December 10, 2009

Bruins finish Kessel sweep

by Douglas Flynn

Phil Kessel (photo: Getty)

BOSTON – It was billed as Round 2 of Phil Kessel’s dramatic return to Boston.

The reality is that while Bruins fans may have enjoyed taunting the young Toronto star at every opportunity, the ex-Bruin actually had little impact on this rematch.

For the second time against Boston, Kessel was held without a point, managing just two shots in 18:49. But unlike Saturday, when Kessel finished a minus-3, he wasn’t on the ice for any of the Bruins’ goals either. No, it was up to the other 39 players in uniform to decide this one.

And for the second straight meeting, the Bruins proved they have the superior team, with or without Kessel, sending the sellout crowd home from the Garden happy after a 5-2 Boston victory.

“I think our guys handled that well – ‘Kessel-mania’ and everything that’s being thrown out there,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I thought we were playing hockey, not wrestling. But I thought we did a good job of not letting that stuff get to us. We just focused on the game.

“And having said that, we know that Phil is a pure goal-scorer,” added Julien. “If you give him room, if you give him space, he’s going to score some goals. But we reacted well and did a good job against him. But I figured they’re a better team than just a one-man show, and I think their coach said that the other day.”

The Leafs might not be a one-man team, but they don’t have the depth to match the B’s. And the Bruins used their superior depth, getting points from 11 different players and a stellar effort from their nominal backup goalie to dump the Leafs and move back into first place in the Northeast Division.

The game wasn’t without its worrisome moments, however. Unlike Saturday’s 7-2 laugher that Boston controlled from start to finish, Toronto roared back from an early deficit to make a game of this one.

The Bruins jumped ahead 3-0 through two periods as Mark Stuart pounded in a point shot in the first period and Derek Morris added another blue-line blast while on the power play in the second. After Tuukka Rask came up big with a stop on Tomas Kaberle, David Krejci raced down the other end and finished off a breakaway with a nifty deke to seemingly put the game away at 3-0 with 8:50 left in the second.

But the Leafs wouldn’t go away quite so easily this time. Mikhail Grabovski scored from the slot just 18 seconds into the third and Nikolai Kulemin tipped in a Mike Komisarek shot at 4:09 and suddenly it was a one-goal game and Toronto had all the momentum.

Julien calmed things down with a timeout after Toronto’s second goal, but the Bruins were still on their heels.

“We kind of settled things down after Claude called the timeout,” said Bruins forward Mark Recchi. “It was the perfect time for it. Not a whole lot had to be said, we just regained our composure and realized we had to get back to working here and we got a lot better from there on.”

Still, only a spectacular save by Rask kept Boston ahead. With 7:56 to play, Rask dove back across the crease to the left post to rob Matt Stajan on a point-blank chance that would have tied the game.

“I think it hit my blocker and the post,” said Rask, who finished with 32 saves. “You know it’s just that you can’t be in position to make the palm save, so you just have to be throwing your body and your arms all over the place.”

The unconventional style worked, as Rask kept it a 3-2 game. A late Jason Blake high-sticking penalty then set the stage for a power-play goal by Recchi and the Bruins finally regained control and put away the Leafs.

Recchi, who had earlier missed an open net off a Vesa Toskala turnover, converted a nice feed in front by Blake Wheeler for the score at 17:23. Recchi then added an empty-netter at 19:48 to close out the victory.

“We wanted to come out a little stronger than we did,” said Daniel Paille, who moved up to the top line with Byron Bitz out sick and assisted on the Bruins’ first goal for his first point in 10 games. “We knew they were going to come out like that, but we kept our cool, called the timeout and relaxed a bit and got focused again.”

The Bruins can now focus on trying to maintain their division lead when they travel to New York to take on the Islanders on Saturday. And they can do it without worrying about any more distractions from Kessel-mania.

Douglas Flynn can be reached at dflynn@hockeyjournal.com.