Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel took turns rocking the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
Kessel did it with his quick shot, snapping three goals with the last one pulling the Leafs out of a stall to give them a 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre. After taking a 5-1 lead, the Leafs wobbled badly in the third period, allowing three goals in a span of four minutes, 40 seconds but hung on for the win.
Phaneuf was the main topic of conversation in the first two periods, as the Leaf captain caught Sens forward Stephane Da Costa coming across the middle of the ice with his head down. Phaneuf lowered his shoulder into Da Costa’s upper chest and flattened him to the delight of his teammates and the 19,324 fans.
Da Costa was not injured and Phaneuf was not given a penalty by the referees. The only penalty called on the play was to Senators forward Nick Foligno for jumping Phaneuf.
There was a lot of instant debate about Phaneuf’s hit and whether it would attract the attention of NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan for a possible suspension. But both coaches agreed Phaneuf did not target Da Costa’s head and it was a hard but clean hit, so no further action is expected.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who was a hard-nosed forward in his NHL playing days, suggested it was a learning experience for the 21-year-old Da Costa.
“I thought [the hit]was fine,” MacLean said. “You’re allowed to body check.
“I know I’d never come across [the middle]like that.”
Phaneuf said he had no second thoughts about the check. He also shrugged off Foligno’s attempt to fight him.
“I’m going to make that hit every day if it’s there,” he said. “You make a big hit and a guy’s going to come after you.”
Kessel finished the night with four points, while linemate Joffrey Lupul had a goal and two assists. It was a reassuring performance from Kessel for the fans, since he did not have an outstanding pre-season.
“He was taking the puck hard to the net right from the start of the game,” Lupul said of Kessel. “He was pretty impressive. His strength is he can shoot the puck while he’s moving his feet.”
The night started out well for Leaf goaltender James Reimer, who held off the Senators for the first 10 minutes of the game until his teammates started skating. But a crack showed early in the third period when Senators forward Colin Greening scored to break Reimer’s shutout streak over the first two games at 101 minutes, 42 seconds.
However, the Leafs held a 4-1 lead at that point, having chased Senators goaltender Craig Anderson after two periods, so they did not appear too worried.
The Leafs looked even less so a few minutes later when enforcer Colton Orr whacked in his first goal of the season to increase the Toronto lead. But that changed quickly , as Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza went to work.
The Senators duo struck for three goals in the span of 4:40, with Alfredsson scoring twice, including a shorthanded goal, to cut the Leafs’ lead to 5-4. The last two goals, one by Spezza and the other by Alfredsson, were a mere eight seconds apart.
That prompted Leafs head coach Ron Wilson to call a timeout to try and settle his troops. It worked, thanks to Kessel, who scored his third goal of the night to put the Leafs back in front by two goals.
Da Costa scored to close the gap again but the Leafs managed to hold on for their second win in as many games.
Mikhail Grabovski had the other goal for the Leafs, who are now off until next Saturday and plan a retreat early this week to the Canadian military base in Trenton, Ont.