Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Phil Kessel (Tor) — SOG
Tim Thoams (Bos) — 38 saves
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Tor) — 25 saves
Phil Kessel doesn’t need a shift to the middle — for the first time since his rookie season —to be the centre of attention when the speedy Toronto Maple Leafs forward suits up against his old team the Boston Bruins.
After all, with the exception of Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, most believe the trade Toronto made to acquire Kessel from the Bruins 15 months ago set back the rebuilding process of the Maple Leafs franchise because the club gave up first-round picks in back-to-back drafts.
But for one night anyway, Kessel handled the pressure of clashing against his old teammates. He scored the shootout winner to snap the Maple Leafs' four-game losing streak with a 3-2 win at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Kessel wore a big old grin afterward, but he wasn't going to give the Bruins any future bulletin board material, so he kept his post-game comments pedestrian.
"I'll just take the win," he said. "It was a character win. Hopefully, we'll get rolling now."
His teammates were more glowing in their review of Kessel's play between wingers Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong, who returned after a 16-game absence with a broken finger.
Kessel still only has one assist in eight games against the Bruins and the Maple Leafs now have three wins against Boston since the trade that yielded the Bruins two first-round draft picks and a second-round selection.
But in 22 minutes and 14 seconds of ice time playing centre for the first time since his rookie season in Boston, Kessel put six shots on the Bruins' sensational, acrobatic goaltender Tim Thomas. But he won only six of 16 faceoffs.
He did beat Boston's Gregory Campbell on a draw in Bruins end with the Maple Leafs on the power play that led to Versteeg's dramatic game-tying goal with 41.2 seconds remaining in the third period.
"We all know that if Phil plays well we have a better chance to win," Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "It's a lot of pressure for a young player."
"I thought he played a good game with this being his first game at centre," Maple Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin said. "I thought he was moving his feet better and skating better. He was simply more involved in the game."
Boston centre Gregory Campbell completed a give-and-go with rookie Tyler Seguin to give the Bruins a lead early in the third period. But Versteeg, with Giguere on the bench for an extra attacker, banged in a rebound to send the game into overtime.
Oh, the Maple Leafs faithful do hate to hear Seguin’s name. As a result of the Kessel trade with the Bruins, in which part of the deal sent two first-round picks to Boston, the Bruins lassoed Seguin with the second-overall selection last June.
If the Maple Leafs continue to stumble this season and miss the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, Boston will be in for another lottery pick next June.
The Bruins and the Maple Leafs traded goals in the first period. Boston’s Nathan Horton knocked in a shot from the slot after a loose puck caromed to him from the sideboards and Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarsson made good on a pass from Tyler Bozak to tie the game.
Gunnarsson’s first goal of the season snapped a goal-less streak of 89 minutes and 46 seconds for the Maple Leafs.
Armstrong returned to the Maple Leafs' lineup after a 16-game absence because of a broken finger.
Save of the season
Those among the crowd of 19,843 at the ACC witnessed why Bruins goalie Thomas has been having a Vezina Trophy-like season. He made 38 saves, but the best of the best was late in the game a diving glove-hand save on Beauchemin from the slot.
"I was calling for the puck," Beauchemin said. "I looked up and there was an empty net. Then I saw his glove. It was an unbelievable save."
Thomas remarked that the stop on Beauchemin was in the top 10 saves of his career. But the competitive Bruins goalie was miffed that Toronto tied the affair with its late-game power-play goal.
"I didn’t think they would beat me," Thomas said. "The only way they were going to beat me is on a shot that bounced off the boards and back in front. All the new arenas have boards like that. That’s another way they are making it harder on goalies."
Seguin came through with flying colours in his first NHL game at the ACC.
He set up Campbell for Boston's go-ahead goal in the third period with nifty give-and-go play, and after Nazem Kadri scored for Toronto in the first round of the shootout, Seguin lifted a backhand past Giguere for the Bruins' only shootout goal.
"I went into this game with the same mentality and same frame of mind," Seguin said. "I tried not to let [the connection with the Maple Leafs] get to me."
Thornton, the tutor
Boston fourth-line forward Shawn Thornton already has five goals this season after 25 games and needs only one more in the remaining 57 matches to equal his career high of six that he scored in 2008-09.
Hard to believe that Thornton has the same number of goals scored as his rookie teammate Seguin. But then again, Thornton was an instructor at the Three Zone Camp in Whitby, Ont., the summer after his first year as a pro and one of his students was a six-year-old Seguin.
"Someone from the camp told me about it, I don't remember every six-year-old I taught hockey back then," Thornton said.
Thornton got the best of Toronto call-up Jay Rosehill in a first-period scrap.
The week ahead
It doesn’t get any easier for the Maple Leafs this coming week. They play the top four clubs in the NHL Eastern Conference. They begin with road games in Washington against Alexander Ovechkin on Monday and stop by Pittsburgh on Wednesday to see just how well Sidney Crosby is playing these days.
Toronto finishes with home games against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.