The fate of the one Canadian city left in the Stanley Cup playoffs will be rested on an American.
Ryan Kesler, born in Livonia, Michigan, was a dominating force that the Canucks needed to get past the pesky Nashville Predators. The feisty center put up an amazing 41 goals in the regular season to lead the Canucks, but was held scoreless in the first round of the playoffs against Chicago. He did not turn it on until game three of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Kesler, who had no goals and just five assists prior to game three, was finally awoken against Nashville. Kesler tallied two power-play goals and one assist in the game, one of the goals coming as the game-winner in overtime. It was his play along the boards that put Nashville’s top penalty-killer, Shea Weber, in the penalty box that resulted in Kesler’s game-winner. Agree with the call on the ice or not, the 26-year old forward did his job to ensure a victory.
That game started an offensive onslaught by Kesler, since posting three goals, four assists, seven points and one more power-play goal. Scoring a total of ten points in four games catapulted Kesler to the top of the NHL leader-board, tying Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk for the league-lead with 15 points in the playoffs.
Timely goal-scoring and rough-play along the boards are not the only reasons that Kesler is a monumental factor in Vancouver’s success as of late.
Kesler’s +6 is the best plus/minus for the Canucks. His 23:23 ice-time is also the most average time-played amongst Canucks forwards. In the three overtime games that the Canucks have had, Kesler seems to be out there every other shift. Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault also used Kesler in every situation against Nashville.
“He was driving our bus,” Vigneault said. “He took charge both offensively and defensively.”
His teammates have taken notice as well.
“He's been unbelievable,” goaltender Roberto Luongo told TSN. “He's taken his game to a level I have never seen before in the second round.”
The Canucks are set to take on the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals this coming Sunday for game one of their best-of-seven series. If the Canucks plan to make it past the high-flying Sharks, they have to continue to rely on Kesler to keep his dynamic pace up.
“We need him to continue [his play], without a doubt,” Vigneault said.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi has been stellar for the Sharks at times, but has also seemed a bit rattled at other times. If Kesler can continue to crash the crease and find a way to get under Niemi’s skin (as he did to Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne in game six when he ran him early in the contest), the Canucks could come out as the victor. If Kesler falls to his so-so pace that he displayed against Chicago, this could be the end of the road for the Vancouver team.
The Canucks have been to the Stanley Cup Finals just two times in their forty-year history and are yet to capture the Stanley Cup. Kesler will be the reason if history changes this season.
All quotes courtesy TSN.ca.