BOSTON -- Phil Kessel scored 75 goals (including playoffs) during three seasons with the Bruins before demanding a trade out of Boston in 2009. Since the deal, which netted the Bruins two first-round draft picks that ended up being Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, there seemed to be a curse set upon the sniper.
Kessel would muster only three power-play goals in 23 games against Boston heading into Game 2 Saturday night at TD Garden. “Thank you Kessel” chants would rain down on him every time he played in Boston and he had no goals at the arena he called home since becoming a Maple Leaf.
But sooner or later, one had to think, Kessel -- who is usually blanketed by former teammate and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara when playing his old team -- would break through. The gifted winger finally did that in Game 2, scoring the game-winner and his first even-strength goal against the Bruins 53 seconds into the third period to help the Leafs to a 4-2 win, tying the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one.
Following the game, Kessel was happy but also was his usual subdued self when talking about his beautiful finish to beat Tuukka Rask.
“It was nice,” Kessel said. “Obviously [Nazem Kadri] made a good pass, and I was just fortunate it went in. I mean obviously it was nice to get one, but we’ve just got to keep going. 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.”
While Kessel took the humble and reserved route, his teammates weren’t afraid to give him props.
“It felt great,” said Joffrey Lupul, who scored two goals himself. “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 toward Phil so it's good to see him get a chance and bury it like that.”
Coach Randy Caryle concurred and recognized how much the goal had to mean to Kessel.
“I think you can see the smile on his face and I guess the energy that our bench got from it, so it was obviously a big positive in that respect,” Carlyle said.
Carlyle did a solid job of keeping Kessel away from Chara by shuffling him through different lines for most of the game.
“As far as keeping him away, some things we did, did work for a while but they always have home ice and last change,” Carlyle said. “They’re pretty good at getting Chara on and off the ice. They’ve done this before and this is really the first time that we’ve really went as hard tonight as that.”
Kessel agreed that the switching linemates helped him, but had high praise for his former captain.
“There is no secret, right?” Kessel asked rhetorically. “He’s one of the best in the league and he’s tough to play against every night. I was switching quite a bit, trying to get away from Z. He’s one of the best, right? I was fortunate to get a breakaway there, and lucky it went in.”
The Bruins realize that this may provide Kessel the confidence he needs to be a factor in this series, but they weren’t as surprised as many that the pure sniper finally broke though against them.
“He’s a goal-scorer,” Rask said of Kessel, who has 30 or more goals in a season four times. “He’s got a good shot, but we’ve been taking time and space away from him a lot. But when he gets in a breakaway, it’s a pretty good chance he might score. But I’m not worried about it.”