Game 57: Thank you, Boston
Say what you will about this Leafs team, but when they make us proud, they really make us proud. When they pull it all together, when they take an active interest in writing their own success, it's hard not to be dazzled by the narrative and thankful for the way certain stories end.
My guess is he's still sleeping. Good. It's 5 a.m. Let him sleep.
After finding an unmarked exit in the living hell he's inhabited for 14 games, Kessel deserves some shuteye. He exorcised his demons last night in a big way and that's always exhausting.
Kessel scored twice. After both, his broad grin ricocheted around the TD Garden, muting the locals who arrived yet again to watch him stumble into the flames.
It was 17:22 of the first period when Kessel batted the puck out of the air, stunning Tim Thomas and, more important, freeing himself, distancing himself from the past.
Bang. Two shots of redemption with one cathartic swing. At long last, he had "scored against his former team," the bane of his existence. At long last, The 2011 Phil Kessel Slump Watch was no more.
Then at 13:37 of the third, for good measure, Kessel wristed the game-tying goal into the Boston net. Two goals, one busted slump, one homeless back monkey, thousands of baffled spectators with no obvious target to ridicule.
There were no churlish "Thank you, Kessel" chants last night because Kessel shut them up. Even the booing seemed half-hearted and reluctant, as if they feared what might happen.
One game will not change what anybody thinks about The Trade. But for this one game, thank you Phil.
Thank you for picking a brilliant time to shove it in their faces. Thank you for cranking up the dial and finding chemistry with Joffrey Lupul. Thank you for using your body and mucking in the corners, oblivious to tormenting faces on the other side of the glass.
When the Leafs skated away with a 4-3 win, Kessel was smiling again. The Boston fans were scowling. And deep down, we knew the story had changed.
Was Grabovski sent from the future to soothe the jangled nerves of Leafs Nation, one impossibly cool goal at a time? Or is he powered by an alien life force, one that's impervious to the immutable laws of physics?
These seem like the only possible explanations for his story last night.
Twice he was pancaked between an immovable object (the "boards") and a freak of nature (the "Zdeno Chara"). Twice, our man Grabovski crumpled to the ice after getting crushed by 6 feet, 9 inches and 255 pounds of human suffering.
Then like Kessel, he shrugged it off and twice he scored.
What can you say about this magnificent bastard? He probably shouldn't have returned to the ice after that second hit, not after it caused his eyes to temporarily glaze as he slowly tipped over like a damaged cactus in the desert sands.
Mere mortals would've been rushed to the nearest hospital. But, apparently, on the planet from which Grabovski was sent, near death experiences are treated with smelling salts and bursts of inexplicable laughter and plans to bang in another before time runs out.
The guy's face looked lopsided. Yet there he was, busting a gut and sniffing away. Chatting with his linemates on the bench, presumably asking if they could also see the unicorn now singing show tunes at center ice.
Thank you, Mikhail. Thank you for showing up each and every night this season. Thank you for caring. Thank you for last night's game winner with 1 minute and 1 second left in the third, an end-to-end beauty accessorized with skill, determination and remarkable heart given what your head endured only moments before.
And so on a twitchy, restless night in Boston, with future trade rumours swirling and memories of The Trade still lingering, we witnessed this team turn another page. We read two more stories about personal triumph and gritty courage.
Thank you, Boston.
Thank you for giving this young Leafs team a night to remember. Thank you for giving us another chance to show-off James Reimer, the towering upstart who badly outplayed your Thomas. Thank you for the moments in which your team was totally dominated, lost, confused, hemmed into their own end as the Leafs controlled the play.
Thank you for months of inspiring arrogance. Thank you for believing, perhaps too quickly, that the story on Phil Kessel was carved in stone. Thank you for the poetic justice.
It's been a topsy-turvy season for the Leafs and their fans. But last night, if even for just three hours, the good people of Boston turned up expecting to hear a familiar tale and their silence spoke volumes.
MAIN PHOTO: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS