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Murray shines in return to Pittsburgh as Leafs top Pens 5-2

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Matt Murray helped the Pittsburgh Penguins raise the Stanley Cup in 2016 and again in 2017 as a young goaltender whose steadiness under pressure belied his age.

The echoes of the victory parades are long gone. Murray has moved on. So have the Penguins. At the moment, only Murray is moving in the right direction while his old team is spinning its incredibly expensive wheels.

Murray turned aside 34 shots, including several key stops to fend off a Pittsburgh surge to help the Toronto Maple Leafs pull away for a 5-2 victory Tuesday night.

“I’m feeling great, really enjoying myself,” said Murray after his first game in Pittsburgh since being traded to Ottawa in October 2020. “Had a great time tonight, a great experience here tonight. I’m looking forward.”

John Tavares became the 107th player in NHL history to reach 400 goals with a first-period shot from high in the slot that beat a screened Casey DeSmith to give the Maple Leafs an early lead they never surrendered while winning for the fifth time in seven games.

“(Scoring 400 is) just that much more meaningful when you do it on a night where we get two points and the group plays well, everyone contributes,” the 14-year veteran said.

Michael Bunting had two goals and an assist for Toronto. Mitchell Marner extended his points streak to 10 games with his fourth goal of the season. William Nylander added an empty-net goal to seal it.

Sidney Crosby and Rickard Rakell scored for the Penguins but Pittsburgh couldn’t sustain the momentum from a successful three-game trip in which they earned five of possible six points to end an early season skid.

DeSmith stopped 28 shots but had little help in front of him on a night Toronto had no issue finding open space, sometimes right in front of the Pittsburgh net as the Penguins’ inattention to detail in their own end — a habit they mostly kicked on their road swing — returned.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan called the defensive lapses “egregious.”

“I think there’s been moments in some of these games where for whatever reason we get away from (defending well) and it seems like in those moments (the puck) ends up in the back of our net,” Sullivan said.

Two of Toronto’s goals came from inside the blue paint, including Bunting’s second goal with 50 seconds left in the second period on a play in which he simply camped to DeSmith’s right and was in the perfect position to slam home a rebound with Penguins defenseman Kris Letang fruitlessly trying to cross-check him out of the way.

Two of Toronto’s other goals came with the Penguins woefully out of position. Tavares briefly found himself unguarded high in the slot in the first period and Crosby closed too late. Bunting’s first goal came on a 2-on-1 created by a Pittsburgh turnover that gave Toronto a 3-0 lead.

A deflection by Rakell and a pretty backhand by Crosby against his old teammate in a 1:44 span early in the second drew Pittsburgh within 3-2 but Murray — attempting to kickstart his career after two underwhelming seasons with the rebuilding Senators — stood his ground and the Maple Leafs pulled away.

NOTES: Tavares is the fifth player to reach 400 goals while wearing a Maple Leafs sweater. Hall of Famer Mats Sundin hit 400 goals on Oct. 14, 2002, also against the Penguins. … Pittsburgh C Teddy Blueger skated 12:00 in return after missing the first 15 games with an upper-body injury.


Maple Leafs: Begin a three-game homestand Thursday night against New Jersey.

Penguins: Play at Minnesota Thursday.


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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.


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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.


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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.


Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.


The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.


Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.


Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.


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