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Leafs’ Phil Kessel: ‘You can’t blow a lead like that’ 05.14.13 at 3:26 am ET
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Phil Kessel was celebrating after his third-period goal, but Game 7 ended badly for his Leafs. (AP)

In the immediate moments after the worst Game 7 collapse in Stanley Cup playoff history, Phil Kessel, a man of few words to begin with, need few words to describe his emotions.

“It’s pretty tough,” Kessel said. “Obviously, we were up 4-1 with 10 minutes left or something. You can’t blow a lead like that.”

What did coach Randy Carlyle tell the Leafs in the intermission before overtime after his team self-destructed?

“Obviously, he just said if we put ourselves in this position, we take it,” Kessel said. “Obviously it’s disappointing. I don’t know what happened to us. 4-1, you can’t lose that game.”

How will the Leafs possibly bounce back from this next season?

“Obviously we’ll have the summer to think about it, work hard and get back at it next year,” Kessel said. “It’s pretty tough — 4-1, you can’t lose.”

Kessel kept repeating 4-1 over and over. Did the Leafs fall into a shell and take their foot off the gas?

“I don’t know. I don’t think so, they kind of took it to us and we sat back,” Kessel said. “We can’t do that. I think, we didn’t do things we needed to do right? We sat back and they came at us.

“I don’t know. I can’t look at the positive after a game like that, it’s pretty tough.”

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Adam McQuaid on M&M: ‘It’s pretty easy to dislike who you’re playing against’ 05.09.13 at 2:18 pm ET
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Adam McQuaid

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid checked in with Mut & Merloni on Thursday afternoon to talk about Wednesday’s night’s overtime victory over the Maple Leafs that gave the B’s a 3-1 series lead.

The intensity in this series hit a new high in Game 4, a back-and-forth game that featured plenty of hard hitting. Although Toronto doesn’t have the obvious villains like some of the Bruins’ more fierce rivals, McQuaid said it’s not difficult to develop some animosity toward the skaters in blue and white.

“We’re playing for the Stanley Cup, and the guy across from you is the one that’s trying to prevent you from getting that, so it’s pretty easy to dislike who you’re playing against. They’re trying to take something away from you,” McQuaid said. “You kind of know who you’re playing against. At the same time, we’re kind of trying to focus on ourselves and make sure that we’re playing hard.”

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel has been surprisingly successful in this series after struggling in regular-season action against his former team.

“He’s got a lot of speed. He’s a great offensive talent,” McQuaid said. “He’s got a quick shot, so he doesn’t need much time to get a good opportunity. So, you have to do your best to try and limit his opportunities and be aware when he’s on the ice.”

Tuukka Rask had a big game Wednesday, the same day the league announced the finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. Despite posting stats that put him at the top of the list, Rask is not one of the three finalists.

“We know how valuable he is to our team and what he brings to our team,” McQuaid said. “We let him know in our eyes that he deserved to be there. Some guys are joking around that he’s just going to have to be better next year. … We know how important he is to our team and how good he is. There was a little bit of surprise that he wasn’t nominated. But like I said, his value within our team, we know how important he is.”

McQuaid has been paired in this series with Wade Redden, the veteran who spent two years in the minors before returning to the NHL this season and being acquired by the Bruins from the Blues at the trade deadline in April.

“He’s a guy that has a ton of experience,” McQuaid said. “Him going through what he went through the last couple of years I think speaks volumes to the type of person he is. To persevere through that. I was just happy to see him have the success that he’s had. I feel pretty fortunate to have a D partner like that.

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Bruins news, visit the team page at weei.com/bruins.

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Phil Kessel told Brad Marchand he’d fight him ‘any time’ 05.07.13 at 3:22 pm ET
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Brad Marchand

TORONTO – Brad Marchand dropped one glove when he was tied up with Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel in the third period of Boston’s 5-2 Game 3 win, and he said Tuesday that he it was to gauge whether Kessel would stick to his word.

“We kind of came together there and I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” Marchand explained. “He was shoving and he told me before he’d go with me any time, so I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, but I just wanted to be prepared.”

Kessel has one career fight in the NHL, which came against Columbus’ Kris Russell during the 2009-10 season. Marchand has four in his career, with his lone fight this season coming against Washington’s Mike Ribeiro.

Asked Tuesday about the scuffle, which landed both players in the box in an exchange the B’s would gladly take, Kessel said he doesn’t feel Marchand is getting him off his game or drawing him into anything that would put the Leafs in a tight spot.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Kessel said, adding: “It’s just battling hard out there, and it gets heated.”

Added Kessel: “I mean, he’s a good hockey player and he battles hard out there.”

The good news for Kessel is that he’s finally finding some offensive success against the Bruins. After scoring just three goals in his first 22 career games against his former club, Kessel has two goals in three games this series. If he’s happy about that, he sure isn’t showing it.

“It doesn’t really matter when you’re not winning games,” Kessel said. “Obviously last night we didn’t win, and we’re going to have to come out harder Wednesday.”

For more on the Bruins, visit weei.com/bruins.

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Bruins enter amped atmosphere as Toronto gets playoff hockey back 05.05.13 at 7:49 pm ET
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The Maple Leafs should be feeling more confident with the series tied and Game 3 in Toronto. (AP)

TORONTO — These Bruins have dealt with a wider variety of atmospheres than any other team. They’ve played playoff games in Montreal, where the Bell Centre has been pretty close to deafening. They’ve played in front of an overly passionate Vancouver crowd with the Stanley Cup on the line. Most notably, they’ve played at TD Garden two days after a terrorist attack on their own city.

Obviously, the first two don’t compare to the third for pretty much every reason you could think of, but the B’s have seen more than their fair share of buzzing barns. They’ll probably be able to add Monday’s scene to the list, as Toronto will host its first playoff game since 2004. With the series tied at a game apiece, the crowd on Monday night will have plenty to be excited about.

The Air Canada Centre opened its doors in 1999, and the Maple Leafs made the playoffs in each of the arena’s first six seasons. Dougie Hamilton was just a kid (or, to put it correctly, a younger kid than he is now).

“I think I remember going to playoff games as a kid and I know the fans are pretty good in Toronto,” Hamilton said. “I’m sure it’ll be a really good atmosphere.”

The Air Canada Centre hasn’t hosted a postseason game since that six-season run, and you can bet that a city that eats, sleeps and breathes hockey (and produces NHL stars aplenty — Hamilton, Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton are among the big-name Bruins who hail from the area) will be more than up for the game.

More importantly, you can count on the Leafs being up for it. After looking like a team that didn’t know it was in the playoffs in Game 1, the Leafs boasted a more balanced attack (thanks to both altered lines and the Bruins playing a messy defensive game) and, with the exception of a ton of rebounds from James Reimer, looked far more confident in Game 2. Considering they won the game and got big production from its stars in Joffrey Lupul (two goals), Phil Kessel (his first even-strength goal against his former club) and James van Riemsdyk (his second goal in as many games as he continues to establish himself as a big-time playoff performer against the Bruins), they should be feeling good.

“We’ve got the best fans in the National Hockey League, so I’m sure they’ll be excited to cheer loud,” Dion Phaneuf said. “We’re happy with the way that we played [in Game 2], but we’ve got lots of work to do yet.”

So with a buzzing barn and a team coming off a big win to even the series, what can get in the way of Toronto taking a series lead or at least splitting the games at ACC? Two things: The obvious one is a better game from the Bruins, and the other is the play of Reimer. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

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Barry Melrose on D&C: Maple Leafs have to ‘be the Boston Bruins to be successful’ 05.02.13 at 12:33 pm ET
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Barry Melrose

ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose talked with Dennis & Callahan on Thursday to analyze the Bruins’ Game 1 victory over the Maple Leafs. Game 2 is Saturday in Boston, before the series shifts to Toronto on Monday.

After trailing 1-0 early in the first period, the Bruins quickly answered with two first-period goals and coasted to a 4-1 win.

“[The Bruins] were awesome after [Wade Redden's goal],” Melrose said. “They looked like the old Bruins after that. They were physical, their play in the neutral zone was great. I can probably think of 10 passes and plays intercepted by the Boston Bruins in the neutral zone. They attacked the net with ferocity. And [Tuukka] Rask, he didn’t get a lot of work, but I thought he made three or four key saves when the game was on the line. It was just what the doctor ordered if you’re a Bruins fan.”

Melrose also discussed the importance for the Maple Leafs to be more physical in the coming games, and the consequence of not doing so — a quick exit in the playoffs.

“They have to play more aggressive,” Melrose said. “They’ve got to do some hitting. Toronto’s got to play on the edge. They’ve got to be finishing checks, winning battles. They’ve got to be the Boston Bruins to be successful, and they weren’t last night. They were always retaliating, they were never initiating, and that’s got to change for the Toronto Maple Leafs. If it doesn’t, this will be a short series.”

The Maple Leafs’ top offensive weapon, Phil Kessel, was essentially neutralized by the Bruins in Game 1. This is becoming all to familiar for Kessel, as he has struggled in his career against his former team, due in large part to Zdeno Chara‘s stellar defense.

“Chara’s on the ice every time Kessel’s on the ice,” Melrose said. “That just shows how good Chara is. Year in and year out I would give Chara the Norris Trophy, he’s that good defensively and that’s what he did last night. He’s out there with that huge reach. He’s got that mean streak to him, and Kessel just has no open ice. Kessel needs room, Kessel needs some space to make plays and with Chara and that long stick and that huge reach, he just doesn’t have any time or space to make plays. Chara always eats Kessel up.”

The favorites out of the Eastern Conference are the top-seeded Penguins, who took care of the Islanders 5-0 in their playoff opener. However, as we saw last year with the Kings, anything is possible in the playoffs.

“We see that every year,” Melrose said. “We see LA last year make the eighth spot and win the Stanley Cup and win it easily. It’s about getting your game together, it’s about getting hot at the right time, it’s about great goaltending, it’s about your special team kicking in key goals at key times and stopping their power play. We see it all the time. A team that looks unbeatable at the start of the playoffs loses in four straight. So, without a doubt things can change and change very quickly.”

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Phil Kessel not dwelling on past with Bruins 05.01.13 at 1:29 pm ET
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Phil Kessel has to put up with his old team for a series. (AP)

Phil Kessel is happy to be back in the playoffs, but the former Bruin would probably prefer a different opponent.

There are plenty of storylines in the Bruins-Maple Leafs series, the first one since 1974, and chief among them is that Kessel is facing his old team and the players (Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, the latter of whom will be a healthy scratch) that were chosen with the first-round picks the Leafs traded to Boston in 2009 for the young scorer.

Kessel ducked the Toronto media on Monday because he didn’t want to face the inevitable questions of what it will be like to face a Boston team that includes a coach that put him in the doghouse, a defenseman who has made their meetings a nightmare and a flashy young Ontario native who could one day become a better scorer than him. After Wednesday’s morning skate, there was nowhere for the shy and oft-criticized Kessel to hide.

“It’s never been me to be much for attention,” Kessel explained. “I’ll talk when I have to talk and that’s about it.”

That is within Kessel’s rights, and he isn’t the first player to do it. Even Seguin, who is far more outgoing than the keep-to-himself Kessel and is more than accommodating of the media, left Edmonton reporters high and dry last year when Taylor Hall and the Oilers were in town. That isn’t the issue though. Bruins fans don’t like Kessel because he didn’t want to play in Boston and the Bruins didn’t want to give him a ridiculous contract. That combination, plus the package Brian Burke and the Leafs were willing to send Boston’s way (two first-round picks, both of which became top-10 picks, as well as a second-rounder), led to Kessel’s exit from the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2006 and saw him become a 36-goal-scorer.

Since then, Kessel, despite continuing his ascent to becoming one of the best scorers in the league (an average of 33 goals over his first three seasons with Toronto and 20 goals in 48 games this season), Kessel has notably disappeared against the Bruins. In 22 career games against the B’s, he has just three goals and six assists for nine points with a woeful minus-22 rating. Fans have gotten on him, at first chanting “Thank You, Kessel” when Seguin (10 goals, six assists for 16 points and a plus-8 vs. his hometown team) has scored against the Leafs, but now just frequently chanting it anyway.

“I had three great years here,” Kessel said Wednesday. “Some great memories. They were great to me when I was here. I figure when you leave, you’re always going to get the grief, right? So it’s OK, but I enjoy playing here. They have great fans and I think it’s going to be a good atmosphere tonight.”

Though Kessel has obviously been silenced on the ice by Zdeno Chara when he has faced the B’s, but it will be interesting to see if he elevates his play in the postseason. After being a healthy scratch for the first three games against the Canadiens in 2008, he had four points (three goals and an assist) in four games. The next postseason, his last one in Boston, he had 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 11 games.

Kessel’s clearly done thinking about that, though, just as he is with his whole Boston experience. He’s back in the playoffs as a Maple Leaf and is more focused on beating his former team than thinking about his days with them.

“That’s four years ago, right?” Kessel said. “I don’t think it matters that much anymore.”

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