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Kessel's hat trick powers Maple Leafs past Senators

by Joe Yerdon

TORONTO -- Phil Kessel is making scoring look easy.

Kessel completed his fifth career hat trick by scoring the go-ahead goal with 5:58 remaining in regulation, leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 6-3 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Air Canada Center on Saturday night.

Kessel's third goal of the night and 30th of the season came after he took advantage of a misplayed puck behind the net by Senators goalie Craig Anderson and snapped a 3-3 tie. He reached the 30-goal mark for the sixth time in his career and moved into second place in the goal-scoring race behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who has 38.

The line of Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk combined for four goals and eight points.

"It's fun," Bozak said. "We get lots of chances. We're getting a lot of bounces as well. We're going to have stretches of games where things aren't bouncing your way, but we've had a good stretch of games where we've got quite a few bounces and we've been burying our opportunities so it's been fun, real fun."

Kessel also set up Bozak's 11th goal of the season with 1:23 left in regulation before Nazem Kadri hit the empty net with 29 seconds left to complete a four-goal third period for Toronto, which has won nine of its past 11 games. Kessel has 23 points in his past 12 games.

"I've had chances in a couple games before to score," Kessel said. "They went in tonight."

Joffrey Lupul scored the other goal for the Maple Leafs, who got 23 saves from Jonathan Bernier.

"It was certainly an exciting game," Lupul said. "Probably a little sloppy both ways but a great performance by some guys individually. Phil, of course, the top line put on a show."

Chris Neil scored twice and set up Colin Greening's goal for Ottawa (24-21-10), which couldn't hold an early two-goal lead. Anderson stopped 30 shots

The Maple Leafs (30-21-6) are third in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens, seven ahead of the Detroit Red Wings and eight in front of the Senators (24-21-10), who fell out of the final wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Neil put the Senators in front with 53 seconds left in the first period when he used defenseman Morgan Rielly as a screen and beat Bernier. Greening doubled the lead 6:46 into the second period when he finished off Neil's pass on a 2-on-1 break.

"We're a team that's been resilient as of lately," Neil said. "I think we don't get down on ourselves. We keep coming. That's why we've had success lately. I think for us we got that never-quit attitude."

Kessel finally woke up the packed house at Air Canada Centre at 13:01 when he got the Maple Leafs on the board. Van Riemsdyk sent a pass across the crease and Kessel beat defenseman Jared Cowen to the front of the net before snapping the puck into the net.

"You know when he's playing really well because of how he's competing on pucks down low in the offensive end, turning his back protecting the puck and he's been doing that for a while now and it makes him really effective down there," Lupul said of Kessel.

Lupul tied it 1:38 later with his 17th of the season, a one-timer from in front after a quick pass by Kadri behind the net. Kadri got the puck loose after delivering a hit on Senators defenseman Cody Ceci.

"I know he went in and finished his check," Lupul said. "Obviously he irritated a couple of guys as they came after him and then got it out to me and I was able to get it under Anderson's arm. Good play by him getting in on the forecheck."

The Senators viewed the play differently.

"I just kind of showed my back a bit hoping he'd slow up and ended up face-first in the boards and then they scored right on the play," Ceci said. "It was a tough play, tough play for me. It was unfortunate I didn't get a call on the play and they ended up tying the game with that."

No penalties were called on the play or the scrum that followed the goal.

"It doesn't matter how I saw it," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "Whether it's a two-minute penalty or five-minute penalty, it ends up being a goal. That's how I saw it. The referees are in charge of making those calls, not player 43 (Kadri) and not me."

Kessel gave the Maple Leafs their first lead with a power-play goal 7:34 into the third period. With defenseman Patrick Wiercioch off for holding, Kessel skated into the slot and fired a wrist shot over Anderson's glove for his second goal of the game.

"When the dust settles, Phil finds a way to make a huge contribution," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "The thing that got us going was the power-play goal. Obviously when you give him chances he has the ability to find the back of the net."

The Senators tied the game at 9:06 when Neil managed to sneak the puck across the goal line. Bernier thought he had Neil's quick shot trapped under his pads. But a video review determined that the puck crossed the goal line before the whistle, giving Neil his eighth goal of the season and third point of the night.

"At the start of the year we'd get down by two and the game was over," Neil said. "We've turned things around that way. We just want to keep the foot on the gas and the little skinny one on the right and keep going. Paul [MacLean] has done a good job of preaching that, and I think the boys have bought in and we need to do it consistently."

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