Drew Brees, Saints still have 'a ways to go'

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Drew Brees, Saints still have 'a ways to go'

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is confident that he and the Saints will agree on a long-term contract. With the start of training camp about a month off, the two sides still have "a ways to go" to close the gap, the 2010 Super Bowl MVP said Tuesday. Nonetheless, he said, "I'm confident, and always have been, that we'll get a long-term deal accomplished." Brees acknowledged that the NFL's bounty investigation into the Saints has slowed down negotiations. "This has been a stressful offseason in a lot of ways. There's been a lot of distractions for everybody," he said. "I'm not using that as an excuse other than just stating it as fact. That has delayed things quite a bit at times." And when it comes to that bounty probe, Brees is adamant that the league has not proved money ever changed hands in a pay-to-injure scheme. "How can everybody think that when there's been no proof that's been put forth thus far?" he said. "There's been an investigation; there's been a lot of stuff put in the media as to what was going on. But is there any proof to back that up? No, there's not. Not yet." Brees was in New York on Tuesday to discuss a program that provides free concussion testing for more than 3,300 middle and high schools and youth sports organizations. He was joined on a panel by retired New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter, former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks and ex-U.S. women's soccer team goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Scurry's career was ended by a concussion more than two years ago, and she still suffers symptoms such as short-term memory loss, she said. Against that backdrop are the allegations that Saints defensive players intended to injure their opponents. But Brees described the NFL's evidence so far as "hearsay" and "hypotheticals," not the definitive proof needed. "If there is, then it needs to come forward," he said. "If it is what they say it is, then punishments will be levied and deservedly so. But if there's not, then we need to vindicate the guys that were obviously wrongly accused." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded in an email to The Associated Press that "the evidence is overwhelming." "The investigation was thorough and includes statements from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge about the details of the program, corroborating documentation and other evidence," Aiello said. "The enforcement of the bounty rule is important to protect players that are put at risk by this kind of scheme. Certainly, Drew Brees would not want to be the target in a bounty scheme and that is why we must eliminate bounties from football." Even if Brees signs a contract in time and doesn't miss any of training camp, the Saints will be short-handed after the penalties handed out by the NFL in the bounty case. Coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma have been suspended the entire season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, the interim replacement for Payton, is banned for six games, while defensive end Will Smith is docked four. General manager Mickey Loomis will miss eight games. Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended eight games and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, got three games. "They had a conclusion that they wanted to reach that this was going on," Brees said of the NFL. "So a predetermined conclusion: We're going to gear the investigation and everything toward that conclusion as opposed to let's just gather the facts." The league accused the Saints of running a bounty system from 2009-11 under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell and issued an apology for his role in the scandal. Brees questioned the testimony coaches gave to the NFL. "A lot those coaches were living in fear of their careers if they did not cooperate," he said. The Saints placed their one-year franchise tag on Brees, barring him from negotiating with other teams. Brees has skipped voluntary practices and minicamp while holding out for a long-term deal. "I feel like there's been progress made over the last few weeks," he said. "But there's still a ways to go. I'm hopeful that it will happen sooner than later."

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.