Kessel scores pair to give Leafs win

Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel knocks the puck out of the air to score against Boston Bruins' Tim...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel knocks the puck out of the air to score against Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:02 AM ET

BOSTON — Phil Kessel showed he still had a pulse in Beantown, but the question is whether Tomas Kaberle’s heart lies here as well.

On a night when Kaberle danced around reports he had given permission for general manager Brian Burke to deal exclusively with the Bruins in trade talks, Kessel waltzed through the Bruins to score two and the Leafs came to life in one of their toughest stops on the tour.

The 4-3 rally on a late Mikhail Grabovski goal puts them eight points out of eighth spot with four teams to pass.

“Obviously, I’d like to stick around Toronto, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Kaberle said. “Obviously, I’d like to be in the playoffs. I haven’t been in five years. Right now, this is tough on me and my teammates. We don’t want to have a distraction, especially in the playoff (race).”

Kessel ended a 14-game goal slump with a pair and Grabovski notched two as the Leafs’ faint post-season hopes were revived at least one night in a gutsy third period.

Grabovski fired the winner with 1:01 to play, after Kessel’s pretty power play deke on Tim Thomas tied it.

Boston, coming off back-to-back losses to Detroit that had already shaken team confidence, now sets out on a six-game road trip that could see big changes by the time they return after the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline. One of those could involve Kaberle.

Rogers Sportsnet reported before the game that Kaberle was giving Boston exclusive rights, though that still doesn’t mean that a deal will happen or that Kaberle will ultimately waive his no-trade clause.

The chatter does likely signal the beginning of the end for one of the longest-serving Leafs who was on course for 900 career games.

Surprisingly, Kaberle positively answered a question about a hypothetical deal to the Bruins.

“I think so, they have a good team and a pretty good goaltender (Thomas). I’ve played a lot of games against them and they’re always tough to beat. We’ll see what happens.

“This team was on the list last year (a late submission of clubs he’d consider going to, that agent Rick Curran gave Burke at the 2010 deadline).

“There’s no list this year. If I talk to Brian, there’s always things that could be done. If I’m no longer needed on this team, then we can talk about it.”

Burke has said he won’t comment on Kaberle and says Curran has agreed to the same deal.

But the first rumour spawned on Tuesday night that the Leafs want Boston centre David Krejci.

With almost everyone among 17,565 once again booing ex-Bruin Kessel at TD Garden from the pre-game introductions onward, the winger had a vintage game.

“I hadn’t done anything in this building until tonight,” understated Kessel, who began with his first goal in nine games and 41 shots against his old team.

It came from a Dion Phaneuf shot that Thomas bobbled and Kessel whacked in.

“The most important thing is we got a win and we have to keep it going (Wednesday in Buffalo).”

There was an awful pause for Kessel on the first goal as it seemed a review of a high stick might be in order, but he finally had his 20th of the season and 50th as a Leaf.

Joffrey Lupul, moved to Kessel’s line when Kris Versteeg was traded, had an assist and continues to get more comfortable. Kaberle assisted on his second goal.

“Without a doubt, Phil’s best game,” coach Ron Wilson said. “Not just because he scored, but he was in on the forecheck.”

Grabovski was in mortal combat with Zdeno Chara all night, gave the Leafs a 2-1 second-period lead against the league’s top goalie in Thomas, but was in the box when Gregory campbell tied it.

He redeemed himself with a beautiful winner with 1:01 to go.

The day began with Burke stirring the pot with a press conference almost within earshot of the Boston dressing room.

“I know that our (Versteeg) trade set off a big surge in phone activity last night, a frantic response,” Burke said. “There’ only so many quality players available at the deadline. We’ve been on the phones for awhile, but I think we touched off some activity.

“We try to get out ahead of the deadline before it gets confused and there’s a cattle stampede. You’re on one phone line, your assistant’s on another, (the other team) is on the third and players keep popping off the board.

“All of a sudden you are stuck with a lesser alternative but you do it, because you think you have to do something.

“We’ve always wanted to be out in front and we’ve done that here.”

It has been a significant few days for the Leafs, acquiring Lupul from Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin and swapping Versteeg for a first- and third-round pick.

“We made two deals, Nashville just made a good-sized deal with Ottawa and I think you’ll see more activity and events,” Burke added.

But if he hoped there’d be a quick yield for the third rounder of the Versteeg trade that he began offering late Monday, he was disappointed.

“I don’t know if it will happen or not,” Burke said of the pick on their own or as a package. “We’ve floated it. We put the pick in play right away to try to get a forward back. We’re not throwing in the towel here (on making the playoffs) and we’re not done (trading) either.”

The Leafs could have as many as 10 picks at present, but Burke said that won’t be the case by the June 24 draft in St. Paul, Minn.

“If I have my way, we’re going to do something with them. You don’t see (a pick) for three years. If we can do something shorter term, we’re going to do it.”


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