WINNIPEG -- The Western Conference First Round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets has its villain.
Ducks center Ryan Kesler has long been a target of rowdy MTS Centre crowds since his time with the Vancouver Canucks. Playoff hockey has only intensified the dislike for Winnipeg fans.
Starting during warmups in Game 3 on Monday and continuing throughout the game, Kesler and Ducks forward Corey Perry received a steady stream of boos and chants inside the smallest arena in the NHL.
"[It] seems everywhere in Canada we go, they’re saying something bad about him (Kesler)," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Tuesday. "You’re going to have to ask him about what he did to this poor country. But you know what? Some guys like it. [Perry] feeds off it when you start getting on him. He loves that. I guess Ryan’s the same way."
Kesler said he relishes the animosity and welcomes it.
"I loved it," Kesler said. "Embraced it. [The booing] brings my game to the next level. It [got] me going even if I didn't feel like I had that much early on. That definitely got me going."
Kesler’s goal with 2:14 left in the third period sent the game to overtime, and the Ducks won 5-4 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. He also had an assist.
"It feels good," Kesler said. "It’s a team game, though. I can sit here and name great plays that everybody has done. There are plays throughout the game that have huge impacts on the game. I was just lucky to have a huge impact late in that game to tie it up."
The 30-year-old center, who was acquired from Vancouver in a trade this past offseason, has a goal and two assists in the series. He also has antagonized the Jets and lured them into penalty trouble.
Center - ANA
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 3 | +/-: -1
In the series, Kesler has drawn four penalties. Mild-mannered Jets center Mark Scheifele
took a roughing penalty against Kesler late in the second period of Game 1 that set up the Ducks’ three-goal third-period comeback.
Kesler and Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg have established some offensive chemistry as well. Silfverberg’s pass through heavy traffic near the Winnipeg net set up Kesler’s tying goal in Game 3.
"[Silfverberg is] just a smart player," Kesler said. "We read off each other well, and last night we found each other. I think the last couple of games we’ve been playing well together, and hopefully it sticks."
An Anaheim win in Game 4 would finish off Winnipeg and leave Kesler and teammates with time to heal from what has been a very physical series. He said he expects the Jets and their fans to be at full intensity Wednesday, and he is ready for it.
"My dad told me that you must be doing something right if people are all over you," Kesler said Monday after the game. "So that’s a tribute to what I do on the ice."