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Knights defeat Maple Leafs as Phil Kessel ties NHL record

Updated October 24, 2022 - 11:23 pm

Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said it best after the game. “What would be a better script?”

Phil Kessel, playing in his record-tying 989th consecutive game, scored his first goal with the Knights 3:16 into Monday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs to send the announced crowd of 17,989 into a frenzy. It was also the 400th of Kessel’s career, making him just the 13th American-born player to reach that mark.

It seemed almost too perfect. Because it was.

Kessel’s goal was disallowed after Toronto challenged the play was offside, limiting him to only one milestone. The Knights didn’t let that deflate them.

Left wing Chandler Stephenson’s go-ahead goal 42 seconds into the third period gave them a 3-1 win against the Maple Leafs on Kessel’s historic night.

The 35-year-old tied Keith Yandle for the most games played in a row in NHL history. He can break the record Tuesday against San Jose.

“I won a couple of (Stanley) Cups, so that’s better than this,” Kessel said. “But tomorrow will be another fun game and hopefully we can get another W.”

It was fitting the Knights’ opponent Monday was the Maple Leafs.

Kessel began his streak with his Toronto debut Nov. 3, 2009. He didn’t miss a game the rest of his Maple Leafs tenure, his four years in Pittsburgh, his three seasons in Arizona and his first seven games with the Knights.

Only one other player, Carolina defenseman Brent Burns, has an active consecutive games played streak of more than 500. Burns is at 685. The Knights’ second-best consecutive games streak belongs to center William Karlsson, at 66.

“It’s unreal,” said center Nicolas Roy, who was 12 years old when Kessel’s streak began. “It doesn’t make any sense just thinking about it now.”

The Knights have only been a small part of Kessel’s streak. They were still excited to celebrate him Monday.

He was forced into the middle of the team’s stretching circle at morning skate so everyone could give him stick taps. Kessel isn’t a fan of the spotlight, and the Knights know it. They were happy to push his buttons a little. He’s already fit in well with his propensity to joke around and ability to make fun of himself.

It’s what made him such a popular teammate his previous stops.

“He came as advertised,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “I’ll take that guy in the locker room any day of the week. It’s not easy to come in and just fit in a locker room like he has. Having Phil in this room has really brightened it up.”

Getting his 400th goal would have made Kessel’s day even sweeter. After the challenge, it wasn’t meant to be. He settled for an assist on Roy’s goal once the Knights’ power play was put back on the ice. And the win, thanks to Stephenson’s goal and 22 saves from rookie goaltender Logan Thompson.

Stephenson, moved from center to form a loaded top line with center Jack Eichel and captain Mark Stone, created problems for Toronto all night with his speed. He was rewarded in the third period after a dominant opening shift. He picked up a loose puck in front of goaltender Ilya Samsonov and scored for the third straight game to make the score 2-1.

That was enough to the Knights thanks to a strong game from Thompson, who had lost his previous two starts against Calgary and Colorado. The 25-year-old was only beaten once by left wing William Nylander and kept calm under pressure.

He best save came in the first period, when he denied reigning Hart Trophy winner Auston Matthews from point-blank range with his arm.

Thompson bought time for Stephenson to re-take the lead. Left wing Michael Amadio, a former Maple Leaf, made it 3-1 less than eight minutes later thanks to an assist from Kitchener, Ontario native Nic Hague.

The result made Kessel a winner for the 471st time during his streak. He and Yandle are side-by-side in the NHL record book. Kessel is one day away from being all by himself.

“It’s unfortunate (his goal) didn’t stand,” Cassidy said. “But maybe it’s setting the stage for tomorrow.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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