WILMINGTON, Mass. It should be an interesting scene at TD Garden Saturday night with Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs invading Causeway Street for the second half of a home-and-home series for Northeast Division bragging rights.
The Bs have jumped out to a commanding 3-0 regular season record over Toronto this season, and outscored the Leafs by a 19-5 margin in those three blowout wins. So theres a natural motivational element if youre wearing a Toronto sweater in addition to keeping their current playoff pace.
But theres also an added twist: the Leafs arrive in Boston on the traditional fatherson trip that many NHL teams embark on during the regular season.
So Kessels dad is expected to be part of the paternal entourage traveling with the team, and could be subjected to the same Thank you, Kessel chants that have become part and parcel with Toronto trips to Boston since Tyler Seguin landed in the Bs laps with the No. 2 overall pick.
Kessel had his best game of the season against the Bruins on Wednesday night with an assist, and is still the leading point-getter (32) and goal-scorer (16) in the NHL this season.
He also leads the league in All-Star voting after his memorably uncomfortable turn as Mr. Irrelevant in last years first annual All-Star team fantasy draft amid the All-Star weekend festivities in Carolina.
But the Bruins and the bruising defensive style of Zdeno Chara continue to pound on Kessel despite his higher standing in the league this time around. Kessel has been beaten down to the tune of three team losses, one point and a minus-5 in the three games between the two Northeast Division rivals this year, and its more of the same domination by Boston that No. 81 has endured for the last three seasons.
We prepare for the Leafs just like any other team. We know theyre going to be better, so we need to just focus on our game in order to beat them, said Chara, when asked about shutting down Kessel and his Toronto cohorts. Anytime were playing with desperation we have a much better chance of winning hockey games.
Kessel now has two goals and is a minus-12 in 15 games against the Bruins since getting dealt to Toronto three years ago. Those are numbers that scream out operation shutdown, but Claude Julien said the Bruins arent doing anything exotic to bottle up the speedy Kessel.
Its the same old menacing physicality in the corner and stifling defense down the center of the ice employed by the Bruins that has continuously turned Kessel from peerless to clawless no matter what he does against the rest of the NHL.
Ill be very honest with you. We havent said anything special about Phil Kessel, said Claude Julien. Its one of those things where if hes on the ice were aware of what hes done, but we handle every team the same way. Whether its Crosby or others, theyre all treated the same.
We certainly know Phil well, but he still got an assist the other night on a great pass. Its more about a five-man unit than it is about one guy watching one other guy. So far weve been pretty successful and thats a good thing because hes off to a great start.
So what could happen with Kessels papa potentially in the house this weekend?
If the word gets out to enough fans in the Garden stands then perhaps there will be a Thank you, Mr. Kessel! sing-song chant to go along with the customary one if the Bruins are once again holding a comfortable lead in the third period Saturday night.
That would be just another chapter for Kessel in the book of misery against Boston since he left behind Black and Gold.