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Kessel lifts Maple Leafs past Avalanche with OT goal

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Phil Kessel has found his scoring touch after a slow start to the season.

After going pointless in home losses to the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs right wing has scored two goals and has five points in back-to-back wins against the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche.

Kessel's goal 34 seconds into overtime lifted the Maple Leafs to a 3-2 win against the Avalanche at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.

Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer made 22 saves in Toronto's first win on home ice this season.

With the game on the line, Kessel wants the puck, and Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak made sure to get it to him early in overtime.

Bozak spotted Kessel breaking into the Colorado zone on his off wing, and the right-shooting Kessel accepted the pass and broke to the net. The puck rolled off Kessel's stick, but he retrieved it, worked his way into the slot around Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie and swept a shot along the ice past goalie Semyon Varlamov.

"You always want the puck, and I was fortunate enough tonight that we won," Kessel said.

Kessel is not a man of many words, but his teammates sure love to talk about him.

"Every game, Phil is a guy who makes plays and gets by guys, and it's just a matter of time until he puts one in," right wing David Clarkson said.

In the past three seasons, Kessel has finished sixth in the NHL in scoring twice and eighth once. He has 94 goals and 214 points over that span.

"I think he's moving his feet and playing hard," Reimer said of Kessel's offensive outburst the past two games. "He's obviously got that great shot and he's beating guys to the puck and dangling out there with his speed and his skill."

Added right wing Joffrey Lupul: "He's a dynamic player. You can go without noticing him for a stretch of time, and then he gets the puck with speed and has the ability to change a game in a matter of seconds. Not many guys in the League have that ability."

After being shut out in their first two games, the Avalanche have scored four goals through four games -- the fewest after four games in franchise history -- and are 1-2-1.

Colorado coach Patrick Roy felt two slashing penalties against the Avalanche in the second half of the second period -- the first on Jarome Iginla at 12:30, the second on Nick Holden at 18:30 -- swung the game in favor of the Maple Leafs.

"We had a really good start. First period, we were sharp," he said. "We had a lot of good chances. Second period, same thing. I thought we had a good start of that second period. Unfortunately for us, the penalties kind of hurt us a little bit and give them some momentum."

Toronto's top line of Kessel, Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, which combined for seven points in the Maple Leafs' 6-3 win against the Rangers on Sunday, got things rolling with a goal at 9:54 of the first period. Kessel fed van Riemsdyk in tight, and the big left wing snapped a high shot past Varlamov for his second goal.

With Toronto muffing on a handful of clearing opportunities, Colorado eventually took advantage to tie the score. Ryan O'Reilly set up behind the Maple Leafs net and spotted Iginla in front. Iginla's shot was stopped, but O'Reilly stepped to the side of the net, corralled the rebound and beat Reimer for his first goal of the season at 13:14 of the first period.

The Maple Leafs outshot the Avalanche 16-7 in the second period, but it was Colorado taking the 2-1 lead when Iginla set up Matt Duchene in the high slot. Duchene drilled a shot that hit the crossbar and went in for his first goal of the season.

Duchene missed a chance to put the Avalanche up by two goals early in the third period when he intercepted a pass by Maple Leafs defenseman Stephane Robidas and broke in alone from center ice. Robidas recovered to get a stick on Duchene, but the Colorado center got a shot off that Reimer stopped.

Colorado defenseman Brad Stuart's clearing attempt midway through the period was intercepted by Toronto's Joffrey Lupul, who drilled a shot between Varlamov's legs to tie the game at 10:36. On the next shift, Lupul was set up in front, but Varlamov stopped his hard shot.

A minute later, Kessel broke in alone, but Varlamov again made the save. The Colorado goalie stopped 37 shots.

Kessel often gets the puck and gets his shot off quickly, but on his overtime winner he showed more determination in terms of driving to the net. That did not go unnoticed by Toronto coach Randy Carlyle.

"I loved it," Carlyle said. "Phil is a special player, and if you give him enough opportunities, he can score and hurt you in different ways."

Although everyone in Toronto seemed to be panicking after the Maple Leafs dropped their first two games of the season, Kessel kept his cool.

"We started 0-2 and there was a little panic in Toronto, but I guess everything is alright now," Kessel said with a smile.

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