Kessel 'excited' for playoff opportunity

BOSTON -- Once the Stanley Cup playoff matchups were determined, Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel knew they would be part of the storyline for this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Hockey fans, especially in Toronto and Boston, have known since June 2010 that Seguin could have possibly played for the Maple Leafs if the organization hadn’t traded first-round picks in the 2010 and 2011 NHL Entry Draft to the Bruins to acquire Kessel in September of 2009.

The Bruins selected Seguin with the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, and then defenseman Dougie Hamilton ninth overall in 2011.

Seguin helped the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title during his rookie season and this will be his third trip to the playoffs. Kessel hasn’t been in the postseason since he was with the Bruins during the 2008-2009 playoffs.

When the puck drops for Game 1 Wednesday night at TD Garden, no doubt the chants of “Thank you, Kessel” will be heard from the 17,565 in attendance.

It’s no secret Kessel has never enjoyed speaking with the media, especially when asked about the trade and the chants when plays in Boston.

“It was four years ago, right? So I don’t think it matters that much anymore,” Kessel said.

“It’s never been me to [think] much of the attention. I’ll talk when I have to talk and that’s about it.”

Seguin almost feels the same way about the transaction that ultimately made him a Bruin, and when he first heard those “Thank you, Kessel” chants in 2010, he laughed.

“First time I thought it was funny, just because it was my first year and I kind of smirked on the bench,” Seguin said. “Since then, fans can do what they want to do. The fans show great support here in Boston, but it’s not going to change how I play, and I’m sure it’s not going to change how he plays, either.

“It’s not like Toronto knew I was going to be the pick. It was just a pick and it happened to be me and Dougie, so I guess it’s just going to be linked through what people want to talk about and have stories. Other than that, Phil’s a great player and I definitely respect him on the ice. I’ve met him a few times off the ice and he’s a good guy, too.”

During his career with the Maple Leafs, Kessel has struggled against the Bruins and defenseman Zdeno Chara. In 22 games, Kessel has only three goals and six assists for nine points against Boston, including a minus-22 rating.

Overall this season, Kessel played well and recorded 20 goals and 32 assists for 52 points in 48 games for the Leafs. He was held pointless in four games against the Bruins.

He’s hoping to have better success in the playoffs.

“It’s going to be fun, right?” Kessel said. “Obviously I’m excited. It’s a good opportunity for myself and the team, we haven’t been in the playoffs for a while, so we’re looking to have a good time out there tonight.

“I like it here [Boston]. I had three great years here, some great memories. They were great to me when I was here,” added Kessel. “When you leave you’re always going to get the grief, right? It’s OK but I enjoy playing here, they have great fans and I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere tonight.

“It’s about the team, right? We’re going to have to play a good, hard game out there because they’re a great team over there. It’s going to be a battle.”

Once this series was scheduled, Seguin received numerous text messages from friends and family back home, asking for tickets. He jokingly said he shut off his phone so he could concentrate on the series. He did admit, however, it’s going to be a cool experience playing against the team he grew up watching.

“It was my hometown and I would go do Leaf games all the time,” Seguin said. “When we play at the ACC, I kind of look up to some sections where I know I was sitting growing up with a kid with my dad. I grew up hoping the Leafs would make the playoffs, and here they are playing against us. It’s a cool experience, an exciting experience, but I want to take it as just a playoff round and not about who you’re playing. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready.”