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Kessel, Kadri lift streaking Maple Leafs past Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ten days ago, the question was: What's wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Fast-forward five games, 20 goals and Toronto's longest winning streak in seven years, and suddenly the questions are about how far the Maple Leafs can climb in the Eastern Conference.

Phil Kessel scored for the third straight game, and goalie Jonathan Bernier made 39 saves to lift the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 on Monday night for the team's fifth straight win.

Kessel, Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Gardiner each had a goal and an assist in the win, which moved Toronto past the Philadelphia Flyers into sixth place in the East. Kessel scored his 24th goal and extended his scoring streak to six games in helping the Maple Leafs build their first five-game winning streak since the 2006-07 season.

"We did a lot of good things early in the game and then we reverted back to some of the old habits," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "We seem to want to make life more difficult for ourselves. But we've won five in a row now and it's a positive step for this club, especially getting the first one on a (four-game) road trip."

Bernier was under pressure all night, especially during a 15-save second period, but notched his fourth straight win. The Maple Leafs swept the two-game season series from Phoenix, also beating them 2-1 in a shootout in Toronto on Dec. 19.

"Our compete level is way higher. Our starts have been great lately, and we all know in this league that if you have the lead, it's much easier," said Bernier, who is 3-0-0 in his career against the Coyotes.

Carl Gunnarsson snapped an 82-game scoring drought with a goal for the Maple Leafs, who hadn't won in Arizona since Oct. 23, 2003. Toronto had been outscored 16-5 in three previous trips to Arena, but offense wasn't a problem this time.

Mike Ribeiro scored on the power play at 5:35 of the third to draw the Coyotes to within 3-1. Phoenix has now scored on the man advantage in eight straight games, matching the longest such streak since the team moved to Phoenix in 1996-97.

Phoenix finished 1-for-4 on the power play.

"Playing Phoenix a lot (when he was with the Los Angeles Kings), I know they have a good power play," Bernier said. "They zip it around and they don't waste any shots. They had a few cross-ice passes, but I was there in pretty good position, I guess."

Antoine Vermette scored Phoenix's first shorthanded goal of the season with 5:01 left, finishing off a 2-on-1 with Lauri Korpikoski for his 14th goal, to make it 4-2.

Mike Smith made 25 saves, but he didn't get much help early as Toronto turned the Coyotes' sloppy play into scoring chances and goals.

"When you give the opposition those opportunities on turnovers and they capitalize, you're going to be chasing the game, and that's exactly what happened," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "There are little things that come back to haunt us off and on all year, and those continue to be areas of concern and areas we have to improve in."

The Coyotes outshot Toronto 41-29 in the game. Korpikoski and Oliver Ekman-Larsson hit the cross bar with shots, and Bernier added several keys saves, robbing Ekman-Larsson on a 2-on-1 with a sprawling stop in the second period.

"Bernier played well for them and we had chances we didn't bury. That was the difference," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "They have a good offensive team, and they made the most of their chances."

With center Martin Hanzal out with a lower-body injury, Tippett was forced to juggle his lines; all the new combinations struggled with turnovers.

Ribeiro's giveaway in the Phoenix corner late in the first put the Coyotes in an early hole. Kadri centered the puck to Gardiner, who put a wrist shot by Smith at 16:17 for his fourth goal.

A little more than a minute later, Zbynek Michalek lifted a puck into the crowd, drawing a delay of game penalty. With James van Riemsdyk providing a screen on Smith, Kessel put a nifty deke on Coyotes forward Jeff Halpern before picking out the far corner with a low wrist shot for a power-play goal at 18:19.

Kessel has four goals and 12 points during his six-game scoring streak.

"He doesn't need very many chances to score goals, and when he gets hot, he's one of those guys where everything he shoots has a chance to go in," Carlyle said.

The Coyotes outshot Toronto 15-6 in the second period, but Toronto scored the only goal.

On a delayed penalty to Phoenix's Michael Stone, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf's shot from the point was knocked down by Gunnarsson in the slot. With the puck at his feet, Gunnarsson swept the puck in for his first goal in almost a year; he last scored Jan. 24, 2013, against the New York Islanders.

"It's nice to get that off my own back, to get a goal," Gunnarsson said. "You never want to have a zero in that column, right? So maybe that's just one, there we go, and maybe I'll get couple of more before the season ends."

The Coyotes finally got on the board when Ribeiro tapped home Keith Yandle's pass for his 12th goal. Phoenix kept up the pressure but couldn't score, with Bernier making a big pad save on Radim Vrbata at the end of a shorthanded 2-on-1 with 10 minutes left.

Kadri scored his 12th goal on the power play when his shot deflected off the stick of Phoenix's David Schlemko and by Smith at 14:10 to make it 4-1.

"We got some puck luck on both ends of the ice," Gardiner said.

Toronto was 2-for-6 on the power play.

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