Through four post-season games, Phil Kessel had two goals and four points, but he came into Saturday’s elimination game flying.
With the Penguins having the opportunity to move into the second round with a Game 5 win over the New York Rangers, Kessel helped Pittsburgh draw even early with a nice pass to Carl Hagelin, but it was Kessel’s third goal of the playoffs that was most impressive.
Midway through the second period, Kessel sped down the right wing while the Penguins were on the power play and took a picture-perfect pass from Sidney Crosby mid-stride. Kessel’s speed had the Rangers defense turned by the time he received the pass, and with New York blueliner Marc Staal attempting to close off Kessel’s space by reaching in with a poke check, the Penguins winger rifled one of his signature shots:
Had Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist not gotten a piece of Kessel’s shot, the puck was likely heading wide, but the power of Kessel’s shot allowed the puck to careen off the shaft of Lundqvist’s stick and into the net. For Kessel, it was his third goal of the series and sixth point, and he didn’t slow down throughout the rest of the first frame.
Kessel has previously been maligned as the type of player who can’t perform in a big game, but if he hasn’t already bucked that reputation, he’s doing a great job this post-season. His two points in a four-goal first period between the Penguins and Rangers put Kessel up to 16 career playoff goals and 27 points in 27 post-season games. Kessel is still seeking to hoist the Stanley Cup, though. His two points could go a long way in getting him one round closer to that goal.