Just last Saturday after his team’s second straight defeat, a frustrated Phil Kessel stood in his dressing room stall at Air Canada Centre saying “My line was (expletive) tonight.”
The two-game slump didn’t last for very long.
Following a three-point outing in New York, Kessel lifted the Leafs to an overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. His game-winner at the 37-second mark of sudden death came after he accepted a pass from Tyler Bozak down the left wing, then cut into the middle of the ice before sniping the puck past stunned netminder Semyon Varlamov.
“It was a good win for us, I thought we played pretty well tonight,” said Kessel after the game, from the same spot in which he kicked off Thanksgiving weekend by answering questions about a fan throwing a Leafs sweater onto the ice during a humiliating loss to Pittsburgh. “We stuck with it, and we got it done.”
Kessel could just as easily have been the goat instead of the hero in this game. During a third period sequence with the game tied 2-2, the Leafs winger coughed up the puck three times in a rather dubious hat trick of giveaways.
Goaltender James Reimer, who made 22 saves in the victory, also made the game anxious for his teammates as his clearing attempt off the glass was instead fired into the crowd, resulting in a delay of game penalty, not to mention a few heart-stopping moments for the fans in the seats.
“It’s one of those things where you know you made a mistake,” Reimer said. “But I have faith in my teammates. If somebody else gets a penalty, I’m right there to have their back, and that’s the same thing here, my teammates have got my back.”
In fairness to Reimer, the automatic delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass is the dumbest rule in all of professional sports.
James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring on a give-and-go with Kessel, with Bozak earning his first of two assists on the night. Colorado took the lead on goals by Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene in which the Leafs defence appeared mesmerized by the Avalanche puck carriers on both occasions.
Toronto scored the third period tying goal after Joffrey Lupul picked off an errant clearing pass in the middle of the ice for an unassisted marker. Earlier in the shift, a thundering hit by Leo Komarov seemed to ignite the Leafs squad.
The equalizer set the stage for Kessel’s overtime winner.
“Phil’s a special player. If you give him enough opportunities, he can score and he can hurt people in different ways,” Carlyle said.
After a two-game slump to start the year, maybe the Leafs top line isn’t so (expletive) after all.
Notes: The Air Canada Centre, and certainly living rooms in the Leafs’ viewing region were more than displeased when linesmen Greg Devorski and Scott Driscoll broke up a pending fight between ex-Flames teammates Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla before any punches were thrown…The announce attendance was 18,754, which is 65 patrons shy of an official sellout.
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