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Kessel appreciates reception from Pittsburgh fans in return with Coyotes

Forward recognized for time with Penguins that included two Stanley Cup championships

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Phil Kessel said he never realized how much he could mean to a place.

The 32-year-old forward found out Friday when he returned to PPG Paints Arena with the Arizona Coyotes to play the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"They were very nice to me tonight," said Kessel, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Penguins before he was traded to the Coyotes on June 29. "I appreciate that. I loved my time here and I love them. ... I've got nothing but good memories."

During the first television timeout of the 2-0 loss, Kessel stood on the ice and watched a video tribute that lasted almost two minutes. He tried to force his way back to the bench but his teammates cut him off, letting him soak in the moment.

"You know me, I'm not the biggest for that," Kessel said. "It was nice of them to do that. I appreciate it."

Video: ARI@PIT: Kessel honored in return to Pittsburgh

The ovation got louder each time Kessel was shown on the screen and reached a fever pitch when he cracked a smile after about a minute.

"Pittsburgh fans are great, phenomenal for doing that," Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. "Phil got a little [emotional]. He had some chances too. Right after that, he had a couple of chances. It would've been nice for him to score. It was great by the fans and the organization."

Kessel's first of three shots on goal came at 3:34 of the first period. Goalie Tristan Jarry smothered his snap shot, receiving more applause than usual for a routine save.

Later in the period, Kessel had two chances to give the Coyotes the first goal. He shot wide with 3:27 remaining; it bounced to teammate Lawson Crouse, who hit the left post six seconds later.

Clayton Keller found Kessel with a cross-ice pass on a power play less than two minutes later, and Kessel dropped to one knee for a one-timer that went off the left post with 1:38 left.

"I had some chances tonight. I had a lot, actually," said Kessel, who has 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 31 games with Arizona. "It didn't work out, but we'll just keep battling. I like our team. I like how we played tonight. If we keep playing like that, we'll win a lot of games."

Video: Jarry shuts out Coyotes in Penguins' 2-0 win

Arizona fell behind the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division after passing them the night before. Kessel was part of Pittsburgh's Cup-winning teams in 2016 and 2017.

"He's obviously a real good player," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought he was noticeable on their power play. That's one of the strengths of his game, as it was when he was here with us. He's just a real good player."

Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 7:13 of the third period, and Brandon Tanev scored an empty-net goal with two seconds remaining, which left Kessel disappointed. But he understood this game wasn't just about the result.

His ovation was probably only surpassed by the reception goalie Marc-Andre Fleury received when he returned to Pittsburgh for the first time with the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 6, 2018. Kessel said it wasn't the same as going back to play his other former teams for the first time, the Boston Bruins on Dec. 5, 2009, or the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 31, 2015.

"It's different," said Kessel, a Wisconsin native who had 303 points (110 goals, 193 assists) in 328 games with Pittsburgh. "Obviously, this place is very special to me. We had a couple great years. I've got a lot of good memories and nothing but good things to say."

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