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NHL Playoffs

Kessel Could Be 3-Time Stanley Cup Champ; Smiling Even Out of Lineup (+)

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, NHL trade rumors

LAS VEGAS — Phil Kessel is not the hot dog-eating everyman with a crooked tie icon in Las Vegas that he was in Pittsburgh when he was a significant factor in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Then, fans angrily defended Kessel from the slightest criticism and cheered his every move.

Things are different in Las Vegas. Kessel was a healthy scratch in Round One, the first game he missed since Oct. 31, 2009, a span of 15 years. His Ironman streak still stands at 1064 games.

Yet a healthy scratch in the playoffs and no one in Vegas seemed to blink.

I covered Kessel from Day 1 through the end in Pittsburgh. I advocated for his acquisition, noted that his first season was mediocre, praised him in the playoffs, and criticized him when he stridently strayed from Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan’s system, taking Evgeni Malkin with him.

Kessel, now 35, was always the big man on campus in Pittsburgh, partly because he marched to his own beat regardless of who might disagree.

In Las Vegas, he’s a depth veteran without such privileges.

Golden Knights grinder Brett Howden had a pair of goals in Game 4. Fourth-liner Keegan Kolesar is playing very well. And the Vegas Golden Knights bottom-six is a heavy, fast, cohesive unit. Kessel wasn’t needed when team cornerstone William Carrier finally returned to the lineup after an injury that kept him out for about six weeks.

I approached cautiously.

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