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Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs come back to life in Game 2 to tie series

05.04.13 at 11:40 pm ET
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Phil Kessel scored and beat his old team in Game 2. (AP)

Whether it was jitters, lack of playoff experience, or just an off night that plagued the Maple Leafs in Game 1 against the Bruins, those obstacles appeared to be overcome in Game 2 as they evened the series with a 4-2 win on Saturday.

“We were a little tight, first game,” said Joffrey Lupul, who scored twice for Toronto. “We weren’t executing. We were missing 12-foot passes that NHL players usually don’t miss. We were a little tentative, whether we want to admit it or not. Those nights happen, and it’s how you react. We reacted pretty well tonight.”

The Leafs came back with a steady, opportunistic performance, taking advantage of several defensive miscues by the Bruins after Nathan Horton gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the second period. They took 32 shots after managing just 20 in Game 1, and they earned second and third chances, forcing both Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to stop multiple shots in a row in one second-period sequence.

But the exclamation point on the Leafs’ improved performance was their third goal, the one that belonged to former Bruin Phil Kessel. Less than a minute into the third period, Kessel was approaching the Bruins’ blue line and looking for a pass that came from Nazem Kadri back in the Leafs’ zone.

Kadri hit him in his stride, and Kessel blew past Dennis Seidenberg to beat Rask five-hole. It was his first even-strength goal in 24 games against the Bruins, silencing the fans who’d chanted his name mockingly earlier, at least for the moment.

“I was happy, obviously,” Kessel said. “It’s been a long time. Felt nice to score. I just got lucky. … I had a couple other chances tonight, and just snuck it past him.”

For most of the game, the Bruins kept Kessel off the board by matching him up with Chara. On that play, though, it was Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk on the ice, neither of whom were anywhere near him by the time he scored.

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle had made adjustments throughout the game, hoping to get Kessel free of Chara. After two periods, it finally paid off.

“I was switching quite a bit trying to get away from Zee,” Kessel said. “He’s one of the best, right? I was fortunate enough to get a breakaway there, and lucky it went in.”

“They put a lot of emphasis on shutting him down, and he’s battled through it,” Lupul said. “If we had the puck in the offensive zone we were going to play, but if we had it in the neutral zone we were maybe going to try to get him on the ice against different defensemen.”

Although Kessel has been frequently booed in his returns to Boston over the last four years, Lupul said he doesn’t think there’s much more pressure on the former Bruin than there is on any other Toronto player in this series.

“We’re playing in Toronto, so everyone’s watching no matter what,” Lupul said. “It doesn’t really matter who we played in Round 1. The pressure’s going to be on, and it kind of gets put onto your top players, so he’s a guy we’re going to count on whether we’re playing Boston or whoever. I think maybe we’re making a bigger deal about it than it is.”

Carlyle said that while getting Kessel away from Chara was important, the biggest difference he saw between Game 1 and Game 2 was the Leafs’ responsibility with the puck.

“The tempo of the game was a lot different from our standpoint where we moved the puck more effectively,” Carlyle said. “We didn’t turn it over, so to me that was the biggest difference between tonight and Wednesday. We just didn’t self-destruct. We worked hard and we competed, and got a few breaks that went our way.”

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