TORONTO – Phil Kessel was his usual subdued self in a rare post-game scrum following a four point night Saturday.
Kessel scored a hat trick, including the game winner, and set up Tyler Bozak as Toronto doubled up the Ottawa Senators 6-3.
“It was a big win for us obviously and the fans were good and we found a way,” said Kessel, who last had a four point night in Edmonton on Oct. 29. “I’ve had chances in a couple games before and obviously they went in tonight.”
As for how he plans on celebrating his second hat trick of the season, Kessel said, “Go home and hang out.”
Bozak, who also shares an apartment in Toronto with Kessel, was shocked to see the forward talking to the media post-game.
“It’s pretty funny, surprised he talked to you guys today. Must’ve had a good night I guess,” joked Bozak. “He’s always played well since he’s been here. He’s always put up points and done great things for our team, but I’ve been starting to get some points now with him and that’s been fun.”
Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul had the other goals for the Leafs (30-21-6), who have won six straight at Air Canada Centre – their longest stretch since winning 10 in a row to conclude the 2006-07 season.
Chris Neil scored twice and set up Colin Greening for the Senators (24-21-10), who have lost all three meetings between the Ontario rivals. It was Neil’s second career three-point game with his last one coming April 6, 2010 against Florida.
Craig Anderson made 30 saves for Ottawa while Jonathan Bernier made 23 saves for the Leafs in the win.
Bozak fed Kessel in front at 14:01 of the third period for his third goal of the night and 30th of the season to give the Leafs a 4-3 lead. The goal leaves Kessel alone in second among NHL goal scorers.
Kessel’s first hat trick of the season came Oct. 22 against the Anaheim Ducks.
“His skating always stands out and his shot on the second goal,” said Lupul of Kessel’s play. “But you know when he’s really playing well cause of how he’s competing on pucks down low in the offensive end, turning his back, protecting the puck. He’s been doing that for a while now.”
Bozak then added an insurance marker at 18:27, one timing a Kessel feed past Anderson for his 11th of the season. Kadri added an empty netter with 28 seconds remaining.
Kessel gave Toronto its first lead of the game at 7:34 of the third period on a power play, beating Anderson top corner with a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle for his 29th of the season.
Cody Franson picked up his 100th career assist on the goal.
“I think with Phil, he’s been classified as this one type of player and we think that he’s got more of an all-round ability too,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “He can distribute the puck, he can pass the puck and he can find people. He can do a lot more things than just shoot.”
Toronto’s lead was short-lived as less than two minutes later, Neil tied it 3-3 at 9:06 jamming home a loose puck. The play was reviewed before it was determined the puck just inched over the goal line for Neil’s eighth of the season.
Ottawa had a 2-0 lead midway through the second period and had an excellent chance take a three-goal lead near the 11 minute mark as Erik Karlsson beat Bernier with a shot glove-side, but hit the post.
“I felt we played hard. We gave up some chances in the second, but I thought we settled it down there in the third and got back after them,” said Neil, who snapped a 12-game goalless drought in the loss. “I don’t think it’s a 6-3 hockey game, that’s for sure. It was pretty close back and forth.”
Toronto cut Ottawa’s lead in half two minutes later as Kessel put home a James van Riemsdyk feed.
The Leafs completed the comeback at 14:39 of the middle frame on a questionable play. Kadri hit Senators defenceman Cody Ceci from behind and then centred the loose puck to Lupul for his 17th. Despite the Ottawa protest and the referees discussing amongst themselves, there was no penalty on the play.
“He was actually looking up, looking up ice I think from what I remember when I was kind of engaging him,” said Kadri. “I think he turned to just give himself a little more room at that point I’m just fully committed to the hit and I just finished my check.
“To be honest, I did let up a little bit and the puck was laying there and I just put it in front.”
Added Ceci: “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. 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.”
As for the non-call, Ceci said he was surprised.
“I guess I could’ve stayed down a little longer,” he said. “But I just tried to get up as fast as I could to continue to play, and they end up scoring right after that. I just had to skate off and just kind of shocked that nothing came of it.”
Ottawa took a 2-0 lead at 6:46 of the middle frame as Greening finished off a 2-on-1 feed from Neil for his fifth of the season.
Toronto had back-to-back first period power play opportunities courtesy of consecutive Cory Conacher minor penalties, but had just two shots to show for it.
Neil opened the scoring at 19:07 of the first using Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly as a screen and beating Bernier glove-side for his seventh of the season and first in 12 games.
Ottawa continues its three-game road trip Monday in Pittsburgh before concluding it in St. Louis on Tuesday.
Toronto heads out on its final road trip prior to the Olympic break visiting Florida on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Notes: Leafs forward Carter Ashton missed Saturday’s game with a hand injury.…Peter Holland sat out his first game with what Toronto coach Randy Carlyle called a lace bite.…Toronto’s Frazer McLaren, who missed eight games with a shoulder injury, returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 14.…Senators forward Cory Conacher played in his 100th career NHL game Saturday.…Ottawa defenceman, Chris Phillips missed his third straight game with a lower body injury.…Referee Paul Devorski became the fifth official to ever work his 1,500th NHL game Saturday night. Leafs forward Greg McKegg made his NHL debut in the win.…Carlyle said forward Trevor Smith (hand), who sustained another injury in the weight room earlier this week, will not travel on the upcoming road trip to Florida.