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Ryan Kesler's play for Ducks frustrating Predators

Center getting under skin of Nashville forward Ryan Johansen in conference final

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- Plenty of eyes will be watching the matchup between Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler and Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, SN).

Kesler has been a determined checker against Johansen in the first two games of the best-of-7 series that is tied 1-1.

Kesler was named a Selke Trophy finalist for the fifth time this season. He won the award given to the NHL's top defensive forward in 2011. 

The attention he has given Johansen in the series has not been entirely successful.


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Johansen has four points (one goal, three assists) in the series, with two assists in Game 1 and one goal and one assist in Game 2. 

But after the Ducks defeated the Predators 5-3 in Game 2 on Sunday, Johansen showed some frustration.

"I mean if I … he just blows my mind, watching what's going through his head out there," Johansen said. "Like his family and friends watching him play; I don't know how you cheer for a guy like that. It just doesn't make sense how he plays the game.

"I'm just trying to go out there and play hockey and it [stinks] when you've got to pull a stick out of your groin every shift."

Those comments prompted numerous questions to the Ducks and Predators on their travel day Monday.

Neither Kesler nor Johansen were available for interviews.

"Quite frankly I don't pay attention to any of that stuff," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. "Players will say what they want. That's not my concern.

"[Kesler] is an effective player and he's played the [Stanley Cup Playoffs] the way he would normally play them. He approaches the task as he stated -- he's got to be better than the player he's playing up against.

"We just think Ryan Kesler is one heck of a player and we support our player 100 percent. He's a veteran player. He's done this before. It's not his first day at the office."

Carlyle and Kesler have history.

Video: ANA@EDM, Gm3: Kesler bangs home puck at the doorstep

Carlyle coached Kesler, who was 20 at the time, during the 2004-05 season with Manitoba of the American Hockey League. Kesler was selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the No. 23 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft.

"I know that [Kesler] is competitive no matter who he plays up against," Carlyle said. "I know that in our playoff battles in my first time in Anaheim and he was in Vancouver at that time and he was up against [Ryan] Getzlaf as much as [then Canucks coach] Alain Vigneault could get him out there. He's a formidable task. He's a guy that plays hard and he plays the game the way most coaches would want their players to play it.

"You have to remember, I had him before he was in the NHL, had him a year with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL in the year of the lockout. I've got a history with him and I knew what he was about a long time ago.

"He played that way for me in Manitoba and he's just continued to grow and develop into an elite level NHL player."

Kesler's focus in the conference final is no surprise.

Video: Breaking down the Kesler-Johansen matchup

He's seen plenty of tough matchups before, most recently in the second round when much of his time was spent against Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who led the NHL with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) during the regular season.

McDavid had five points (three goals, two assists) in the seven-game series against Anaheim but no points in Games 6 and 7.

The Ducks, as one would expect, have supported the job Kesler has been doing.

"He would be in my head a little bit," Ducks defenseman Josh Manson said. "He's a tough guy to play against. You watch him and he's a guy that you love to have on your side and you hate to play against. So you watch throughout the series and throughout the playoffs, so far he takes pride in throwing guys off their game.

"So hopefully it is working. He's a tough guy to play against. It's an asset to have on our team."

Predators coach Peter Laviolette isn't concerned about Kesler's effect on Johansen.

"I didn't read [Johansen's] comments so I can't reference them," Laviolette said. "I can tell you that I just saw him on the plane and he's composed. I saw him on the ice last night, he's composed. So he'll be ready to play tomorrow."

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Neal extends lead, ties club record

As he did after Game 2, Laviolette said he thinks Johansen, left wing Filip Forsberg and right wing Viktor Arvidsson have been doing an excellent job, no matter what attention they have drawn from the Ducks, and praised Johansen again.

"I think he's grown as a player," Laviolette said. "I think he's getting better. I think anytime you gain experience -- even last year in the playoffs and now this year -- I think he's just becoming more experienced, more mature as a player. And I think he's played well.

"He's played against checking lines before. He's gone head-to-head with top lines before. And that line is able to still maintain some of the best numbers in the league either way. So I think that they're doing a good job."

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