As soft-spoken and aloof as he is, it’s hard to believe Phil Kessel hates anything.
So it’s no surprise that although the TD Garden crowd has often broken out chants of “Thank You Kessel” to mock the Toronto Maple Leafs sniper in the years since Kessel’s trade out of Boston, he says he holds no ill will toward the Hub.
“I like it here. I had three great years here, some great memories,” Kessel said after his team’s morning skate Wednesday in preparation for the opening game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Garden. “They were great to me when I was here. I figure when you leave you’re always going to get the grief, right? So it’s OK. But I enjoy playing here, they have great fans and I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere tonight.”
That atmosphere will definitely direct a lot of its attention to Kessel in this series. The Bruins’ defense will follow suit and hope to continue its historic dominance of the diminutive wing. Kessel led the Leafs with 52 points and 20 goals in 2013. Nonetheless, you can’t ignore his terrible numbers against the Bruins. This season, he did not record a point against Boston in four games. For his career, he’s put up just 3-6-9 totals in 22 games.
However, Kessel didn’t sound like a guy baking under the spotlight entering the Leafs’ first playoff series since 2004.
“It’s about the team, right? We’re going to have to play a good, hard game out there,” he said. “They’re a great team over there. So it’s going to be a battle.”