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Red-hot Kesler has Canucks inching towards Cup

by John Kreiser
Ryan Kesler struggled to do much of anything offensively during the Vancouver Canucks' first nine playoff games. During the last three, however, he's been next to unstoppable.
Kesler is the biggest reason the Canucks have a chance to move into the Western Conference Finals with a win Monday (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC) in Nashville. Kesler had 5 goals and 8 points in the Canucks' last three games. He scored the winning goals in Games 3 and 4 – both times during power plays that came after he drew a penalty on a Nashville player.
Kesler, a 41-goal scorer during the regular season, had just 4 assists in the opening round against Chicago and managed just 23 shots on goal during the seven games. He has matched that total in the first five games against Nashville, but has a lot more to show for them.

Three up -- Three players who have been hot in the second round:
Joel Ward -- As good as Kesler has been for the Canucks against Nashville, Ward has been for the Predators against Vancouver. He has goals in three consecutive games, scored twice in the third period to beat the Canucks on Saturday and has 7 goals and 12 points in 11 postseason games for the Predators.
Sean Bergenheim -- It's hard to imagine a more unlikely star for the Tampa Bay Lightning than Bergenheim, a late-summer signing by the Bolts after five on-and-off seasons with the New York Islanders. Bergenheim had 14 goals during the regular season, but has half that total through two rounds in the playoffs. He has 6 goals in his last six games, including 3 goals in the last two games as the Bolts swept the Washington Capitals.
Tim Thomas -- The NHL's best regular-season goaltender is matching that performance in the postseason. Thomas allowed just seven goals in Boston's four-game sweep of Philadelphia, stopped 68 consecutive Flyers shots at one point and has a 2.03 goals-against average and .937 save percentage -- a virtual match for his regular-season numbers (2.00 GAA, .938 save percentage).
Three down -- Three players who have been struggling:
Sergei Kostitsyn -- Nashville has scored just 10 goals in five games, and the lack of production from Kostitsyn, one of the Predators' best offensive players during the regular season, has been a major problem. Kostitsyn has not had a point in the five games against Vancouver and is scoreless in his last seven games overall while taking just six shots in that span.
Patrick Marleau -- Marleau had 5 points in the last four games of San Jose's first-round win against Los Angeles, but he's gone cold against Detroit, going five games without a point while taking 15 shots and averaging more than 23 minutes a game.
Brian Boucher -- Boucher started three of Philadelphia's four games against Boston, but didn't play the entire game in any of them. After winning Games 6 and 7 against Buffalo in the first round, Boucher was torched for 12 goals by the Bruins before not playing in Game 4.
Injuries, news and notes -- The Boston Bruins are in no hurry to start the Eastern Conference Finals -- the longer the delay, the more chance they might get Patrice Bergeron back. He went down with a "mild" concussion in Game 4 against Philadelphia; the Bruins say he's day-to-day.
Out -- Vancouver forward Mikael Samuelsson left early in Game 5 after a fall and is not expected to play in Game 6. … Nashville forward Steve Sullivan may miss the rest of the Preds' series against Vancouver with a lower-body injury sustained in Game 3.
Returning -- Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo returned for Game 4; he hadn't played since leaving Game 5 of the Canucks' opening-round series with a lower-body injury. … Philadelphia forward Jeff Carter played in Games 3 and 4 of the Flyers' series against Boston; he had been out since injuring his knee against Buffalo in Game 4 of the opening round.
Still out -- Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid is skating again as he works to recover from a sprained neck. The Bruins hope he will be able to play at some point in the conference finals against Tampa Bay. The Bruins also are without defenseman Steven Kampfer (knee), though he is skating. … Tampa Bay is hopeful forward Simon Gagne (head) and defenseman Pavel Kubina (upper body), who missed the end of the series against Washington, will be able to play against Boston.
Non-playoff teams – Kings forward Justin Williams had shoulder surgery last week. He missed Los Angeles' last nine regular-season games, but came back for the playoffs. ... Chicago's Bryan Bickell had surgery to repair the wrist he injured during the Hawks' playoff series against Vancouver, and defenseman Chris Campoli had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The week ahead – The two Eastern semis ended in sweeps. The Western semis will run at least six games, meaning the conference finals aren't likely to start before the weekend.
Vancouver at Nashville (May 9, 8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC) – Not even the Predators' most rabid fans could have expected a Game 6 after Nashville lost Games 3 and 4 at home last week. But Saturday's 4-3 win in Vancouver -- the first elimination-game win in franchise history -- brought the series back to Bridgestone Arena.
San Jose at Detroit (May 10, 8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN) -- The Sharks were less than 20 minutes away from moving into the final four in the West before Sunday's third-period rally by the Wings. Detroit has won two in a row entering Game 6; another win will give Detroit a chance to become just the fourth team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games.
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