No lustre on Phil's milestone

ROB LONGLEY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:50 PM ET

PITTSBURGH — To his credit, Phil Kessel wasn’t going to give reaching the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive season more than an indifferent shrug of his shoulders.

Not after he was stymied in a shootout by Pittsburgh goaltender Marc Andre Fleury. And not after Penguins captain Sidney Crosby pumped his season total up to 47 with a pair of goals in his team’s 5-4 shootout win over the Leafs.

But Kessel’s 30th, which came on a first-period shot that glanced off the arm of Fleury, certainly had some significance.

Though his acquisition and the price general manager Brian Burke paid for it will be a source of debate for years, hitting 30 despite missing training camp and the first 12 games as he recovered from shoulder surgery is no small task.

“Obviously, it’s nice to hit 30 goals, but the wins are the most important thing,” said Kessel, who had a career high 36 goals with the Bruins last season. “We’ve got to keep improving and get some more wins.”

In the dubious context of the current vintage of Leafs, hitting the season milestone has added significance. In the past decade, Kessel joins only Mats Sundin (multiple times) and Alex Mogilny (once) as Maple Leafs players to reach 30 goals in a season.

“It’s been a good season,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “After a few games, I saw how dangerous he was and was kind of hoping and expecting he would score 30. It’s hopefully just the beginning of a great career as a Leaf.”

As for losing to the Penguins, who are gearing up to land one of the top Eastern Conference seeds prior to the playoffs, Wilson wasn’t going to beat himself up over falling in a shootout to end a hard-fought contest. The Pens’ come-from-behind win gave them the upper hand on New Jersey, which lost Sunday night to Philadelphia, in the battle for first place in the Atlantic Division.

The loss snapped a pretty remarkable run for the Leafs, a team that had been so miserable in extra time earlier in the season, but had won seven in a row either in overtime or the shootout including Saturday against the Rangers.

“I don’t really look at it as a loss, especially in these circumstances with three games in four nights and back-to-back games in less than 24 hours,” Wilson said. “I thought we did a great job. It’s too bad we didn’t do it in regulation.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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