It won't show in his stat line, but Phil Kessel finally got a big goal against his former team.
Kessel set up Kris Versteeg's last-minute game-tying goal Saturday night, then beat Tim Thomas in the shootout for the winner as the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre.
Boston fans have chanted "Thank you, Kessel," when the former Bruin returns to TD Garden -- the place he called home before being dealt to Toronto before the start of last season for two No. 1 picks and a second-rounder. This time, it was Leafs fans doing the chanting after Kessel's goal snapped Toronto's two-game losing streak.
"It's a big win for us, a character win," Kessel said after beating Tim Thomas, the NHL's top goalie so far this season. "Hopefully it will lead to something else."
Despite carrying the play for most of the night, the game almost led to another Toronto loss. Versteeg got the Leafs even with 42 seconds left in regulation, taking advantage of a fortunate bounce off the end boards after Tomas Kaberle fired wide and ripping the carom off Thomas and into the net.
"I kind of got lucky just being in the right spot and shoveled it in," Versteeg said.
After a scoreless overtime, Toronto rookie Nazem Kadri and Boston rookie Tyler Seguin -- the player the Bruins took No. 2 in the Entry Draft this past June with the pick they obtained for Kessel -- both scored in the first three rounds. After the next three shooters missed, Kessel ripped a shot from the slot past Thomas, triggering an eruption from the sellout crowd.
Kessel had just one assist in seven games against his former team before scoring the decisive shootout goal on Saturday.
"It's the first time he's won the battle," Thomas said of allowing the shootout goal to his former teammate. "Realistically, though, it should happen. He's a very talented player and a very good shooter.:
"Good for Phil," said coach Ron Wilson, who used Kessel at center. "I thought for the most part he had a very good game. He had a couple of giveaways, but for the most part, he played well defensively."
The only reason the game got to the shootout was Thomas, whose 38 saves included a fabulous diving glove stop on defenseman Francois Beauchemin in OT.
"I didn't have time to move my whole body," Thomas said. "I was diving and I was able to pick up the puck and follow it into my glove."
Much to the consertnation of Beauchemin and the Leafs.
"I shot it as hard as I could, I didn't mess it up," Beauchemin said. "There was nothing there and then there was his glove."
Toronto put pressure on Thomas right from the opening faceoff, but the Bruins jumped in front when Nathan Horton snapped a high shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 4:48 of the opening period after a giveaway by Tim Brent. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson tied it with his first of the season at 15:53, finishing off Tyler Bozak's pass through the crease.
"The best reaction we got was not folding after the first goal," Wilson said. "Here we've had three or four great chances and the first chance they get the puck goes in the net on a little bit of a turnover. Getting through that in a positive way and taking control of the game again was huge for us."
Gregory Campbell beat Giguere from the high slot with a wrist shot through traffic at 6:08 of the third period to give Boston a 2-1 lead.
Thomas was so good he even got post-game praise from Wilson.
"If not for Timmy Thomas there's certainly no way the game goes even to overtime or to a shootout, because he made some unbelievable saves," Wilson said. "He was huge tonight."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
|Nathan Horton (9) ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 BOS
|Carl Gunnarsson (1) ASST: Tyler Bozak (5), Nazem Kadri (5)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Gregory Campbell (3) ASST: Tyler Seguin (5), Johnny Boychuk (4)|
2 - 1 BOS
|PPG - Kris Versteeg (8) ASST: Clarke MacArthur (12), Tomas Kaberle (12)|
2 - 2 Tie
|1||N. Kadri||T. Seguin|
|2||N. Kulemin||D. Krejci|
|3||P. Kessel||M. Ryder|
|Jay Rosehill Boarding against Gregory Campbell|
|Jay Rosehill Fighting (maj) against Shawn Thornton|
|Shawn Thornton Roughing against Jay Rosehill|
|Shawn Thornton Fighting (maj) against Jay Rosehill|
|Gregory Campbell Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Clarke MacArthur Hooking against Dennis Seidenberg|
|Milan Lucic Hooking against Tyler Bozak|
|Mike Komisarek Kneeing against Brad Marchand|
|Patrice Bergeron Holding against Clarke MacArthur|
|Johnny Boychuk Hooking against Mikhail Grabovski|