WASHINGTON -- Last night, after the Bruins' 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals, the chatter in the
It's the role reserved for Phil Kessel, the rookie who's fast becoming the Jonathan Papelbon of shootouts. Last night, for the third time this season, Kessel was tapped by coach Dave Lewis for a shootout clincher.
And Kessel turned the trick, lifting a backhander -- his previous scores had come on the forehand -- over goalie Olaf Kolzig for the winner, the third time he's put out the lights and ended a shootout by giving his club 2 points.
"I like it," Kessel said. "Any time you can help the team win, it's a good thing."
As his coach and teammates see it, it's not just the skill Kessel has for sinking the shots. As much as his hands and vision contribute to his success, it's the joy of accepting the responsibility and the attitude of slamming the door shut that's given him his 3-for-3 record.
"It looks like he loves to be in that situation," said Tim Thomas (32 saves), who turned aside Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and Eric Fehr in the shootout. "He loves to be the hero. He expects to score.
"From my end, I wasn't sure if he was going to pull it off. It's hard to score three times in a row right when the game's on the line. But when he did his move, there was no question. He didn't leave it up to chance."
While Kessel took the bows for the winning strike, a number of his teammates emerged to help the Bruins to a win that looked like a snoozer to start. The clubs battled to a scoreless first period, with the Bruins managing only two shots on Kolzig. Neither team had many bona fide scoring chances. Ovechkin, the sizzling superstar, never showed his magic.
But that's because on seemingly every shift, Zdeno Chara stared Ovechkin down. Whether it was with his body or stick (the Boston captain threw several textbook poke-checks to break up passes and shots), Chara and partner Paul Mara prevented Ovechkin from threatening Thomas with a significant scoring opportunity. Ovechkin, who has 33 goals this season, managed two shots in 17:38 of ice time.
"I thought Z did a great job," said Lewis. "It's hard sometimes, getting the matchups that you want. Our guys were changing on the fly and our forwards were very attentive to that. They had to get the puck in so we could get the defense off and get the matchup we wanted. He was probably the biggest reason why [Ovechkin] was kept limited."
It was the type of performance Lewis has been hoping for from Chara (37 shifts, game-high 31:36). During the recent five-game losing streak, Lewis looked for anyone to emerge from the rubble of the downtrodden club to band his teammates together.
Last night, Chara did just that -- and got some help. Brandon Bochenski, playing his first game as a Bruin, stepped into Glen Murray's slot on the No. 1 line when Murray couldn't go because of a groin injury, and scored the opening goal in the second period.
Seconds after Bochenski's goal, the Capitals threatened to tie the score but Thomas stopped a close-range shot by Richard Zednik.
Then in the third period, after Washington scored two goals -- the first only 21 seconds into the final frame -- to claim a 2-1 lead, alternate captains Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard teamed up for the tying score after Ovechkin was sent off for a delay-of-game penalty.
Savard, wearing the "A" in Murray's absence, faked a slapper from his right-circle position on the power play, drawing Kolzig and the Washington defense. Savard then fed a cross-ice pass to Bergeron at the top of the left circle. Bergeron didn't hesitate, gunning a one-timer past Kolzig (22 saves) at 13:15.
Then in the shootout, after forward Alexander Semin tucked a backhander past Thomas, Bergeron evened the score. He raced toward Kolzig, cocked his stick for a forehand wrister, then paused ever so slightly to throw off the netminder's timing. The move worked, as Bergeron found an opening, setting up Kessel to do his thing.
"He's done it three times now in the shootout, so I'd say that's something more than a goal scorer," said Thomas. "That's something that's really blossoming. He's the kind of guy that wants the puck when the game's on the line. That's what you like to see in a 19-year-old kid."