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April 19, 2018
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The NHL's newest expansion team did not project to spend this year being golden, and certainly not every night. But that's exactly what the Vegas Golden Knights — a collection of hockey players assembled via an expansion draft but 10 months ago — have done this season.

The Golden Knights won the top seed in the NHL's Pacific Division during the regular season, and on Tuesday they completed a sweep of their division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round of the playoffs. To date, the Golden Knights franchise has not lost a playoff game.

It's a far cry from what was expected when the season began — and for faithful fans, it could prove lucrative. ESPN noted Thursday that the Golden Knights began the season with 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, but they are now "co-favorites" with the Nashville Predators to emerge on top, with 4-1 odds.

Not only that, but the Las Vegas-based gaming company Station Casinos is offering its most loyal customers the opportunity to place a "free bet" on the Golden Knights to win the Cup, ESPN's Darren Rovell reports. The free bets will be doled out at random, with values from $5 to $250, but all will wager that the Golden Knights will emerge as champions this June and be tied to the 4-1 odds.

Enrollees of Station Casinos' loyalty program, known as Boarding Pass members, can visit any participating Station Casinos location on April 23 and swipe their loyalty card to redeem their vouchers. More fairweather gamblers can visit that day to try to amass enough loyalty points to earn a Boarding Pass, and then immediately redeem their free bet.

The Golden Knights will face the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference semifinals. Safe to say, they are excited. Kimberly Alters

11:30 a.m. ET

Animal lovers, rejoice. In what PETA is claiming as a victory for "animal liberation," Barnum's Animals crackers have been freed from their oppressive illustrated cages.

For 116 years, animals gracing the snack menagerie's red boxes have been trapped behind bars and sequestered into a circus boxcar. But after a request from PETA, Nabisco has relocated the creatures to the African savannah, the animal rights group announced Tuesday.

Despite the fact that these uncaged creatures are purely fictional, PETA counts the move as "evidence that people are embracing compassion for animals like never before," per its blog post. It's a victory in the same vein as the closure of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the end of many exotic animal acts, PETA says.

Barnum's shortbread animals are still trapped inside their iconic red box, but that's an easy fix for anyone with an appetite. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:04 a.m. ET
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Slack is raking in the dough.

The messaging platform said Tuesday that it raised $427 million in a new round of funding, CNBC reports, pushing it to a total of $1.26 billion in funding. The company is now worth more than $7.1 billion. Less than a year ago, it was worth $5 billion.

The new valuation pushes Slack into the upper echelons of Silicon Valley's newest tech start-ups. Since launching in 2014, the company has attracted 8 million users, with 3 million paying subscribers. The platform, often used for professional organization and collaboration, has already absorbed one of its biggest competitors and has promised to keep growing for at least a year before going public.

That means Slack is now worth more than Vox Media ($1 billion), Yelp ($3.68 billion), and Warby Parker ($1.75 billion) combined, nearly as much as Squarespace ($1.7 billion), The New York Times ($3.9 billion), and ZocDoc ($1.8 billion) combined, and more than twice as much as Oscar Health ($3 billion).

Whether the joy of sending emojis and GIFs to coworkers is worth billions of dollars is debatable, but the company has made a strong case for itself as a replacement for workplace email. It plans to take on big competitors like Google and Microsoft next, and its 40 percent growth in just one year has executives excited about the future. "We pursued this additional investment to ... take advantage of the massive opportunity in front of us," the company said in the announcement. Read more at Financial Times. Summer Meza

10:54 a.m. ET
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

In 2014, members of Congress held about 550 town hall events to engage with their constituents during August recess. In 2016, they held around 450. This year, just 180 town halls are scheduled for the recess, and some 30 percent of those will be held by just five lawmakers.

The rationale for retreating to smaller or more private events or moving to a conference call or online venue is simple: It's less messy. Town halls offer angry constituents a space to vent their rage, and they do, often loudly.

For example, Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) has not held a town hall for more than a year. "Since ObamaCare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go," Brat complained in 2017. "They come up — 'When is your next town hall?' And believe me, it's not to give positive input."

"People have come to expect disrupters on both sides. And, you know, you just gotta move on and not be flustered and not worry about it," Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) told Politico. The alternative, Jones argued, is not acceptable for public representatives. "It'd be real easy to go talk to only people who love you, but you represent everybody," he said. "You don't need to get locked in your own echo chamber like so many people are doing in this country with their social media." Bonnie Kristian

10:26 a.m. ET
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The Trump administration's drastic reduction of the number of refugees admitted to America is having dire effects for Iraqis who have helped the U.S. military, the Pentagon has warned the White House.

Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and continued to occupy the country in the years since, U.S. troops have been assisted by Iraqis who offered translation services and other help navigating the cultural divide. Those Iraqis' work has put their lives and their families in danger from extremist groups like the Islamic State, causing thousands to seek refugee status under a special program for those who have assisted the U.S. military or worked in the media or with humanitarian groups.

More than 5,000 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the U.S. via this program in 2016, and more than 3,000 came in 2017. In fiscal year 2018, just 48 have been admitted as applications are bogged down in additional vetting procedures. Beyond endangering the lives of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis now, the Pentagon has expressed concern that this shift will make future cooperation with U.S. forces a harder sell in war zones across the Mideast.

The White House declined to give Reuters a direct comment on this report. Bonnie Kristian

10:17 a.m. ET

You would've thought Monday's MTV Video Music Awards decided to fondly remember Madonna instead of Aretha Franklin — if Madonna wasn't the one delivering the tribute.

Instead of sharing a story from the legendary soul singer's life, Madonna started the VMA tribute by waxing poetic about her own pre-stardom life of "getting robbed, held at gunpoint, and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third-floor walk-up that was also a crackhouse." Two minutes later, Madonna finally mentioned that singing "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" in an audition changed her life. That's Franklin's iconic song, by the way, and Madonna made sure to mention that her "skinny-ass white girl" self nailed it.

As Vulture painstakingly put it, the whole ordeal was Madonna paying "tribute to Madonna paying tribute to Aretha Franklin's influence on Madonna." Critics quickly piled on, including this take from radio host Charlamagne Tha God.

If that self-centered monologue wasn't enough, some detractors went on to accuse Madonna of cultural appropriation. Her outfit channeled traditional Moroccan garb and "Berber culture," a fact she wasn't afraid to tout in multiple Instagram posts.

Even with all this crafty criticism, the Queen of Soul may have said it best herself — not that Madonna would notice. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:31 a.m. ET
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Climate change and warm winds have caused some of the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic to break apart, The Guardian reported Tuesday, calling into question just how long the region's "last ice area" will withstand ever-rising temperatures.

In the sea off the north coast of Greenland, sea ice is frozen so thick that scientists thought it would be the last area in the North to melt away as climate change pushes temperatures higher and higher. But the region has endured unprecedented heat this summer, hitting a record high of 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit just last week. Warm winds left the ice "quite shattered and broken up and therefore more mobile," Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute explained, which has pushed the ice farther away from the coast than ever before.

When the sea ice blows around, it can be swept away into warmer waters where it melts for good, said Thomas Lavergne of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. "I cannot tell how long this open water patch will remain open, but even if it closes in few days from now, the harm will be done," he said. "The thick old sea ice will have been pushed away from the coast, to an area where it will melt more easily."

Scientists said that some of the ice will freeze again, but likely later in the winter than usual. While this gap in the Arctic sea ice is not the first one to form, the alarming temperatures and significant size of this gap in the "last ice area" have experts calling the most recent break "scary." Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza

9:13 a.m. ET

Communication is key to any delicate relationship — but perhaps to none moreso than the relationship between outfielders.

The New York Mets learned that the hard way Monday, when left-fielder Dom Smith came crashing into shortstop Amed Rosario on a routine pop-up, causing Rosario to flub the catch and ultimately allowing the San Francisco Giants to score the game-cinching run:

In the replay, Rosario can be seen clearly waving Smith off the catch. Smith took the blame for the miscue after the game, acknowledging that he "called [the catch] way too late. That's definitely on me." Mets manager Mickey Callaway chalked the mistake up to Smith's "inexperience," and The Associated Press noted that Smith has played just over 59 innings at left field, with all of those reps coming this season.

The error happened in the top of the 13th inning; the teams ended the ninth inning knotted at 1-1, forcing the extra frames. While Smith and Rosario were untangling themselves in the outfield, the Giants' Andrew McCutchen tapped home plate to put his team up 2-1, eventually sealing the win. And so the Mets' pitiful season barrels along. Kimberly Alters

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