Toronto spotted the red-hot Anaheim Ducks a two-goal lead before Kessel's hat trick rallied them to a 4-2 victory Tuesday night, snapping Anaheim's seven-game winning streak.
The Maple Leafs didn't get off to the kind of start they wanted as the Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Nick Bonino and Mathieu Perreault. Bonino's goal at 17:38 of the first period came at the end of a 3-on-1 rush; he finished off a cross-crease pass by Patrick Maroon. Perreault made it 2-0 at 1:59 of the second period when he skated out from behind the Toronto goal untouched by the defense and beat Jonathan Bernier.
"First period we were awful tight," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "We couldn't execute a 20-foot pass. We were putting the pucks in people's feet. It looked like we were so tense and so wound up, we were tripping over one another for the first period."
Toronto took over after Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller made a pair of highlight-reel stops five minutes into the second period. Kessel scored his first goal of the game on the power play at 7:44 after James van Riemsdyk fired a no-look pass across the crease. Kessel was wide open and scored easily to cut the lead in half.
Dion Phaneuf tied it 1:19 later when he batted home the rebound of Dave Bolland's shot. Just over a minute later, Jay McClement was called for hooking, followed by a van Riemsdyk tripping call 33 seconds later. However, the Ducks failed to score during 87 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play.
"I didn't think our power play was very good at all tonight. At all," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's just something we have to continually work on and make the process get it right. It's a productive thing. We haven't used the power play to win a game this year, or special teams for that matter, and it cost us tonight."
Kessel put the Maple Leafs ahead to stay at 16:09, beating Hiller on a 2-on-1 rush with van Riemsdyk.
"I was thinking pass actually but [defenseman Cam] Fowler took it away I think," Kessel said. "I was fortunate it went under the bar."
Kessel completed his hat trick at 8:11 of the third period, finishing off a pass from van Riemsdyk on another 2-on-1. Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm tried to keep the puck in the Toronto zone, but van Riemsdyk poked it by him to start the odd-man rush. Hats rained down to the ice as the fans chanted Kessel’s name in celebration.
"Obviously I love this city and I love the fans. It was a good night," Kessel said.
The hat trick was the fourth of Kessel’s career and his second with the Maple Leafs. He had two as a member of the Boston Bruins.
"Those are some serious goal-scorer goals," Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "He didn't have a lot of room on two out of the three. He found a way to put the puck in the net, that's what he does. That's why he's one of the top players in the league."
Van Riemsdyk had a chance to add a goal to his two-assist night but hit the post on a penalty shot with 6:59 remaining in regulation.
"[Van Riemsdyk] made two great passes to me and I'm fortunate that they were both goals," Kessel said.
Bernier finished with 23 saves. Hiller stopped 19 shots.
"We started collectively turning pucks over, and that’s a fast hockey team," Anaheim's Ben Lovejoy said. "We gave them too many easy pucks, easy turnovers, and they were able to hit it back at us with speed. We certainly lost our composure and didn’t play how we wanted to play. That’s one of the fastest teams we’ve played, and they made us pay."
The Maple Leafs improved to 7-3-0, and they'll have David Clarkson available for Friday night's road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Clarkson served a 10-game suspension.
"It's a good start for our team," Phaneuf said. "We wanted to come out and have a good start to the year and I feel that we've done that. We've got lots of room to grow but we'll take that start in the first ten."
The loss was Anaheim's first since the Ducks were routed 6-1 on the road by the Colorado Avalanche on opening night and came in the opener of an eight-game trip that continues against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
"We played really good for the first 30 minutes of the game, as good as we can play," Boudreau said. "I think the big thing is we just lost our composure for 10 minutes. We've got to get it back, we'll get it back in practice [on Wednesday]."
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