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By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON – If a winner could be declared in a hockey trade after one night, Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins would be the runaway victors in this one.
Tyler Seguin scored his first home goal in 11 minutes and 41 seconds of ice time, fired three shots on net, finished a plus-1, and nearly had another score when he took off on a breakaway in the third period as the Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0, Thursday night at TD Garden.
Then in a fitting grand finale, Seguin was informed after the game that he'd won a permanent job in Boston and wouldn't have to worry any more about being returned to his junior team.
That was in stark contrast to the performance of the man he was traded for, Phil Kessel, who was held without a goal for the seventh straight game against the Bruins.
And not to mention that Seguin isn't all the Bruins are going to get out of this deal. They still have Toronto's first-round draft choices coming their way at the end of the year.
Any wonder, then, why Seguin and the rest of his teammates could barely contain their amusement when "Thank you, Kessel" chants loudly poured down from the stands?
"I was really trying not to laugh," said a grinning Seguin following the game, just moments before he learned that the Bruins wouldn't be returning him to the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. "But all the guys were cracking up because it stayed so well. But it just shows what supportive fans we have in Boston. It was pretty funny to a lot of us."
It was a karmic touch by the B's crowd after Kessel essentially forced his way out of Boston while knowing that a $5 million-plus-per-season salary awaited him in Toronto. Hence the warm, heartfelt thanks from the 17,565 in attendance for originally setting the Seguin wheels in motion.
Coach Claude Julien clashed with the odd duck Kessel often during their two years together and had major disagreements over everything from the youngster's choice of sticks to his lacking work ethic in training and conditioning.
The B's coach didn't hear the "Thank you, Kessel" chant as it was happening, but seemed to take delight in it after the fact.
"That's what our fans are all about," said Julien. "They're great fans, they support the people that are here and they taunt the people that were here and are gone. [Laughs] So to me, those are perfect fans."
The sarcastic gratitude for Phil the Thrill's escape to Toronto was an instant classic chant from a Bruins crowd hectoring someone who didn't want to be in Boston.
The sing-song chant also perfectly typified the "good riddance" feeling shared by most in the B's organization upon Kessel's exit before last season – a sentiment that's only hardened since the B's picked up Seguin with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft.
All the better that the Bruins are already reaping Seguin's offensive gifts so early into his career.
Meanwhile Kessel managed only a single shot on net during an invisible final two periods after squeezing off five shots in the first 20 minutes. Kessel essentially looked like he "quit," as David Krejci predicted he might just 24 hours earlier.
He's now managed one assist along with a grotesque minus-7 rating in seven career games against the Bruins, and it continues to appear that he wilts once Boston turns the pressure up.
He was bounced pretty solidly by hard hits from Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart and Zdeno Chara, and could have been confused with the Invisible Man in the closing minutes of a close game.
His best scoring chance came in the first period, when he crept into the backdoor by the left post but had his shot swatted away by a red-hot Tim Thomas. After that things turned into long-distant shots from the outside or simply passing the puck during a good offensive opportunity.
That was it for Kessel in another ineffectual night against the Bruins, further hammering home the point that the young winger shrinks when the moments get too large to handle.
Kessel had a shoulder-shrugging "What can you do?" reaction after the game was finished, and vehemently upheld that he didn't care about the crowd's hooters, hollers and songs tailored for him.
"I could care less to tell you the truth," said Kessel. "It doesn't matter to me one bit."
Something tells me Kessel isn't very well-steeped in the work of Shakespeare, but Phil the Thrill doth protest just a little too much.
While the Leafs struggle to muster any offense besides the occasional firepower provided by Kessel and can't seem to find a center capable of helping him, the B's are once again in the NHL's top 10 in scoring while ranking tops in goals-against average.
The B's also have Seguin flashing the beginnings of a promising career and Jared Knight as a potential-filled winger in the pipeline – chosen with Toronto's second-round pick from last season – to show for Kessel's run to the Leafs.
They also have another first-round pick this summer to close out the Kessel deal, and will never bar the trade evaluation door fully until the many talented youngsters in Boston and Toronto have called it a day.
Someday the NHL history books will finally be closed shut and final judgments will be cast on the winners and losers in the Kessel deal – perhaps Seguin himself will even have made a few hockey enemies along the way.
"Hopefully one day I can go into another barn and get booed," said Seguin. "That'll mean that I'm doing something right."
Until Seguin is wearing the black hat and that final verdict comes in, it appears once again every hockey precinct reporting is showing the Bruins as the big winners on every conceivable level of the Kessel trade.
Joe Haggerty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs