the league's debut event in London, earning a cool $4 million in the process. His team, Stingers GC, also won the team event, meaning Schwartzel and teammates Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Hennie du Plessis split an additional $3 million.

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As we've mentioned before, that sort of money is the tour's most attractive quality for players. And even with top names like Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson not much of a factor in this event, it was a solid start for the league, notes golf reporter Patrick McDonald.

  • McDonald: "Golf shots were shown in abundance, changes were made in between rounds and the short, five-hour viewing window was comparable to most other major sports. It is clear they were monitoring social media channels and listening to viewers' criticism, as the inclusion of a leaderboard and the dismissal of various alert sounds were evidence enough. Additional modifications will inevitably unfold and the strength of future competition should help move the product forward."

Honorable mentions

Not so honorable mentions

Expert picks, previews for tonight's Celtics-Warriors Game 5 🏀

The best-of-seven NBA Finals has become a best-of-three series after Stephen Curry's Game 4 masterpiece tied the series at two games apiece.

Curry -- whose 43 points were his second-most in a Finals game -- has been so good that it has NBA expert Brad Botkin asking the question: Could Curry by Finals MVP even if the Warriors lose?

  • Botkin: "He will have to continue on his current torrid pace through the end. That's how it should be. For a losing player to win MVP, the gap has to be so wide that it's overwhelming. So far, that's been the case. ... Considering the all-time defense he's facing, and the lack of help he's receiving from his own team, what Curry is doing right now is superhuman."

Only one player -- Jerry West in 1969 -- has won Finals MVP as part of the losing team, and history says Curry won't have to worry about becoming the second if Golden State wins tonight: Teams that win Game 5 of a best-of-seven tied 2-2 win the series over 80 percent of the time.

One slight problem for Golden State? The Celtics are a perfect 7-0 following a loss this postseason, and five of those seven wins have been by double digits. So, can Boston keep that going? Or will the Warriors finally take the series lead? Our NBA experts have made their picks. Here's our columnist Bill Reiter's take:

  • Reiter: "The Celtics are younger, more athletic, deeper, better on defense and on a remarkable run of resilience and top-notch basketball since turning their season around toward the end of January. But they don't have Stephen Curry. And, as we saw in Game 4, nor can they stop him. ... Pick: Golden State -3.5 | Warriors 112, Celtics 107"

Mo Donegal wins Belmont Stakes, Derby winner Rich Strike finishes sixth 🏇

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Mo Donegal came into the 154th Belmont Stakes as a 5-2 favorite, and down the home stretch, he showed why, pulling away to win by three lengths over second-place Nest.

  • It's Hall-of-Fame trainer Todd Pletcher's fourth time winning the Belmont Stakes and first since Tapwrit in 2017. Pletcher also trains Nest, so he got a 1-2 finish.
  • It's jockey Irad Ortiz's second Belmont. He also won in 2016 with Creator.
  • Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike finished sixth. Preakness winner Early Voting did not run.

Mo Donegal had a tough Kentucky Derby, finishing fifth, and then skipped the Preakness in late May, but he delivered in a big way on Long Island over the weekend.

What we're watching Monday 📺

🏀 NBA Finals Game 5: Celtics at Warriors, 9 p.m. on ABC