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Kesler: I need to play even better

by Dan Rosen /
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Canucks center Ryan Kesler says he has to be better against San Jose than he was against Nashville.

Good luck Mr. McLellan, Mr. Thornton, Mr. Marleau and Co.

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals starts at 8 p.m. ET Sunday at Rogers Arena (CBC, VERSUS, RDS).

"That's how the elite push themselves, by demanding more from themselves," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Saturday when asked about Kesler. "I've seen it with the Yzermans, I've seen it with the Lidstroms -- the elite approach the game that way. They're never happy with what they have. The further you go, the tougher the task, the more you have to elevate your game."

Kesler elevated his game to an extreme level against the Predators with 11 points on 5 goals and 6 assists to go along with 24 shots, 16 hits, 12 takeaways and a 59 percent success rate in the faceoff circle. He figured in all but three of the Canucks' goals in the series and was a factor in their near-perfect penalty kill, which went 20 for 21.

"For me, it's going to be playing the same way," said Kesler, the Canucks' Conn Smythe Trophy favorite after two rounds. "From Chicago to Nashville I played the same way, but I just got a lot more scoring chances, a lot more opportunities. I'm going to continue to play the same way, put the same game on the ice and it's going to be a matter of getting those scoring chances, bearing down when I get them."

Kesler will be facing a different challenge starting Sunday. The Sharks forwards are both bigger and more skilled than Nashville's. Whether he's matched against Joe Thornton's line or Logan Couture's line, Kesler will undoubtedly have to worry as much about defense as he does about offense.

Kesler, though, is a Selke Trophy finalist for the third straight time. He was largely responsible for holding Jonathan Toews without an even-strength point in the opening round. Playing defense is his forte.

"If you ask me what I expect from him, I expect him to continue to do the same thing he's been doing, which is playing good, hard hockey," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "He wants to win. The rest of our group also wants to win. At this time of the year you need your players to play their best hockey. That's what we expect."

Forgive Kesler if he expects even more than that, at least from himself.

"I have to continue getting better," he said. "You forget about the past and you focus on San Jose. We did a good job of that after winning the most emotional series for the guys that have played here in the years past, beating Chicago. I thought we did a good job of moving on and focusing on Nashville. Now we need to move on and, me personally, I need to move on and continue to get better.

"The goal in the dressing room isn't to make it to the Conference Finals," he added. "We have a bigger goal in mind."

Just for kicks, Canucks GM Mike Gillis was asked who he thinks Kesler should be matched up against in the Conference Finals.

"I'm not the coach, but he can play against anyone the way he's playing right now," Gillis said.

Now imagine he plays even better.


Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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