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Phil Thrills...Again!

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
Boston, MA -- Somewhere along the way, Phil Kessel picked up a poker face when he speaks of his accomplishments on the ice rink. It goes well with his plainspoken staccato. And, off the rink, the young man is just like any other twenty-something, but in a shootout, probably his only competition is Wyatt Earp.

Following nine NHL penalty shot contests, and five shootout-winning goals under his belt, Kessel is just as cool and calm as any of those legendary gunslingers of history and movie fame.

After helping to tie the game and eventually scoring the lone shootout tally in the Bruins 3-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday, Phil Kessel, showed a little emotion as he was surrounded by reporters in the B's locker room -- but just a little.

Cue the Ennio Morricone* music.

Phil was asked first about his setting up David Krejci for the latter's game-tying goal -- a goal he set up despite going to the no-mans-land in front of the Thrashers net and being tackled by a defender.

"[Milan Lucic] chipped it back to me and I tried to put it out front," said Phil, perhaps a little pleased to be talking about someone else's goal, knowing for sure that he would be describing his own big tally shortly thereafter.  "Krech made a good play while he was falling.

"It was a big goal for us."

Sometimes you just have to chuckle when you listen to Kessel describe his play.

"A big goal."

Finally questioned about his shootout goal, Kessel explained that the whole thing is pretty standard, and from the sounds of it, pretty darn run-of-the-mill.

"I just tried to go the same speed as I do normally," Kessel said. "He came out far then backed in fast, you have to make a move on him."  

"I lost control a little bit, so I just tried to poke it."

With his goal, Kessel also poked the Bruins a little closer to home ice in the playoffs. Boston now resides just four points out of fourth and five points out of first in the Eastern Conference.

The rub lay in the fact that the Black & Gold are only five points out of ninth.

"There’s a time in the season where everybody realizes the importance of doing [the right] things a little more without having to be convinced every night of having to do it," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien before yesterday's win.  "It’s something that I think the guys are catching on right now.

"And every team’s going to tell you the same thing: this is playoff hockey right now.

"And with the parity that’s been created, it seems like playoffs start a month, a month and a half early now," he said.

The right things include going to the dirty areas like Kessel did for the Krejci goal and the right things include bringing your best skills to the fore in a tight game -- as in coming up big in a shootout. Not bad for a guy who was rumored to be going to destinations unknown during the final stages of the NHL trade deadline.

Through it all, Kessel has maintained composure and has brought his best game to the rink.

"I think everyone knows he’s a highly skilled player, no one questions that about Phil," said Julien after Saturdays game. "[In a shootout] he comes in, like anyone else, but when you see a guy come in with that kind of speed and that kind of skill, the goaltenders are kind of wondering what he’s going to do.

"He’s shot some pucks where they’ve gone in, he’s deked goaltenders out and it’s worked, so I don’t think they really know what he’s going to do, time after time."

As he stood in front of his locker, beginning to run out of words to describe his feats on the day, Boston's shootout specialist perked up a bit when someone asked him about the team going forward; about the playoff race.

"We are finding a way to win right now," said Kessel. "We just have to keep winning.

"When you are winning hockey games it is more fun [and] it makes coming to the rink fun.

"We just have to keep it going, and play our game," he said.

After he was done talking, as he sauntered to the players lounge, you could almost hear the sound of spurs jangling. Heck, you might expected a tumbleweed to roll through the locker room as the winner of yet another shootout got ready to go home.

All that was missing was a cold mug of sarsaparilla.
*The composer of music for many cowboy movies, including Clint Eastwood's A Fistful of Dollars.
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