Savvy Trick Shows Phil Kessel How It's Done

4 Sport BostonCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on November 27, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Everything was set up for a classic nightmare scenario at the TD Garden on Saturday night for the Bruins. Twenty-four hours earlier, the B’s watched as the ghosts of playoff downfalls past paraded in front of them in Montreal.

Then, the Bruins played their worst game of the year in a blowout loss to the Habs. Thirdly, the prima donna forward who forced his trade from the team was rested and waiting for them.

After a pasting in Montreal like the one absorbed on Friday, some recent Bruins teams would have most likely rolled over in such an emotional game the next night, preferring the ‘woe is me’ attitude over one of resilience.

However, as is becoming increasingly clear, these are not the same old, sorry-ass Bruins. Rather than accept defeat and play not to lose, the B’s came out with guns ablaze, streaking past the Maple Leafs before Phil Kessel had a chance to know what hit him.

Focusing on the big loss in Montreal on Friday would be easy. But I knew that game was lost as soon as I turned on my DVR at around 9:00 that night. No, I hadn’t seen a score, but as soon as Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Henri Richard, and the other Montreal legends came out for a pregame skate, this game was already locked in the win column for the Canadiens.

The Bruins had no chance. Imagine if the Red Sox showed up and the Yankees brought out 40-odd legends to celebrate the centennial of the franchise. No matter how many curses have been reversed, some things never change. Now multiply that by about 10.

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The Canadiens are the Yankees of the NHL, but with pretty much a whole country behind them. No one in their right mind outside New York or Dirty Jersey actually wants the Yankees to succeed.

However, except for Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, the whole country of Canada backs the Canadiens. So, seeing the best players in that organization’s history out for a twirl on the ice before a game with the Bruins was like watching a live Field of Dreams scene.

With all that history and karma in the building, I penciled in a blowout loss pretty quickly. Of course, defensemen turning the puck over like they were Tom Brady probably didn’t help.

The key—pretty much to the whole season—would be how the Bruins responded 24-hours later on their home ice against Toronto. Much has been said in this space about the Phil Kessel situation. We all know he demanded a trade from Boston this summer because he wanted to make a lot of money and be allowed to play a 95/5 percent game in favor of offense.

He was dealt to the Leafs and after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, had been on fire with 15 points in 15 games. No one questioned Kessel’s ability to score, but it was clear his personality was not a good fit in Boston.

There hasn’t been a lot of clamor from the Bruins’ players since he left to bring him back, so this may be a case of addition by subtraction.

Again, this was all set up for a major Bruins failure. Tough, demoralizing loss the last game to your rival? Check. Quick turnaround time after a game that went late because of ceremonies? Check. Overnight travel between countries? Check. Big emotional game against recently traded star? Check.

While most Bruins fans were hoping for a big Bruins win with lots of excitement and action and a whupping of Kessel, deep down those same fans probably had more realistic expectations of Phil scoring the winning goal in overtime on one of his patented end-to-end rushes.

Strangely enough, the Bruins got what they wanted.

Led by a hat trick from team-player Marc Savard, the B’s stormed to a 7-2 win over the Leafs. The Bruins had Chara, Tuuka Rask, 11 players with points, and stood tall in three fights and capitalized on the power play. Kessel was a minus three, held to just two shots on goal, and had a horrible turnover that led directly to Zdeno Chara’s goal. Tuukka Rask, a former Leaf, made 31 saves for the win against the team that traded him away.

It went just about how anyone wearing Black and Gold could have drawn it up. It was the perfect antidote to the H1N1 of a game the night before. The Bruins did something that good teams do—they put their foot on the throat of a weaker team and squashed any hope.

Right after the Bruins scored for the 1-0 lead, Shawn Thornton took care of Toronto tough guy Colton Orr. Thirty-two seconds later, Savard scored his first goal to extend the lead.

The Bruins knew this was a statement game on many levels and set out to make them all night long. They stood up for each other when needed, counterstrike with vigor on the man advantage and proved to Kessel that while he is a dynamic individual, he cannot compete alone against a team of 20.

There haven’t been many easy nights for the Bruins this season as they struggled to deal with major injuries up front and a lack of offense from those players’ replacements. Besides a 7-2 win over Carolina in game two of the season, the Bruins have had wins by three or more goals in only three of 12 wins.

It is no coincidence that the wins over the Canes and Leafs came in two of the Bruins’ most emotional games. Over an 82-game season, it is difficult to bring amped energy over an entire schedule. But a successful team needs more nights of positive energy than listless ones like the season-opener and Friday night in Montreal.

From postgame quotes after the Montreal game, it was clear that the Bruins understood they weren’t good enough for nights like that and that excuses would not be accepted by management and should not be allowed by team members. Resounding pushback and effort the very next night shows that the 20 guys in the dressing room received that message loud and clear.

Strangely enough, the Bruins will have had four days off from the win over the Leafs until their next game on Thursday—against Toronto at the Garden. It is fair to assume the Leafs—the truculent bunch that they are—will look to establish a presence very early in the game and set the tone.

While it will be easy for the Bruins to get sucked into that style of game, it is better for them to not take the bait.

The Leafs cannot compete with the Bruins as a team, and getting mired in a fight-filled affair will play into the Leafs’ hands. Playing a physical game but not engaging in the fisticuffs early will drive the Leafs crazy and give the B’s chances to put the game away early again.

Plus, it will be fun to see if Kessel can sink any lower under the bench while the Garden faithful shower him with boos and a chorus of “Kesssss-el...Kessssel...” all night long.

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