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Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) tries to get around Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara of Slovakia during the third period of Boston's 2-0 win in an NHL hockey game in Boston on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. (Winslow Townson)
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) tries to get around Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara of Slovakia during the third period of Boston's 2-0 win in an NHL hockey game in Boston on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. (Winslow Townson)

Kessel's Boston nightmare continues Add to ...

In one dressing room, Tyler Seguin admitted he had a hard time containing his laughter when the Bruins fans began their chant.

Down the hall in another, Phil Kessel said he couldn't care less.

"It doesn't matter to me one bit," Kessel said.

What obviously does matter to the Leafs scoring leader is putting the puck in the net, something he has yet to do now in seven games against his former team. That drought has morphed from a sidebar into a full blown top story in both markets every time the former Bruin faces the team that dealt him away for three top draft picks last September.

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Kessel rationalized his inability to bury a goal by saying he had had plenty of chances, which is true given his five first period shots. But when nothing beat red-hot netminder Tim Thomas in the early going and the physicality of the game continued to rise, Kessel appeared to wilt.

The chances disappeared - for all of the Leafs, who seemed to follow their star's lead in packing it in early in the face of a Bruins' trap which was likely the best (or worst, one could argue) Toronto has yet seen this season.

"We had a lot of chances on him, especially in the first period," Kessel said. "We could have a couple goals. The ref blew the one early there. Unfortunately they didn't go in for us tonight."

Kessel denied that his former team has him solved, that perhaps coach Claude Julien had instructed his charges in a particular way to limit his effectiveness.

"No, I mean I had chances," he said, repeating the word often in his one minute postgame scrum. "It's not like I had no chances. They just didn't go in. What can you do?"

Julien, meanwhile, wouldn't let on that he had some magic formula for shutting down his former pupil, only that his tight-checking team excels against many top stars.

"I think you know, you've got to remember, we've done a pretty good job against a guy like Ovechkin," Julien said. "We obviously respect those guys and Phil's one of those guys that if you give him space, he's going to do some damage. You've got to take away his time and space and we played him hard, we played him smart and I think our team deserves a lot of credit for that. The pressure was being put on him, but it doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't try or work hard. I think we're just doing a decent job against him."

Keeping in mind how Thursday's game was played, it's probably no coincidence that Kessel had gone scoreless against the Flyers - a team known for its in your face style - until last Saturday, a stretch of 14 games without a goal facing Philadelphia in his career.

There's a book on every player in the league, even Alex Ovechkin, and you better believe Julien knows the one on Kessel given how closely they co-existed for all those years in Boston.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson deflected much of the blame to his supporting cast, which was MIA for much of the contest.

"He's our best offensive player," Wilson said. "The puck goes to him when he's on the ice ... He's playing 20 minutes, the other 40 minutes, there's other people on the ice, and they've got to find a way to generate offence. There was a couple of people missing. We're not that deep offensively and it kind of showed tonight."

It's shown a lot recently, in fact, with Toronto scoring only seven goals in their past five games, four of which have been losses after a surprising 4-0-0 start. Missing both Kris Versteeg and Colby Amstrong due to injury, even though neither has generated many points this season, left Wilson filling offensive minutes with role players who couldn't create much of anything against one of the league's top defensive teams.

"We just couldn't generate much," Wilson said. "You've got to give the Bruins a lot of credit, they're a good defensive team. I mean on the season, Thomas has only given up three goals in five games, he's on top of things. Any kind of situations around the net, they beat us to loose pucks and things like that. But we gave everything we had."

And it wasn't nearly enough.

 

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