It was a far cry and some 550 miles from that Thursday back in October when chants of “Thank You, Kessel!” rang through TD Garden as the Boston Bruins were shutting out the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0. While it was not heard in the stands of the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, it was still applicable as Phil Kessel’s goal in the third round of a shootout gave his Maple Leafs a much needed win, as they defeated the Bruins, 3-2.
Disappointment was the order of the night for the Bruins as it was a heartbreaking loss north of the border. Coming off a strong outing on Wednesday in Philadelphia and a thrashing of the Lightning in Boston on Thursday night, the Bruins were working their way into form and for much of Saturday’s contest it looked as though the trend would continue. They had battled a plucky Maple Leafs team and overcame some suspect defensive zone coverage and an inability to muster up a solid breakout all game to put them in position to win until the final minute of play when it all slipped away.
Both teams hounded each other back and forth for the first two periods, with both netminders, Boston’s Tim Thomas and Toronto’s Jean-Sebastian Giguere, keeping their teams in the game and keep the score knotted at 1-1. Boston broke the tie as the game neared the midpoint of the third after Gregory Campbell made a great play just off the bench to keep the puck in the Toronto zone at the blue line, turning it into a give-and-go with Tyler Seguin, beating Giguere with a sensational wrist shot to put the Bruins up 2-1.
Not only had the Bruins not yet lost a game after taking the first lead, but coming into the night just once in the 16 times that the Bruins had taken a one-goal lead had they given up the next goal. The Maple Leafs were relentless all night, however, and with 6:18 to play in the game, after a nifty backhand by Nazem Kadri was miraculously saved by Thomas, the Leafs took over the game. If not for the play of Thomas, who trumped his 41 save shutout against the Flyers earlier in the week with an even more impressive 38 saves on Saturday, the contest would have likely been over long before overtime.
With 2:30 remaining on the clock, Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins top penalty killing forwards was sent off on a holding call, which turned out to be the deathblow for the Bruins. The Bruins penalty kill, 3-for-3 on the night until that point and back on track after their dismal showing on Black Friday against Carolina, looked as if they were going to escape with the lead after Campbell dove to block a shot, taking it off the shoulder and out of play. Off the resulting draw, however, Kessel won the puck back to the point before an errant shot by Clark MacArthur bounced off the end boards right onto the stick of Kris Versteeg, who had a wide open look at the net and put it home to tie the game with 41.2 seconds to play.
Thomas continued to try and save the day with a pair of phenomenal saves in overtime, one coming by diving at full extension back across the net to rob Francois Beauchemin, but the pressure by the Maple Leafs was just too much as they went on to win the shootout 2-1.
Making the loss all the more bitter, until tonight Kessel had been a virtual non-factor in games against the Bruins since being traded to Toronto last September after the restricted free agent could not come to terms. The crafty winger had amassed just one assists and a -6 rating in Toronto’s eight games against the Bruins since the trade, with Toronto going 2-6 in those games. On Saturday, however, Kessel’s play was pivotal in helping Toronto snap their four-game losing streak and steal a win from the Bruins, winning the key draw with Boston’s top face-off man in the box to setup the game-tying goal and then scoring what accounted for the game-winner in the shootout. It was a shot initially saved by Thomas, but the goaltender’s momentum carried his entire body and the puck with it backwards behind the goal line for the score.
While Kessel’s play was critical for the Toronto win, his performance was juxtaposed by that of Nathan Horton, who was acquired in the offseason to replace the scoring punch left by the departure of Kessel and help an offense that ranked dead last in the NHL last season in goals per game (2.39), but has been a non-factor of late in the Boston offense.
Horton was responsible for giving Boston a 1-0 lead on Saturday, scoring a beautiful goal after picking up a mishandled breakout pass and carrying it into the high slot before beating Giguere high stick side. It was Horton’s ninth of the season, but it was only the first goal recorded by the winger in 10 contests. It was not just a ten game goal draught for Horton, but prior to his lone assist in the eight-goal onslaught by Boston against the Lightning, it had been six games since Horton got his name onto the score sheet. Horton’s numbers are strong as he is second on the team in goals (9) and points (20), and first in plus/minus (+14), but the Bruins need Horton to be an ever-present fixture in their offense in order to have success this season.
The Bruins now get a few nights off before returning back to Boston for a three-game home stand starting Tuesday, where they will look to rebound from the one that got away against the Buffalo Sabres, who are coming off back-to-back shutouts against Columbus and Ottawa. The Bruins will also get the New York Islanders and a second date with the Philadelphia Flyers to round out their week.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.