TORONTO – Phil Kessel finally had a strong game against his former team.
The Toronto forward scored the shootout winner Saturday, lifting the Maple Leafs to a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
“I’ll take it,” said Kessel, who Boston traded to Toronto in Sept. 2009 for draft picks, including this year’s second overall pick Tyler Segiun. “That’s a big one for us, a character win. Hopefully, we can get rolling now.”
Kessel hasn’t had much success against his former team—he entered the contest with one assist in seven games against Boston.
But he made a better account of himself Saturday with the shootout winner. And even though Kessel said he doesn’t think playing the Bruins is any different than playing any other team, his teammates know it’s big for him.
“I’m happy for him,” said Giguere. “Hopefully this will give him some confidence. Phil’s been working extremely hard and the bounces haven’t always gone his way. But it was a big goal for him.”
The win came after Kris Versteeg tied the game with 42 seconds left to play when the puck caromed off the end boards to the winger. Standing at the side of the goal, Versteeg had a wide open net in front of 19,483 fans.
“I kind of got lucky just being in the right spot and shovelled it in,” said Versteeg, who’s had some hard luck in the goal-scoring department this season.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Maple Leafs. Boston netminder Tim Thomas was outstanding in the losing effort, making a number of highlight reel saves. In overtime, Thomas’ dive across the net to glove a shot by Francois Beauchemin will likely make year-end lists.
“There’s nothing else I could have done,” said Beauchemin. “I looked up, it was an empty net and I shot it as hard as I could. His glove came up and saved it.”
Thomas was so good he even got post-game praise from Toronto head coach Ron Wilson.
“If not for Timmy Thomas there’s certainly no way the game goes even to overtime or to a shootout, because he made some unbelievable saves,” Wilson said of one of the elite goaltenders this season. “He was huge tonight.”
Despite Thomas’s heroics, the Maple Leafs didn’t get frustrated and showed mettle fighting back from behind twice to force overtime, something Wilson was happy to see.
Toronto got off to good start, skating hard and pressuring the Bruins goal, before a Tim Brent giveaway in the Leafs zone led to Horton’s ninth goal of the season at the 4:48. Horton snapped a shot high on the blocker side past Toronto netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who played well in his second game back from a groin injury.
“The best reaction we got was not folding after the first goal,” Wilson said. “Here we’ve had three or four great chances and the first chance they get the puck goes in the net on a little bit of a turnover. Getting through that in a positive way and taking control of the game again was huge for us.”
The Maple Leafs tied the game at the 15:53 mark of the first period when defenceman Carl Gunnarsson finished off a pretty pass through Thomas’ crease from Tyler Bozak. The goal was Gunnarsson’s first of the season.
The teams played to a scoreless second period, highlighted mainly by the play of Thomas who made 38 saves in regulation and overtime.
Giguere made 25 saves for the Leafs.
“It’s good to get the win, it shows that we can beat some good teams,” said Giguere. “Obviously Boston is a really good team, especially on the road, but we need to put this in the bank and move on.”
Toronto, which plays Washington on Monday, was behind for much of the third period after Gregory Campbell picked up his third goal of the season from near where Horton notched his. Campbell wristed a shot through traffic that beat Giguere.
Undaunted, the Maple Leafs continued to push and were rewarded with Versteeg’s last-minute marker after Thomas had made save after save during a mad-scramble power play to end regulation.
That was Toronto’s lone power-play goal in four chances. Boston failed to connect on two opportunities with the man advantage.
In the shootout, Nazem Kadri beat Thomas on his first career attempt with what Versteeg called a “sick move.”
Seguin immediately replied for the Bruins, setting Kessel’s big finish.