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Kessel Scores Incredible Goal, Leafs Beat Devils in the Shootout

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Phil Kessel scored a highlight reel goal to put the Leafs up 1-0. After an odd bounce tied the game, the Leafs would win it in the shootout.

Hockey is Phil Kessel's game, and we are just lucky enough to watch it.
Hockey is Phil Kessel's game, and we are just lucky enough to watch it.
Bruce Bennett

The funny thing about writing these recaps is that every single game, I could just start them off with "hail to Phil Kessel, bringer of goals, saver of games." Last night, it was this one - and it's so pretty, it pre-empts the game in six:

If you're wondering, that's Phil Kessel getting the puck in the neutral zone, skating into his own zone, then stickhandling through three New Jersey Devils, getting hooked twice, which drew a penalty, and then scoring five-hole on Cory Schneider. It's the stuff dreams are made of.

It would be the only goal of the Leafs game, and the Devils would later tie it up 1-1, but a JVR shootout goal would lock up the Skills Competition win. Here's your game in six:

The big experiment, Lupul-JVR-Kessel, definitely worked for me. They're three smart, offensively talented players that spent all night trying to get too fancy with cross crease passes; I know "almost-shots" don't get you anywhere, but I'd expect something a little rough, when a winger is thrown in at C.

Clarkson had two great chances in the first, and looked strong on the puck all night - have to expect he'll start putting up some points soon. Raymond, looked good, too, I think, but it's weird seeing Kadri out there making skill moves with wingers that don't seem to play the same style of game. I think the line will still work fine in the short term, though.

McLaren rode the pine all night, which helped the team in a close game (almost as much as bringing a competent hockey player would've), but I liked Carlyle's usage of the bottom six. Smithson had a good debut, playing over 3 minutes on the PK, and filled in the McClement-esque "d-zone faceoffs and PK" mold.

I thought Fraser-Ranger looked good, and I thought Gardiner looked good in the offensive zone, but trying (and failing) a toe-drag in the defensive zone slot while on the PP is how you get the reputation of being a liability. Rielly played only 13 minutes, which I suppose is better than being in the press box, and on the other end of the spectrum, Dion played 27 minutes. I understand why in a close game, but you have to imagine that'll limit his endurance going up against Bergeron and company.

For the lone goal against the Leafs Bernier tries to deflect a puck away, and it ends up going into the top corner on his own goal. A textbook example of puck luck - it's a routine play that went a little off-kilter for reasons I still don't totally know (wrong angle on the stick? odd bounce on the puck?). Bernier went 34/35, a perfect 30-for-30 at ES, and it's another game where the Leafs goaltending performed well enough to carry the team in front of them.

I was surprised Clarkson didn't get a shootout chance, but I'm glad JVR could put it away. The Leafs play Boston tonight as the second half of a back-to-back, so going the full 65 with the Devils wasn't particularly fortunate. Puck drop is at 7 - go Leafs go.