Rondo: This team is more talented than '08 champs

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Rondo: This team is more talented than '08 champs

The Celtics' Rajon Rondo says the current roster is more talented than the Celtics team that won the championship in 2008.

Rondo was a second-year point guard on that Celtics team that won the title. He says the additions that have been made this off-season to the current Celtics make them better than the team that won it all.

"I believe this team is more talented than that team," Rondo said. "But the key to the 2008 team is that everyone bought into the system."

Rondo said that will have to happen again with the group for the Celtics to be successful.

"Guys probably won't play their normal amount of minutes that they have in the past because we're such a talented team."

That depth is something coach Doc Rivers can't wait to exploit.

"It fits in a lot of ways," Rivers says of the roster, adding that when Avery Bradley returns from injury, having a stable of guards made up of Rondo, Bradley and new additions Courtney Lee and Jason Terry give him the deepest backcourt he's had as Celtics coach.

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.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO -- Drilled in the hip by a heater, Bryce Harper knew where this was headed. In a hurry, too.

"You see red," he said.

Enraged, the Washington slugger charged the mound, wildly fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with reliever Hunter Strickland, setting off a furious brawl Monday during the Nationals' 3-0 win over the San Francisco Giants.

"You never want to get suspended or anything like, but sometimes you just got to go and get them and can't hesitate," Harper said. "You either go to first base or you go after him and I decided to go after him."

The two players have a history, stemming from two home runs Harper hit off Strickland in the 2014 playoffs.

"I can see how that stands in people's minds," Strickland said.

This flashpoint came in their first matchup since then, with two outs in the eighth inning, none on and Washington ahead 2-0., Strickland hit Harper with the first pitch, a 98 mph fastball.

Harper didn't wait. The four-time All-Star pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

"My head was on a swivel, as quick as I could to not get taken out by somebody on their team or anything like that," he said.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. Giants star catcher Buster Posey stuck near the plate when Harper bolted, and stayed clear of the fracas as things escalated.

"Strick and him are the only ones that can answer why" the fight happened, Posey said.

Posey got a concussion last month from a beaning. He said he wasn't thinking about that accident, but was concerned about injuries.

"There were some big guys tumbling around out there," he said. "So it was a little dangerous to get in there sometimes."

Harper's eyes were wide as he flung his helmet -- it wasn't close to Strickland but it might've slipped, as helmets are hard to throw accurately -- 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.

"I was trying to go after him, with the helmet or with myself, just doing what I needed to do keep it going, I guess," Harper said.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters.

"I'm OK, but why is that news?" Morse said. "I was trying to get in there to break everyone up."

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, and are certain to face punishment from Major League Baseball.

No injuries were reported in either clubhouse. Harper attributed a scratch to Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon pulling him away from the brawl.

In the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland. Harper watched the second shot sail down the line, in Game 4, and glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases.

"I wasn't sure what was going on, but I think [the Giants] were definitely shocked at the situation, shocked that he would do something like that three years later," Harper said.

"It just wasn't relevant. Like I said, it was three years ago, over a thousand days, I guess," Harper said. "I don't know why he's thinking about it. He's got a World Series ring. It's on his finger and he's able to look at it every single night."

Angry, Harper did at least appreciate there was no head-hunting.

"One thing I've got to say about Strickland is he hit me in the right spot, so I do respect him for that," Harper said. "He didn't come up and in toward my face like some guys do, so I respect him on that level."

Strickland said he missed his spot.

"I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him," he said. "He's taken advantage of that, so I went inside. Obviously, I got in a little too far."

"He decided to come out, that's what he decided to do. It's go time. You protect yourself and stand your own ground," he said. "And I'll take what consequences come with it. I was pretty fired up, to be honest. It's part of the game."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy framed it for everyone.

"It looks bad, it does," he said. "Harper gets hit and you look at a guy who's given up some home runs, and he'll tell you that he was trying to come in. You don't want to make a mistake there. You have two guys who don't care for each other too much. It was a pretty good pile."

Nationals manager Dusty Baker had no doubt about Strickland's intent.

"We were ahead 2-0, two outs and nobody on base. I mean, that's the prime time to hit somebody if you're going to hit them, it looked like it was intentional to me," he said.

"What's a man supposed to do? He's not a punching bag, he's human with emotions. I know he took [Strickland] deep in the playoffs a couple of times and he probably took exception to that. I mean baseball is a game where you don't forget and you can hold grudges for a long, long time."

Too long in the estimation of Harper and his teammates.

"Completely uncalled for," said Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who wasn't with Washington in 2014. "Bryce hits one . . . off him in a big spot from what I understand, I think I remember seeing it live, and Hunter waits three years. I think if the Giants thought it was that egregious, Bryce would've gotten one the next season."

Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, Harper's teammate in 2014, said the incident shouldn't come as that big a surprise.

"You can't assume what other people are thinking or what other people are going to do," he said. "History is history, some people hold it longer than others."