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Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

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PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel has nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. Some have said he’s playing the best of his hockey of his career.

Yet when Team USA announced its final World Cup roster on Friday, Kessel wasn’t on it. Four forwards — David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky — were added instead.

“Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Kessel said Sunday. “But it is what it is. I think I’ve had a pretty good playoffs, I’ve always done pretty well for (Team USA) in all the tournaments I’ve played in for them. But we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t be disappointed.”

Two years ago, Kessel led the Americans in the Olympics with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was named the best forward in the tournament. Callahan, in comparison, had no goals and one assist in six games.

Of course, Callahan has a history with World Cup head coach John Tortorella. So does Dubinsky. And let’s face it, when you think of the kind of player that epitomizes Tortorella-coached teams, it’s not Kessel, it’s blue-collar workers like Callahan and Dubinsky.

Still, to not choose a guy who’s a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate?

“I’m surprised he was left off Team USA,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said today, before head coach Mike Sullivan praised Kessel for his competitiveness and for improving his play away from the puck and along the boards.

At any rate, Kessel didn’t sound like getting left off the World Cup squad was bothering him too much. One day from playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, he’s pretty happy with where he’s at right now.

“I’ve never really been on a team that’s felt like this,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, to be honest. I’m so excited to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and play with these guys.”

Kessel left off Team USA for World Cup

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Phil Kessel‘s terrific playoff wasn’t enough to win over USA Hockey.

On Friday, the Americans completed their 23-man roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and passed on Kessel in favor of four other forwards: David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

Defensemen Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson and Matt Niskanen also made the team.

Kessel, who has nine goals and 18 points through 19 postseason contests, was one of the most noteworthy snubs. Others included another stellar playoff performer — Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson — Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo.

It’s worth mentioning that Ryan and Okposo were two of the most notable “snubs” from the American team that finished fourth in Sochi.

On defense, Carolina’s Justin Faulk (who played in Sochi), St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston’s Torey Krug and the Islanders’ Nick Leddy were all passed over.

The full 23-man roster:

G Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

D Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche *
D Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets *
D Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
D Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals *
D Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

F Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings
F David Backes, St. Louis Blues *
F Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning *
F Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets *
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
F T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
F Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
F Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
F James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs *
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

* named to roster today

It’s probably worth pointing out that two of the seven players named to the roster today — Dubinsky and Jack Johnson — play for Team USA head coach John Tortorella in Columbus.

A third, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, was the captain in New York when Tortorella coached the Rangers.

Yep, there’s a bottle of Cool Mint Listerine atop Kessel’s dressing-room stall

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Apparently, Phil Kessel‘s teammates aren’t quite finished enjoying his post-game interview with NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire.

Per the Penguins’ Twitter feed, a bottle of Cool Mint Listerine has been placed atop Kessel’s dressing-room stall at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay.

There also appears to be some Winterfresh gum in there.

We all know the backstory by now. Following Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, McGuire asked Kessel, “How’s your breath?” To which Kessel replied, “It’s not good, eh?” To which McGuire said, “No! I meant in terms of conditioning.” Kessel laughed, hid his face in his towel for a second, then earnestly answered the question. When the interview was over, he chuckled again and said he couldn’t believe what just happened.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said the Penguins “had a good laugh” about the awkwardness of the whole thing.

“First of all, I think it was funny, it was awesome,” Crosby told reporters. “I think that anyone being asked that question, I think we’ve all probably thought to ourselves, ‘How do you answer that?’ It’s kind of a tough one to answer and he handled it great. It was pretty funny. It’s probably perfect that it was Phil because he’s probably the one to handle it as good as that.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked this morning about the Listerine bottle.

“That’s part of being part of a close-knit team,” he said. “These guys, they don’t miss much. So when they have opportunities to have some fun with one another, I think that’s a good thing. I think it brings our team even closer together, and that’s an example of it.”

Game 4 goes tonight. The happy-go-lucky Pens lead the series, 2-1.

Cooper: Kessel ‘probably doesn’t get near the respect he deserves’

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Phil Kessel can be, well, a polarizing figure.

He’s a scorer, hitting the 30-goal plateau five times in 10 seasons and that was a huge reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him in a blockbuster trade with Toronto last summer.

He’s also been a lightning rod for criticism, like when his former coach Ron Wilson offered quite a take on Kessel after the firing of Randy Carlyle in Toronto.

Now, it needs to be pointed out that Wilson did say a team can “…win with Phil Kessel.” But he also said a team can’t rely on Kessel.

On a Penguins team that possesses stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Kessel — also a star — has certainly been reliable in these playoffs.

Playing on that dynamic HBK Line with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino — which combined for five points on Pittsburgh’s first two goals of Wednesday’s game — Kessel is up to seven goals now in this post-season. That’s new ground for him. He leads the Penguins with those seven goals and 16 points, which also puts him third in the league in that category during the playoffs. Only Brent Burns and Logan Couture have more points.

On Wednesday, after scoring and adding an assist in the Penguins’ 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3, taking a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final, Kessel received a pretty high compliment from Jon Cooper, as the opposing head coach addressed a question about that vaunted HBK Line.

“I think, like when you look at their team, Phil Kessel probably doesn’t get near the respect he deserves,” Cooper told reporters.  “I mean, he’s scored a ton of goals in this league.”

PHT Morning Skate: Kessel and ‘Conn Smythe’ in the same sentence

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

What a difference a few games make. Now people are talking about Phil Kessel being a popular Conn Smythe winner. (Sportsnet)

Sounds like the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will face off in a pre-season game in Quebec City. Cool. (CSNNE.com)

How will Guy Boucher be received by the Senators? (TSN)

Will Dylan Larkin become the Red Wings’ next go-to guy? (NHL Numbers)

Looking at how overtime affects scoring chances. (Sportsnet)

This shot seems like it deserves another look, doesn’t it?