Post Game: Thank You Kessel

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    Maybe it was that all the attention usually reserved for Phil Kessel when the Leafs visit Boston was deflected Tomas Kaberle’s way as rumours heated up throughout the evening and had some thinking Kaberle might have been suiting up in Bruins colours tonight. Maybe it was the tape colour change. Perhaps it was a bit of chemistry found on a powerplay unit with Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak. Phil Kessel has scored against the Boston Bruins and broke his fourteen game goalless slump. And predictably, once he got one, the second followed shortly after.

    In the midst of the turmoil of uncertainty surrounding a team undergoing change, I suppose it would’ve been disappointing but understandable if the Leafs came out looking a little out of sorts tonight. After the Bruins went up 3-2 with ten minutes remaining in a third period the Leafs had owned to that point, this game looked to be going the way of too many this season, with the Leafs getting scored on against the run of play and falling victim to a lack of finish despite ample opportunity at the other end. Thanks to a couple of brilliant individual performances from Grabovski and Kessel, the Leafs leave Boston tonight with a deserved and – given the circumstances – impressive two points.

    Scoring his 23rd and 24th markers of the season, Grabovski verged on dominance tonight. Despite a 6’9″ monster throwing a few questionable hits his way, Grabovski was not to be discouraged and sought retribution the best way he knew how (and not by brawling, pushing a ref and throwing up a two-handed victory sign after an ejection). Nick Kypreos on the post-game show made much of Grabovski’s immediate return to the ice after getting visibly shook up a la Sami Kapanen off of Chara’s second big hit against the end boards. Possible concussions certainly aren’t anything to play around with but it seemed to me Grabovski was coming off a long shift, took one too many Chara rub outs and was simply a little shook up. I’ll leave those decisions to the Leafs’ professional trainers but his response would indicate just that.

    Kessel solved his goal scoring woes against the Bruins and the Leafs as a whole found a way to get the better of Zdeno Chara (who they actually gave a hard time physically) and Tim Thomas in a building they haven’t taken two points from in six previous visits. That was satisfying.

    Some notes:

    -Luke Schenn led the Leafs in icetime again tonight, playing a shade over 26 minutes and posting a team-leading four hits and three blocked shots in the process. Keith Aulie clocked in at 22 minutes and three BS. If this is just a glimpse of the future for two developing 21-year-olds, it looks extremely bright.

    -Joffrey Lupul recorded his first two points as a Leaf with assists on both of Kessel’s goals.

    -There will be at least one jackass at your office tomorrow that will inform you Phil Kessel finished up at -2 in five-on-five play (both of his goals came on the powerplay). You’ve been warned.

    -James Reimer was Mr. Solid again tonight and made all the important saves when the Leafs needed him most, none more so than a great late even-up chance to the left of the net with seconds remaining. That’s what is continually so impressive about the rookie; he’s timely, and he rarely lets in those weak goals that can be game-killers for a young team.

    -The reunited “Mac in the USSR” line recorded a +2 in five on five action. That’s what happens when the puck is in the other team’s end 80% of your shift. The quiet contributions Kulemin brings to that line – outside of his 20 goals – like his puck recovery & board play on the forecheck and defensive acumen are huge.

    -Leafs and Bruins brass (specifically Chiarelli and Nonis) were said to have had a lengthy discussion at intermission, presumably about the deal under negotiation Burke spoke to the media about today. It’s hard to envision it not being the case, but neither side has confirmed or denied Kaberle’s involvement in negotiations as per agent Rick Curran’s request. Kaberle did dress of course and the no-trade clause has yet to be waived, suggesting a deal can’t be all that close. At this point, what we do seem to know is that Kaberle would waive to go to Boston should a deal consummate between the sides.

    Grabovski’s late-game heroics (dirty one arm deke around Seidenberg) and Kessel’s double-nutmeg on the tying goal:

    Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]