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Canucks need Kesler to keep producing

by Dhiren Mahiban /
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Some have compared Ryan Kesler's performance in this year's playoffs to that of Pavel Bure's during the 1994 Stanley Cup run made by the Canucks. Others have considered Kesler an early favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Coach Alain Vigneault chose to compare Kesler's performance to that of goaltender Roberto Luongo during the 2007 playoffs: Luongo had a 5-7 record in those playoffs to go along with an impressive 1.77 GAA and a .941 save percentage.

"Even though we lost against Anaheim, in our second round, it was all Roberto," Vigneault recalled on Tuesday afternoon. "I remember at that time there were a few jokes of our team – in our team picture, there was nobody on the bench and Roberto at one end."

Kesler is the League leader in playoff scoring with 15 points; he's second with 10 assists and ninth with five goals through 13 games.  In 1994, Bure set a franchise records with 16 goals, 15 assists and 31 points.

"Obviously he did play real well, he was driving our bus," Vigneault said. "He took charge both offensively and defensively and played real strong.

"We need him to continue."

The only U.S.-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP was defenseman Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers, who did it in 1994. Through two rounds, Kesler has made a case for becoming the second.

In the first round Kesler held Jonathan Toews, Chicago's No. 1 center, to just a single goal while chipping in four assists of his own in Vancouver's seven-game elimination of the defending champion Blackhawks. The lack of goals during the opening series had Kesler facing criticism from some after the Livonia, Mich., native scored 41 times during the regular season.

But after going scoreless in Game 1 against Nashville and earning an assist in Game 2, Kesler was a one-man scoring machine in the final four games of the series, piling up 5 goals and 10 points. He set up both goals in Monday's series-clinching 2-1 win.

"To be honest, I didn't change my game that much," said Kesler of the point differential in the two series. "I was still getting good looks in the Chicago series, it just wasn't going in.

"I had some more chances in the Nashville series and it started going in. I just stayed positive and it was good, it was fun when it finally started clicking for me."

Kesler's second-round production also took some of the heat off of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who combined for just 2 goals and 5 assists in the six games against the Predators.

"It reminded me of last year when Mikael went on that run against L.A.," said Daniel, referencing the 7 goals in six games forward Mikael Samuelsson scored in the opening round against the Kings last spring.  "It seems like every time he has the puck something good is going to happen so it's been awesome. We needed him big in the (Nashville) series and he came up big for us."

In order for the Canucks to have success moving forward, more players will have to elevate their game to Kesler's level.

"I think our guys expect Ryan to play hard and to play well, which he did," Vigneault said.  "I don't know if everybody followed him. I do know that whole group wanted the same thing that he wanted. He wanted to win.

"The whole group wanted to win, and now we need more guys to pick up their game and try to take it to that other level that's going to permit us to have a great opportunity to win."
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