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Kessel's first Leafs' goal is a game-winner

by John McGourty /
It was worth the wait.

In his third game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, right wing Phil Kessel had the game-winning goal and an assist in the Leafs' 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

It was the Maple Leafs' third victory of the season and the first time they had won twice in a row.

"If I don't score any goals and we win, I'll take that," Kessel said. "Even before, when we weren't winning games, we were playing well."

The Maple Leafs traded for Kessel, a 36-goal scorer a year ago, on Sept. 18, knowing he was recuperating from shoulder surgery and wouldn't be available until November at the earliest. He returned two weeks earlier than first forecast.

The deal was costly for Toronto, a first- and second-round draft pick in 2010 and a first-round pick in 2011 to the Boston Bruins, but the Leafs needed scoring and the Bruins couldn't fit Kessel's salary demands under their cap without cutting loose another player they deemed essential.

The Maple Leafs struggled in Kessel's absence, going eight games without a victory until they defeated the Ducks, 6-3, in Anaheim on Oct. 26. That gave them one win in 12 October games.

But November has been a different story as Toronto has earned five of a possible six points with Kessel in the lineup.

Kessel returned to action in Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and looked good in putting 10 shots on net. He also had seven shots blocked and two went wide of the net. He had four shots against the Red Wings but he made them count.

Kessel helped the Maple Leafs double their win total for the season to two on Friday when he assisted on Jason Blake's game-winning goal in the 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The win helped Toronto escape the NHL cellar, the struggling Hurricanes taking their place.

Coach Ron Wilson placed Kessel on a line with left wing Jason Blake centered by John Mitchell and good things have been happening.

"We didn't get to practice that much, just one practice together this week," Blake said. "But we've been talking for the last month, just to see what he thinks and how we can get better. The communication is there."

"We're just playing hard, trying to get used to each other and keep it going," Kessel said.

"Phil's a very dynamic player who uses his speed to get in position," Blake added. "He has a tremendous amount of skill and he's very smart. He's got good wheels and that definitely helps our lineup."

That was never more obvious than on Toronto's fourth goal, a Mitchell power-play tip-in of Kessel's third shot within a minute, all from the left wing. The first shot was deflected in front of Osgood, who blocked the second one.

Then Toronto defenseman Francois Beauchemin, at the right point, passed to Kessel high on the left side, about 12 feet from the boards. Kessel shot from the off-wing at Osgood, who was screened by Mitchell.

Mitchell tipped the puck up, off Osgood's thumb, and into the net for his second goal of the season.

"I missed the net on the first one and Osgood made a good save on the other one," Kessel said. "We were looking for a power-play goal and we got it done tonight."

Beauchemin noted that the power play has been a strength all season and Kessel is a welcome addition.

"We have a power-play goal in almost every game and we're in the top five," Beauchemin said. "We're moving the puck really well. Phil's a shooter and a great one."

Kessel got his first Toronto goal at 19:34 of the first period. Ian White took a shot from the left point that Osgood kicked out into the slot. Blake fired the puck between Osgood's leg and it appeared it would trickle in before Kessel swept into the crease behind Osgood and made sure it went in.

When Dan Cleary scored Detroit's only goal early in the third period, it made Kessel's goal the game-winner. Kessel wasn't looking to rush out and call mom. He was tightly focused in the dressing room after the game.

"We won, that's what you play for," Kessel said. "We've won two in a row now and we just have to keep it going. Anything to help the team win but give credit to Jonas Gustavsson. He played outstanding for us the last two games, great games."

Kessel was asked if he pushed in a puck that was going in anyway.

"It's just instinct, you never know if a guy is behind you," Kessel said. "If I don't touch it and some guy clears it out of there, no, you've got to bury it. I would expect anyone else to bury it too."

Until that point, Kessel had had a quiet first period. The goal was his first shot of the game, after a giveaway and a lost faceoff. He'd been thwarted early after taking a pass and breaking into the offensive zone but was forced wide and didn't get a shot.

Kessel's goal -- which followed an earlier goal by Wayne Primeau, his first with the Leafs -- gave Toronto its first two-goal lead of the season.

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