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Tuesday December 6th, 2022 10:48PM

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

By The Associated Press
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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.

UP NEXT

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

Penguins: Play at Minnesota Thursday.

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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