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Toews-Kesler matchup is key in Western Conference Final

by Corey Masisak / Chicago Blackhawks

ANAHEIM -- The 2015 Western Conference Final might be the first playoff matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, but for a couple of the key combatants it will be just like old times.

Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler were a featured matchup when the Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks met for three consecutive years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 2009-11, and they’ve seen plenty of each other in Canada-United States games at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Olympics.

They're sure to see a lot of each other during the next two weeks, beginning with Game 1 at Honda Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

“Toews is a good player. We always seem to match up against each other,” Kesler said Saturday. “So when you play him in the playoffs and you play against the same guy for six-seven games in a row, obviously there’s going to be rivalry there. If I’m playing against him this series, I’m sure we won’t hug each other after draws, let’s just say that.”

Each has won the Selke Trophy for defensive excellence as a forward, and Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said Kesler’s game reminds him of Toews’. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau has used Kesler much in the same way he was deployed in his Vancouver days: Kesler will center the second line and be expected to match up with the other team’s top unit. In this series, that means a lot of time against Toews, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad.

“I think any coach would rather have Ryan on his team than against him,” Boudreau said of Kesler. “As a second-line center, he's as good as there is. He elevates his game in the playoffs. He's a money player. Hopefully he can continue what he's done in the first two rounds in the third round.”

Chicago defeated Vancouver in the second round in 2009 and the conference finals in 2010, needing six games each time. The Canucks prevailed in the first round in 2011, taking a 3-0 lead before needing a Game 7 win to knock off the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

Toews had a quiet 2009 series until his two-goal, three-point Game 6. He had one of the best series of his career against Kesler and the Canucks in 2010, racking up four goals and 12 points. Each had four points in the 2011 series.

Toews has seven goals and 20 points in the 19 games; Kesler has two goals and 11 points. He also had two goals in two games against Canada in 2010; Toews had a goal and an assist against the United States.

“He's definitely a player that you respect and that you challenge yourself against,” Toews said.

“I think he's meant a lot to his team offensively, but I think most of all he plays a smart, gritty game defensively. He tries to take other top players off their game. I think he's definitely relished that role with Anaheim too.”

There will be plenty of other fascinating matchups in this series. Which line does Chicago coach Joel Quenneville try to play against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry? How will each coach dole out assignments with his defense corps?

Each team is deep and talented and can score a lot of goals when it gets rolling. Toews and Kesler are sure to renew acquaintances.

It will be an old rivalry renewed.

“Do I hate them? I think we’re here for one reason: to win,” Kesler said. “I think we’ve done a good job of keeping emotions in check and not letting the so-called hatred come in to our game. I think that’s when things get a little hairy for us.”

Author: Corey Masisak | Staff Writer

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