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Phil Kessel demands puck, lifts Penguins to Game 2 win

Forward vocal on bench, scores lone goal with 6:55 left to tie series against Senators

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz insisted he couldn't remember what right wing Phil Kessel was yelling about on the bench in the second period. But Kunitz was sitting right next to Kessel. He even laughed as he squirted water into his mouth.

How could he not remember when it apparently was pretty funny?

"I don't pay attention that much," Kunitz said, smiling.

Why not?

"Phil is always yelling," he said, laughing.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage | Penguins resilient, find way to win Game 2 despite injuries]

 

Kessel certainly was during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at PPG Paints Arena on Monday. He was also the only one who did any scoring.

Kessel's goal, his sixth of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, second in the past seven games, with 6:55 remaining in the third period stood up as the difference in a 1-0 win against the Ottawa Senators.

"We could have had a couple more, but he's a good goalie," Kessel said of Ottawa's Craig Anderson, who made 28 saves. "Got to find a way to score on him, and fortunately got one."

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Kessel scores after showing frustration

That one, coupled with Marc-Andre Fleury's 23 saves, was enough to tie the best-of-7 series 1-1.

Game 3 is at Ottawa on Wednesday, when you can take it to the bank that Kessel will be yelling and screaming upon returning to the bench again and again and again.

"It tells me he's invested -- I love that about the guy," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Yeah, he's always like that."

The cameras caught Kessel in the middle of a verbal tirade several times in Game 2, including the one in the second period, right next to Kunitz, when Kessel appeared to be yelling at assistant Rick Tocchet about the need for the Penguins to move the puck.

He was demonstrative with his hands, too, to make his point known even louder.

"He's one of those guys that thinks he's open all the time," Kunitz said. "You have to be able to communicate to each other and some guys, that's just the way they blow off steam to get out there for the next shift."

The cameras don't always catch Kessel on the bench like this, but it is, as center Matt Cullen said, "par for the course" with him, especially with Tocchet.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Kessel rips wrister past Anderson

"Yeah, him and Tock have this little spitfire relationship when they talk back to each other about plays … on the ice," Kunitz said. "It works well. It gets him into the game. It gets him to see different areas of the ice. That's one of the things of Phil wanting the puck. That's why he's an elite player in this league."

The Penguins, especially Tocchet and Sullivan, have no issues with Kessel's, shall we say, mode of communication. Sullivan, in fact, said they call it a "man's argument" on the bench. He said they usually move past it quickly, unless it becomes a distraction, in which case a conversation the next day is warranted.

And don't think that's always a one-sided conversation. Sullivan said earlier in the playoffs that he and Kessel have had many heated discussions.

"Phil is an emotional guy, so when he comes back to the bench, he wants a pass, doesn't get it, he lets a guy know," Sullivan said. "I don't have a problem with that. I don't think our team has any problem with that. I think that's how we make progress, that's how we come together as a team.

"Our coaching staff, we like the juice on the bench. I'd much rather have a bench that's invested in trying to win, that has some emotion and some personality to it, than a group of guys that are flatlined and we've got to check them for a pulse."

Several players who were asked about Kessel on the bench said they know they've been targets of his verbal tirades before. None were offended.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Sullivan on team's effort in Game 2 win

"I'm sure he yelled at me at one point," defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "He wanted the puck back, I think. You can't hear him."

"I've probably got shouted at a couple times," forward Scott Wilson said, "but those are one of those things with the guys in here that you kind of joke about it after, so it's fun."

Cullen said when Kessel is vocal it means he's engaged in the game.

"He's got some fire and he's not afraid to let 'em have it sometimes," Cullen said. "When he plays with that fire, he gets angry out there and he's pretty tough to stop."

He was impossible to stop on his goal.

Video: The guys discuss Phil Kessel's impact

Evgeni Malkin made a strong play to keep the puck on the wall and carry it into the zone. He threaded a pass through Senators forward Mark Stone's legs to Kessel, whose initial shot was blocked by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He got the puck right back and from above the hash marks beat Anderson low on the blocker side with a wrist shot.

"Obviously, for a goalie that's always tough when it gets blocked and it comes right back to the guy," Kessel said. "I was fortunate, but I'll take it."

Kessel doesn't mind giving it out too. The more he does, apparently the better he is and the more his teammates seem to like him.

"I think our players get a kick out of him, quite honestly," Sullivan said.

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