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Kessel's goal lifts Leafs to 3-2 win in Winnipeg

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Phil Kessel finally knows what it's like to score a goal again.

The four-time 30-goal scorer first of the season came with 4:08 remaining, breaking a tie and giving the Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets.

Alexei Ponikarovsky's holding penalty 26 seconds after Toronto had tied the game forced Winnipeg's last-place penalty kill back to work. Tyler Bozak left a drop pass just inside the Winnipeg blue line for Kessel, who moved to the top of the right circle and ripped his 100th goal as a Maple Leaf past Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

Kessel's goal came 54 seconds after Toronto had tied the game at 2-2. Kessel, who scored 37 times last season, had been scoreless on a League-leading 42 shots before Thursday.

"It's been a while, right?" Kessel said of his goal drought, which dated to March 31, 2012. "I love playing here, and I'm happy for the win. It's a big win for us. I don't know if we had the best game, but we battled hard. It's tough when you get chances to not bury it, but fortunately it went in tonight."

Toronto improved to 6-5-0 and boosted its road record to 5-1-0.

Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was happy to see his top sniper break his slump.

"Goal-scorers have streaks," Carlyle said, "and we hope that this is the start of a streak. Not many people could put that puck where he put it. It's as simple as that."

Before setting up Kessel's game-winning goal, Bozak contributed a second-period shorthanded goal to tie the game at 1-1. Matt Frattin's third-period goal erased a second Winnipeg lead.

"He has been getting his chances," Bozak said of Kessel. "He has been shooting well. We knew it was only a matter of time. I'm probably happier than him that I don't have to get asked why he isn't scoring."

Carlyle, a member of the original Jets who received a first-period standing ovation in his return to Winnipeg, also considered his club fortunate to be tied 1-1 after a sluggish two periods.

"I wouldn't say that it would be one that we're going to frame," Carlyle admitted. "We're not going to critique the win. We're going to take it and move on."

James Reimer returned to the net after a one-game break and stopped 23 shots. Reimer, a Manitoba native, won his first NHL game in his home province.

"A lot of special people were here tonight, people that got me here, so it was pretty good to win it," Reimer said.

The Jets (4-5-1) couldn't hold 1-0 and 2-1 leads. Andrew Ladd's goal 3:46 into the third period gave them a 2-1 edge, but Toronto tied it with 5:02 remaining when Cody Franson blasted a shot from the top of the right circle that Frattin tipped past Pavelec.

An inability to hold late-game leads has plagued Winnipeg this season.

"We were a little bit tentative with about eight minutes to go in the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We were almost sitting back on our heels rather than putting pressure on. We struggled a bit in our zone even against their fourth line."

Noel's frustration extended beyond his team's third-period struggles.

"I'm deeply disappointed in the game," he said. "Our inability to close out the game certainly was not a good thing. Our power play was really disappointing. We ended up getting one shot in four tries, and we couldn't handle the pressure they had on their penalty kill. We let that game get away. To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement."

Winnipeg's Zach Redmond also scored his first NHL goal while Tobias Enstrom extended his scoring streak to eight games with an assist on the goal. Pavelec started for the ninth time in the Jets' first 10 games and made 15 saves.

"It's always tough to lose," Redmond said. "It makes it especially hard when it comes late in the third period. It's pretty quiet in here right now. We have to get back to the drawing board and re-group quick."

Winnipeg's top line of Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen and Blake Wheeler is a collective minus-20 this season, and the power play went scoreless on four advantages. Noel indicated that changes are coming up front.

"You've got to look at making some changes, really," Noel said. "I've got the one line that's minus all over the place, so you've got to make changes. You can't sit back and watch this. We're finding a way to lose games, and some of the problems that we get are created by ourselves. And that's the disturbing part. We have to play a lot better."

The teams staged a quiet opening period in which the Jets held a 10-7 advantage in shots. Kessel had three of Toronto's shots in the opening 20 minutes, but the Maple Leafs struggled to establish any sort of sustained offensive presence.

Both clubs lugged struggling penalty-killing units into MTS Centre, but both generated some offense of their own for a change. The Jets' penalty kill ranked last in the League at 62.1 percent; the Maple Leafs were 27th at 71.9 percent.

After Nik Antropov's early second-period penalty put the Maple Leafs on their second power play, Bryan Little jumped on a Toronto offensive-zone turnover and started a 2-on-1 rush. Little fed a cross-ice pass from the right circle to Redmond, who snapped a high shot past Reimer at 3:32. Two nights prior, the pair had also connected when Redmond's pass set up Little's overtime goal against the Florida Panthers.

Redmond also became the first player to record his first NHL goal shorthanded since Edmonton's Anton Lander did so Nov. 17, 2011.

But Toronto used its own penalty kill to wipe out the Winnipeg lead at 6:21. Bozak stripped defenseman Paul Postma of the puck, broke in alone and popped a shot over Pavelec's glove.

Winnipeg went ahead early in the third on Ladd's goal. Alexander Burmistrov pressured Korbinian Holzer deep inside the visitors' zone and forced a bad clear from the Toronto defenseman. The Jets worked the puck out to the left point, where Grant Clitsome pumped a hard shot that appeared to hit Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf and Ladd before ricocheting past Reimer's glove.

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