Toronto (8-12-7) at Boston (14-9-5)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Boston, MA
Temp: 83° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Sat Dec 5, 2009
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Phil Kessel(notes) was a big part of the Boston Bruins’ emergence last season, leading the team with 36 goals as they surged to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Then, he was traded to Toronto after a controversial clash with Boston’s front office.

That will likely earn him a rude response from Bruins fans as he returns to TD Garden to face his former team for the first time Saturday night, giving Kessel extra incentive as he attempts to lift the Maple Leafs to a third straight victory.

The fifth overall draft pick in 2006, Kessel overcame testicular cancer and blossomed into a prolific scorer during his three seasons in Boston, but he couldn’t agree on a contract extension when he became a restricted free agent this past summer.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said at the time that there were “significant offers” made and that Kessel “did not want to play in Boston,” so he traded the young winger on Sept. 18 for three draft picks. Kessel’s side of the story reads a little differently.

“I never asked for a trade,” said Kessel, who signed a five-year, $27 million contract with Toronto. “I said I loved it (in Boston), and they went in a different direction.

“Obviously I’ll probably get booed or whatever,” the 21-year-old added. “I understand. It’s part of the game.”

The Bruins (14-9-5) may have wished for his scoring touch at times this season, as they’ve often found themselves lacking offense during their uneven start. Their 2.25 goals per game rank among the fewest in the league, but they had gone 6-0-1 in their previous seven games before a 5-1 loss at Montreal on Friday.

In another game against an Original Six rival with extra significance, the Bruins were the visitors as the Canadiens played on the 100th anniversary of the day they were founded.

Boston did not respond well, allowing four second-period goals with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas(notes) getting pulled after the frame.

The team may have its hands full again with the Maple Leafs, who’ve won four straight on the road as they try to bounce back from a woeful start.

Toronto (8-12-7) lost its first eight games, which Kessel missed as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. But he has had an immediate impact, scoring 10 goals in his first 15 games, with the Maple Leafs going 7-5-3.

“We’re just doing the things that we should do,” winger Jason Blake(notes) said. “We use our speed and forecheck and make it tough on defensemen. If we don’t do that, we’re easy to play against. The last few games, we’ve been doing that. We’ve been getting rewarded. We’ve just got to keep doing it.”

Kessel and Blake each scored twice in a 6-3 win at Columbus on Thursday, while Joey MacDonald(notes) made 33 saves to earn his first win of the season. With rookie Jonas Gustavsson(notes) (elevated heart rate) out and Vesa Toskala(notes) struggling, MacDonald will start again Saturday.

“We’re playing well,” Kessel said. “Obviously (Thursday) Mac played unbelievable in net for us. We could have played better. We scored a bunch of goals but we’ve got to play better defensively and help him out. Hopefully we can do that next game.”

The Maple Leafs had major problems defensively against Boston last season, as the Bruins scored 26 goals while winning the last five games between the Northeast Division rivals.

Thomas is 13-4-2 all-time against Toronto despite a 3.01 goals-against average.

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Saturday, Dec 5