ANAHEIM -- The battle between Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler and Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen started immediately in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center on Sunday.
[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Ducks series coverage | Carlyle pushes right buttons in Ducks' Game 2 win]
While the two centers were waiting for opening faceoff, Kesler used his stick to jab Johansen in the leg, knocking him off balance before the puck was dropped.
When it was over and the Ducks had a 5-3 victory to tie the best-of-7 series 1-1, Johansen was somewhat incredulous at Kesler's tactics.
Game 3 is at Nashville on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
"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."
Johansen was asked if he's encountered any other opponent who goes as far with defensive tactics as Kesler.
"Oh no. Not at all," he said. "He doesn't do anything that makes sense. He's just … he thinks he's getting under guys' skin, but he's just … I don't know what he's doing. Really, I can't even put a finger on it."
Kesler was interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada after Game 2 and said, "I play the game hard, and obviously he doesn't like that."
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Johansen strikes on early breakaway
Coming off an impact performance in Game 1, when he had two assists in Nashville's 3-2 overtime win, Johansen had a strong first period in Game 2. He scored on a breakaway at 4:18 and assisted on forward James Neal's goal that made it 2-0 at 8:32.
Johansen played 19:22 on Sunday and pointed the finger at himself for a defensive oversight on Ducks forward Ondrej Kase's second-period goal that tied the game 3-3.
"I just have to focus on my game," Johansen said. "It's tough on … I think it was their tying goal there, it was my guy. I feel like that cost us the game there tonight. I made a mistake there and they scored. That kind of [stunk], but I'll get some rest and just get back to doing what I do in the next game."
Johansen, who has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 12 games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, found plenty of support in the Predators locker room after his head-to-head battle with Kesler in Game 2.
"I think he is playing unbelievable," left wing Filip Forsberg said. "You saw the first period. He was the best player on the ice by far. After that, I think he's still playing well. You can just look at the statistics. He's showing up in every category. I think he's been playing really well for the first two [games]."
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Neal extends lead, ties club record
Predators coach Peter Laviolette echoed those thoughts and defended Johansen's high-sticking penalty against Kesler at 17:39 of the second period.
"Ryan's played terrific," Laviolette said. "I think Ryan has been completely composed. The penalty he took tonight I think was a faceoff where he was battling for a puck and his stick came up. I think it was accidental more than anything. I think he's been excellent."