BOSTON — Phil Kessel was on the ice for 13:51 in Game 1 against the Bruins on Wednesday night, but we only know that because it’s what the statsheet tells us, as well as the fact that No. 81 in white was booed and heckled every time he touched the puck.
The Maple Leafs forward was pretty much invisible in Game 1, a 4-1 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. Admittedly, Kessel did make a nice play on the lone Leafs goal during an early power play, but after that, he went back into his shell. The former Bruins forward went missing after that, and he didn’t register his only shot on goal of the game until 2:16 of the third period.
In a somewhat surprising turn of events for Kessel when playing against Boston, he wasn’t on the ice for any of the four Bruins goals. He’s still a minus-22 in 23 career games against the B’s, with just three goals (all power-play tallies) and six assists.
Kessel was his usual indifferent self after the game.
“It was all right,” Kessel said when asked about his own game. “We didn’t create that much. We have to do better.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien appeared to make it a point to utilize the second change as the home team to match up the Patrice Bergeron line against Kessel’s line, in addition to getting the defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the ice as well. Chara certainly had an eye on Kessel all night and made his presence known throughout the game, ranging from a big hit early in the first to a “Hey, don’t forget about me” cross-check as a post-whistle scrum broke up in the third period.
“Like with every offensive guy that’s really skilled, that’s got speed, you want to be tight on them,” Seidenberg explained. “You want to have a good gap and don’t want to give them a lot of room to get speed, so the forwards doing a good job putting back pressure on him and the defensemen just stayed really tight on him for him not to get any room to make plays.”
It’s no secret that slowing down the Kessel line will be one of the major keys to winning the series for the Bruins. Kessel led the team with 20 goals this season, and, along with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, that top-line trio combined to score 50 goals this year. Van Riemsdyk scored the only Toronto goal in Game 1.