BOSTON – Bruins coach Claude Julien made it clear that he wanted young forward Phil Kessel to play hard every game.
Kessel, benched by Julien during last year’s playoff series against Montreal and a subject of trade rumours at this season’s deadline, scored his 30th goal of the season in Boston’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.
“He’s what you saw when he’s on his game, a game-breaker,” Julien said. “When he doesn’t compete the way he’s been competing lately, he is a player that doesn’t bring as much to the table.”
After his benching last spring, Kessel scored a key goal in Game 5 before the Bruins lost the series to the Canadiens in seven.
The Bruins jumped ahead of the Islanders 1-0 on Kessel’s goal 3:16 in when he got to a rebound and beat goalie Yann Danis with a wrist shot inside the left post from the left circle. Kessel became Boston’s first 30-goal scorer since teammate Patrice Bergeron had 31 in the 2005-06 season.
“It’s a nice season,” Kessel said. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates and linemates I’ve been playing with this year.”
Boston made it 2-0 after Kessel gathered Zdeno Chara’s long clearing pass at the Islanders blue-line and sent the puck to a charging Savard, who fired a wrist shot past Danis’ glove for his first goal since Feb. 7 against Philadelphia. Boston scored on the game’s first two shots.
Some of Kessel’s teammates agreed that he’s one of the Bruins’ best offensive threats when he’s on top of his game.
“I don’t think you sneak up to 30,” winger Shawn Thornton said. “Guys know where he is on the ice at all times. He’s usually up against the top lines. When he’s skating it shows he’s certainly a dynamic player.”
P.J. Axelsson agreed.
“I think he can be a top-goal scorer,” he said. “He’s still very young. He can be as good as he wants to be.”
The Eastern Conference-leading Bruins earned their second straight win after they had lost five of six. Tim Thomas stopped 21 shots in matching his career-high with his 30th win.
Mark Streit had the goal for Islanders, who lost in regulation for the second time in nine games (5-2-2). New York has a NHL-worst 54 points.
“It’s been great. Our guys have really come together. They’re playing hard for each other,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said of his team’s recent play. “They’re supportive on the ice and off the ice and in the room. It’s something we’ve been striving for in the second half, and it’s been consistent.”
New York cut it to 2-1 when Streit took advantage of a defensive breakdown midway through the second period. Streit cut between the defenceman – with Chara apparently expecting a pass as he circled away – and fired a wrist shot inside the left post.
The Islanders pulled Danis for an extra skater with just over a minute left.
David Krejci barely missed a goal late in the second when his backhanded shot from the edge of the crease tipped off the crossbar and hit Danis’ back before rolling out of the crease.
Thomas made a nice stop on Streit’s shot from the point just as the first half of a 5-on-3 Islanders advantage ended in the third period.
“I thought we had a couple of opportunities to shoot the puck. We just didn’t execute; some guys were just sleeping,” Streit said. “It’s a 5-on-3. We just have to execute what we do in practice. We’ve got to read and react and take advantage of it, and we just didn’t do it.”
Notes: Thomas also won 30 games in the 2006-07 season. … Islanders RW Kyle Okposo had a four-game goal streak snapped. … Boston C Stephane Yelle missed his fourth straight game with an undisclosed upper body injury. … Bruins RW Mark Recchi, acquired in a trade-deadline deal from Tampa Bay, has 118 career points in 103 games against the Islanders. … New York is 8-6-3 against Northeast teams, the only division the team is over .500. … D Steve Montador assisted on Kessel’s goal, his first point with the Bruins since being acquired on trade-deadline day from Anaheim. … Gordon is the former coach for the Bruins’ Providence AHL affiliate.