BOSTON — The Phil Kessel storyline is one that’s not going away anytime soon in the first-round series between the Maple Leafs and Bruins, especially after Saturday’s Game 2.
The former Bruins forward, who has had more than his share of misery against his old team, went a long way in erasing any of that pain with one of the biggest goals of his career. Kessel scored just 53 seconds into the third period of Game 2, a game the Leafs would eventually win 4-2. The victory ties the series at a game apiece as things shift back to Toronto.
It was a game-winning goal for Kessel. Against the Bruins. In the playoffs. It was a goal that had all of Toronto saying “Thank you, Kessel.”
This could end up being a huge goal for Kessel and his ever-questioned psyche. His struggles against the Bruins are no secret, as evidenced by the fact that his goal in Game 2 was his first even-strength goal against the Bruins in his entire career
“I was happy, obviously. It’s been a long time versus these guys to score, but like I said, I got lucky. It just snuck by, I was fortunate.”
“It felt great,” teammate Joffrey Lupul said of seeing Kessel score “First of all because it made it 3-1 and second of all he’s battling hard and they are putting a lot of attention towards Phil so it’s good to see him get a chance and bury it like that.”
On Saturday night, it was all about helping the team win a playoff game. After the Leafs were run out of the building in Game 1, it looked as if Kessel took it upon himself to be better in Game 2. He was flying all over the ice, and that was punctuated with the goal, scored thanks in large part to his signature speed.
The goal also went a long way erasing some of the hope for a comeback in the eyes of the Bruins and their fans. The sellout TD Garden crowd, that had been chanting Kessel’s name in an effort to get in his head all night, went silent as soon as the forward beat Tuukka Rask less than a minute into the third. It was kind of fitting, actually, given Kessel’s soft-spoken, shy ways.
The air was sucked out of the building, and just as importantly, the Leafs had themselves a two-goal lead.
Now it’s on the Bruins to make sure they’re able to bounce back and slow Kessel in Game 3 and for the rest of the series. It might be a little easier than it was in Game 2. The loss of Andrew Ference, a veteran defenseman, is a tough one, no doubt. However, where the Bruins really might have felt the blow of missing the suspended Ference, was having to split up their top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
After Claude Julien appeared to spend most of the night trying to make sure Chara was on the ice when Kessel was to be able to check the forward, Chara was on the bench when Kessel scored the goal.
Even so, the Bruins need to do a better job as a team of slowing Kessel down, or else they might find themselves in a hole before too long.
“We just have to, as a whole, it’s a five-man unit, pick up for each other whether it was me or someone else,” Seidenberg said of trying to limit Kessel. “We have to watch where he goes because he’s a very sneaky player and he uses those chances to his advantage.”
If the Bruins needed a reminder of how dangerous Kessel can be, they got that Saturday night. Now it’s on them to once again find a way to shut him down, and prove that Kessel’s Game 2 goal is merely an exception to the rule.