Kessel breaks Beantown hex

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scores the game-winning shootout goal on Bruins goalie Tim Thomas...

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scores the game-winning shootout goal on Bruins goalie Tim Thomas at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on December 4, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

TORONTO - At long last the Maple Leafs could shout out a message they hoped would be heard all the way to Boston.

Thank you Kessel.

That derisive chant that Bruins' fans have hung on their former player for seven scoreless games was being repeated around the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night when Kessel's 3-2 shootout winner lifted the Curse of Beantown since last year's trade.

It's a big win for us, a character win," Kessel said after beating none other than NHL save percentage leader Tim Thomas. "Hopefully it will lead to something else."

For now, his heroics snap a four-game losing streak for Toronto and takes a ton of pressure off of Kessel and coach Ron Wilson.

Not only did he score, he trumped his draft day nemesis Tyler Seguin, who had an assist on Boston's go=ahead goal in the third period. After Kris Versteeg's last minute regulation strike tied it, Seguin also scored on Jean-Sebastien Giguere with is shootout chance. Then came Kessel roaring in fast enough that Thomas had to reverse his momentum and slide into the net with the puck around his five-hole.

"Phil gets a lot of harassment from their fans, but we love him in here," said Tyler Bozak.

Wilson, who didn't have to endure Air Canada Centre chants calling for his dismissal, tried Kessel at centre.

"Good for Phil," Wilson said. "I thought for the most part he had a very good game. He had a couple of giveaways, but for the most part, he played well defensively."

Nazem Kadri also had a shootout goal for the Leafs, who fended off a Boston team that was 10-0 when scoring first.

Versteeg's goal with 43 seconds to play, on the short side after Tomas Kaberle fired wide, forced overtime. But Thomas atoned in the extra period. stopping Francois Beauchemin, coming across the crease with a glove save.

"I shot it as hard as I could, I didn't mess it up," Beauchemin said. "There was nothing there and then there was his glove."

The Leafs also had a brief 24 second power play in overtime, but Versteeg's shot was blocked.

The Leafs have only come back to win three in 15 such games.

"We were getting the chances, pushing it to the net," Wilson said. "We had said that if the goalie makes the save, don't get frustrated. We had Bruins on their heels. The best example is that we didn't fold after the first goal. We kept taking it to them.

"Work hard, eventually you'll get rewarded."

Gregory Campbell hustle moved the Bruins ahead at 6:08 of the third when he came on for Marc Savard and saved a puck at the Leaf blueline. He quickly got back in position in the slot for a Seguin pass and snap that beat Giguere on the glove side.

Kessel had huge chances at the start of the first and third periods as he went to eight regulation games without a goal against Boston. Kessel and Tomas Kaberle, on the night he passed Darryl Sittler in games played as a Leaf, each hit the post before Campbell's goal.

Boston isn't big and bad in the Don Cherry vein his year, but it's a bear market when Thomas is in goal. He brought the NHL's best save percentage into the game, a remarkable .956 and a record of 15-4-3 with two shutouts against Toronto. If Thomas can keep up such numbers he'll be joining names such as Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek as Vezina Trophy winners who took a year away from the awards table.

But the Leafs put 12 shots on Thomas in the first period and 26 after two, the first time Toronto has had that many through 40 minutes in nine games.

Thomas had to make a great leg save when Kessel tried to catch him going the other way on the first shift. The Leafs thought they had the lead when Thomas lost a high rebound of a Versteeg shot and a couple of Leafs, as they'd worked on at Friday's practice, came piling in behind and toppled big Zdeno Chara into his goalie. But replays couldn't see the puck go over, if it ever did.

Shortly after, Tim Brent's blind centring pass during a painfully slow breakout was picked off and snapped in by Nathan Horton past a startled Giguere.

Kadri said he wasn't going to look at his pre-game fourth line assignment as a demotion and Wilson quickly changed him around with some like-minded offensive players.

Kadri controlled an airborne puck to get a late first period rush going, heading it up to Bozak, who found open defenceman Carl Gunnarsson in the rush, another play the Leafs had emphasized on Friday. Gunnarsson, whose first NHL goal last season came against the great Brodeur, added the hot Thomas to his list of victims with his fourth NHL tally.

The Leafs came out for the game already knowing that the Devils had lost so they could be no worse than 28th, though Montreal's afternoon win meant that they'll be facing the top four clubs in the East next week, starting with the Washington Capitals on Monday.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/sunhornby


Videos

Photos