Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kessel comes through in the clutch

By Kevin Gorman
May 16, 2017

Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Chris Kunitz #14 and Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a goal against Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators during the third period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 15, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

Phil Kessel wanted the puck. Mike Sullivan wanted him to shoot it, and everyone inside PPG Paints Arena except for the Ottawa Senators wanted it to go into the net.
As luck would have it, the puck bounced off Jean-Gabriel Pageau and back to the Penguins right winger in the slot amid a scoreless tie Monday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final.
Given a second chance, Kessel fired low and right, and the shot sailed past goalie Craig Anderson at 13:05 of the third period, the lone goal in the Penguins' 1-0 victory over the Seantors.
“It was a fortunate bounce, right?” Kessel said. “It got blocked, and I just tried to get it off quick and it went in.”
Kessel could laugh at his good fortune as it ended something of a scoring drought for the sniper.
It was his first goal since finishing a picture-perfect, tic-tac-toe play in Game 5 of the Washington series.
That was Kessel's only goal in the past five playoff games, one that caused his frustration to build and build until cameras caught Kessel fuming on the bench. You could read his lips, and let's just say that his words weren't fit to print.
“It tells me that he's invested,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I love that about the guy. I think our players get a kick out of it, quite honestly. He's a vocal guy, an emotional guy and he's all in.
“When he comes back to the bench and he wanted a puck or thinks he was open, he's going to let a player know, ‘Hey, give it to me.' ”
This is the Phil Kessel the Penguins need to beat Ottawa, the one they need if they're going to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
I'll take Frustrated Phil every time, especially in a game in which the Penguins played short-handed after losing winger Bryan Rust and defenseman Justin Schultz to injuries in the first period.
“It doesn't happen all the time, but he's got some fire,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “He's not afraid to let them have it sometimes. When he plays with that fire, he gets angry out there, and he's pretty tough to stop.”
The goal was the only shot credited to Kessel, who had three shots in the Game 1 defeat, one that hit the crossbar late in the third period.
The line on Kessel is that if he isn't scoring, he isn't doing much else. Which tells you how prolific Kessel is as a scorer, that the Penguins live with the shortcomings.
“Phil's a guy, when he skates with the puck, he's dangerous,” Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said. “He puts the ‘D' on their heels. He's one of those guys who thinks he's open all the time.”
Kunitz also noted Kessel “made a couple real nice passes early” and a big defensive play to prevent a goal while back-checking when a defenseman broke a stick.
“It's one of those things guys don't always get credit for when people look at the negative side of things,” Kunitz said. “But Phil's a huge part of our team, and we need him every single night. He found a way to get a goal off a blocked shot.”
A goal that showed Kessel is as invested in winning as the Penguins are in him.
“It gives you confidence when you're getting chances,” Kessel said. “You're close and it doesn't go in, sometimes you get frustrated, but we stuck with it and we ended up getting the win.”
That's because the Penguins listened to Kessel and moved the bleeping puck onto his stick.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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