He changed that in a 3-2 Canucks overtime win. Twice.
Kesler scored Vancouver’s first and third goals, his first two scores of the post-season, to lift the Canucks to a big road win and a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Semifinal series.
Now Kesler is the best player in the playoffs. Period.
With the game knotted at 2-2 midway through the first overtime, Kesler drew a penalty on hulking Nashville defenceman Shea Weber, a key Predators penalty killer.
The 26-year-old forward then assumed the position in front of Pekka Rinne, blocking the seemingly airtight goaltender while keeping an active stick ready to tip anything that moved.
On the power play, Christian Ehrhoff worked the puck to Mikael Samuelsson at the point, he rifled a shot on goal and Kesler got enough of the puck to send it past Rinne.
“It was a great shot by Samuelsson,” said Kesler, who recorded his first career multi-goal playoff game, and also picked up an assist for his first career three-point post-season outing.
“It was good gritty work, we were trying to find the puck the whole shift and Sammy shot it in front and I was in front and it was a good tip.”
Kesler’s first goal of the night, which tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, was also scored in close on Rinne as the Predators netminder overcommitted to Ehrhoff as he swung around the net leaving Kesler alone in front for an easy goal.
As he’s done for much of the playoffs, Kesler entered beast mode during the first second round home game in Nashville history.
He was here, he was there, he was everywhere, both on the ice and on the stats sheet. Kesler was second on the Canucks with six shots and he had three attempts blocked, he blocked two shots, doled out a hit, had a takeaway and won 13 of 24 faceoffs, all while leading Vancouver’s forwards in ice time at 25:26, with 2:12 of that played on the penalty kill.
Talk about being a one-stop-shop for playoff hockey intangibles.
“I was just trying to do all the right things, if you’re not scoring you’ve got to worry about the other 20 shifts that you’re on the ice and keep doing the right things,” said Kesler, adding that “it felt good” to finally pot a few goals.
“It’s going to come and it’s going to come in bunches.”
Chris Higgins had the other Canucks goal, his third of the playoffs, matching a career-high from the 2007-08 post-season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Roberto Luongo stopped 28 shots, including four in overtime, for his sixth win of the playoffs. Although not overly tested, Luongo was sharp when he had to be and that included not dozing off during a stretch of over 17 minutes in the second period during which the Predators failed to record a single shot on net.
Rinne, again playing out of this world, turned aside 44 of 47 shots.
Vancouver’s power play finally clicked going 2-for-4; the Canucks are now 2-for-10 on the man advantage in the series. The penalty killing remains flawless from Vancouver as Nashville has not converted on 12 opportunities thus far.
Joel Ward is starting to grind my gears.
The Nashville forward collected the second assist on Ryan Suter’s game-tying goal with 1:07 to play in a Predators comeback win in Game 2, then in Game 3 Ward scored the 2-2 equalizer with less than seven minutes to play in regulation to again force overtime.
Ah, who am I kidding? Ward’s just doing his job; don’t hate the player. It’s the Canucks that have been very accommodating to those looking to score late goals throughout the 2011 Playoffs.
That, like Miley Cyrus performing and butchering Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' during a concert last week in Ecuador, needs to be addressed.
“We’ve gone through this a couple of times and we stay together as a group, we’re focused, we knew we deserved the win tonight and I’m glad we kept pushing through there even though we gave up the late goal,” said Chris Higgins.
Ryan Kesler, not showing his cards as to what was said in the locker room between the third period and overtime, reiterated the poise described by Higgins.
“We were confident still, it was an unlucky bounce again. It was one of those things where it hits five skates and goes into the net, we knew that if we just kept working, we were going to get the goal and we were going to win it in overtime.”
All apologies aside, the Canucks are a few late game tweaks away from being fully In Bloom.
This was Vancouver’s fourth overtime game in its last five outings dating back to the first round; the Canucks have allowed two shorthanded goals in four playoff games, the same amount they gave up all season; this was the NHL’s 15th overtime in the last 16 days of action.