Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to hot starts.
Kessel completed a three-point night with his second goal of the game, putting Toronto ahead 41 seconds into the third period as the Leafs rallied to beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 on Saturday night for their third win in as many games.
Kessel, who had a hat trick last Saturday in the Leafs' 6-5 win against Ottawa, snapped a 2-2 tie when he took a pass from defenseman Cody Franson on a give-and-go and beat Miikka Kiprusoff with a backhand deke for his fifth goal of the season.
Kessel nearly cost the Leafs when he flipped the puck over the glass with 1:15 left in regulation for a delay of game penalty. But goalie James Reimer made the best of his 30 saves when he robbed Rene Bourque from the left circle in the final seconds after some fine passing by the Calgary.
"James made some great saves for us and fortunately we got the win, I'm playing with some good linemates that give me the puck and right now we're just clicking,” Kessel said.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson is pleased with Kessel's play at both ends of the ice.
"He's winning battles on the boards," Wilson said. "He knows if we've got a lead, I'm confident to put him out there in the last minute in an empty-net situation. He's been in better shape than he's ever been and now he just has to maintain it.”
The Leafs, who hadn't played since the win against Ottawa, improved to 3-0-0. But unlike their first two wins, they had to play from behind in this one.
Calgary, coming off a 4-1 win at Montreal on Thursday, jumped in front just 4:18 into the game when ex-Leaf Lee Stempniak circled the net to Reimer's stick side and fed a pass across the crease to Curtis Glencross, who was parked at the far post. Glencross beat Reimer for his third goal in four games.
It became 2-0 just 1:42 later when defenseman Scott Hannan took a pass from Niclas Hagman, took a few strides and beat Reimer high to the short side from the top of the left circle for his first of the season.
That prompted Wilson to call his timeout.
Reimer said the early deficit was somewhat of a mental hurdle that he had to get over.
"When you get off to a start like that, there's a whole whack of negative thoughts just piling in, everything negative that you can think of and it's your job as a goaltender to block that out and slowly but surely you make that next save and hope that your team can battle back for you and sure enough they did,” he said.
Reimer made a pair of big stops on Stempniak in the first minute of the second period, and the Leafs scored on the return rush. Kessel raced into the Flames' zone, pulled up and sent a pass to Joffrey Lupul who was streaking in towards the middle of the ice. Lupul snapped a hard shot just over the left pad of Kiprusoff at 1:15 to get the Leafs on the board.
Flames forward Alex Tanguay was disappointed with the missed opportunities.
"Tonight we let them hang in there and it's our own fault," he said. "We feel we are giving up too many odd-man rushes and they are a team that likes to skate, they are extremely fast in their transition and tonight they took advantage three times and that was the difference in the game.
"For us, we've got to get back in the groove of things; 1-3 is certainly not getting it done. It's been a tough start, but we have a homestand and now we can make up for it.”
Things began to get a little chippy towards the midway part of the second period – after a skirmish at the Leafs bench resulted in offsetting minors between Calgary captain Jarome Iginla and Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek. The Flames also had to kill off a four-minute minor when Olli Jokinen drew a double minor for high sticking Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles.
The Leafs tied the game at 16:38 when Carl Gunnarsson sprung Kessel, who beat defenseman Chris Butler and while going to his knees fired a shot that beat Kiprusoff.