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Kessel's first goal lifts Maple Leafs over Jets

The SportsXchange

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Phil Kessel couldn't have picked a better time to score his first goal of the abbreviated NHL campaign.

Now, the Leafs can only hope the goals come in bunches for their top sniper.

Kessel ripped the game-winner on the power play with just 4:08 left to lift the Leafs to a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

The winger had gone 10 games without a goal to start the lockout-shortened season.

"It's been a while," said Kessel, who took a nifty drop-pass from center Tyler Bozak and beat Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec up high with Winnipeg forward Alexei Ponikarovsky serving a holding penalty. "I had a smile. It's been a long time, and I was happy to get one in there."

Toronto raised its record to 6-5-0, while Winnipeg fell to 4-5-1.

Kessel's winner came less than a minute after Matt Frattin scored his sixth goal of the year to pull Toronto even at 2-2.

Andrew Ladd had given the Jets a one-goal lead early in the third period.

Winnipeg rookie blueliner Zach Redmond and Bozak traded shorthanded goals in the middle frame as the teams were deadlocked 1-1 after 40 minutes.

Toronto coach Randy Carlyle felt his club was fortunate to even be in the game at that point.

"I wouldn't say it would be (a win) we are going to frame," he said. "I didn't think we played well for the first two periods. But we found a way to eke out a win.

"We showed a lot of rust in our game. We were a hockey club that was a half-step behind for two periods."

Bozak said he never doubted Kessel's hard work would start paying dividends.

"He's been getting his chances, he's been shooting well and we knew it was only a matter of time," Bozak said. "I'm probably happier than him. I don't have to get asked every day why he isn't scoring. It's nice for him to get one, and I know he's going to take off now."

Winnipeg outshot Toronto 25-18 but James Reimer, the Leafs' Manitoba-born goalie, was sharp.

The Jets cranked up the energy early in the first period, directing plenty of pucks toward Reimer and hitting a pair of posts. But the hosts came up empty and the clubs were tied 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Redmond, playing just the fourth game of his career, made a brilliant play to give the Jets a 1-0 lead early in the second. With his club shorthanded, the native of Houston joined Bryan Little on a 2-on-1 rush, corralled a pass and rifled a shot over the shoulder of Reimer for his first NHL goal.

But the Leafs evened the score 1-1 just a few minutes later with a shorthanded goal of their own as Bozak stripped blueliner Paul Postma of the puck and raced down the ice to beat goalie Pavelec on a breakaway. The goal was Bozak's third of the season.

Grant Clitsome's blast from the point just 3:46 into third period was tipped in by Ladd to give the Jets a 2-1 lead, but Toronto kept battling and eventually got goals from Frattin and Kessel in the final minutes.

Jets coach Claude Noel expressed disappointment on a number of fronts.

"Our inability to close out the game certainly wasn't a good thing. Our power play was really disappointing. We only got one shot on four tries. We didn't handle the pressure of their penalty kill," Noel said. "We let that game get away. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement."

Little had two assists for the Jets.

The club's top line of Olli Jokinen, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler was a non-factor and has struggled for most of the season.

Noel made it clear some alterations are in order.

"You've got to make some changes," Noel said. "One line is minus all over the place. You can't just sit back and watch this; you have to juggle things around a little bit."

NOTES: The game marked the return of Randy Carlyle to Winnipeg, and the former Jets defenseman was greeted by a standing ovation from fans at MTS Centre midway through the first period. Carlyle played parts of 10 seasons with Winnipeg before retiring in 1993. He was also a coach and GM with the Manitoba Moose when the city got a minor-league team after the Jets left for Phoenix in 1996. ... Three members of the Leafs also enjoyed homecomings. Forwards Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren hail from Winnipeg, while Reimer is from Morweena, about 90 minutes north of the Manitoba capital. McLaren got into a first-period scrap and was left bloodied by Jets tough guy Chris Thorburn. ... Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien didn't dress for the fourth straight game for Winnipeg because of an undisclosed injury. Fellow defenseman Zach Bogosian, who has been recovering from wrist surgery since August, took the game-day skate and could return to the lineup next week. ... Coming into the game, James van Riemsdyk had scored six goals in his first 10 games with the Leafs since coming over from Philadelphia in a trade last June. That's as many as he scored in his final 37 games with the Flyers during an injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign. ... Jets' defenseman Tobias Enstrom came into the game leading all NHL defensemen with 12 points. ... The Jets head to Ottawa for a Saturday afternoon game against the Senators before returning home for three games next week against the Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. ... The Leafs play the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday night and then host the Flyers on Monday.
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