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Kesler leads the charge for Canucks

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

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Kesler leads the charge for Canucks
Ryan Kesler's face is cut up, bruised, and swollen - all warnings to his Western Conference Finals foe that his game has entered warrior mode.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ryan Kesler is missing a tooth, has a stitched up gash on his face and can barely use the left side of his mouth because it is so swollen.

He looks like a warrior and he's playing like one, too.

For six games against the Nashville Predators, Kesler, Vancouver's Selke Trophy finalist and unquestionable Conn Smythe favorite, was the most dominant player on the ice. Without him, the Canucks are probably heading home for a Game 7. Heck, without him, the Canucks might be heading home for the summer.

Kesler had two assists in Monday's series-clinching 2-1 win at Bridgestone Arena, giving him a hand in 11 of the Canucks' 14 goals in the series. He had an impact in their penalty kill that successfully killed 20 of 21 Nashville power plays, scored 5 goals, added 6 assists and won 59 percent of his faceoffs.

"He's obviously decided to drive the bus," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault so appropriately said of Kesler. "We need some other guys to come on board."

Henrik and Daniel Sedin finally jumped on in Game 6, but, of course, Kesler was in their middle of it, redirecting Henrik's pass to Daniel to help set up the Canucks' second goal.

Kesler was in the middle of everything for the Canucks in the second round. The Predators simply had no answer for him.

He had an assist, six shots and five takeaways in Game 2. He scored twice, including the overtime winner, added an assist and had six shots in Game 3. Kesler had the winning goal and 2 assists with six more shots in Game 4. He had both of the Canucks' goals in Game 5 and also won 21 of 26 faceoffs. In Game 6 he had two assists and won 18 of 29 draws.

He finished the round with 11 points, two game-winning goals, 24 shots, 12 takeaways, 16 hits and a 105-73 record on faceoffs.

"Obviously I wanted to make it through this round extremely bad," Kesler said.

He was asked if this was the best hockey he ever played.

"Good question," he answered. "Maybe, who knows?"

If he doesn't want to say it then fine, but his performance was so good and so necessary that finding another time in his career where he played so big when it mattered so much simply has to be impossible.

"He's turned into a world-class player," said Predators defenseman Shane O'Brien, who spent the previous two seasons in Vancouver. "He's got some hunger. He obviously wants to win bad."

Kesler did nothing fancy against the Predators. Instead, he seemed to do everything right and he got rewarded.

Even he was a bit surprised considering he had zero points and a minus-5 rating in four regular season games against the Predators.

"I struggled against these guys during the regular season, but it was just happening for me out there," Kesler said. "I was trying to work extremely hard and put my best game on the ice every night. I think you get in streaks and games when the pucks seem to magnetize to your stick. The past couple of games it has been doing that."

Was he in a zone?

"I just want it really bad," Kesler said. "There are just some things in life that you want."

If the rest of the Canucks want it half as bad as Kesler, getting to the Stanley Cup Final shouldn't be a problem.

"He's a horse, man. The guy is a horse," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "Might as well just give him the Conn Smythe right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
World Cup of Hockey 2016