Kesler’s been putting a hurting on his foes

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 31, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Even as Ryan Kesler limped off the ice in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Sharks, taking the majority of Vancouver’s offense with him, it figured he would be back. It figured, too, that he would be the one to score the tying goal with 13 seconds left, the one that sent the teams to overtime in a game the Canucks eventually would win to put them in the Stanley Cup finals.

His stat line explains that, with his seven goals and 11 assists this postseason, his 23-plus minutes each game, his 54.7 percent of faceoffs won. So too does his toughness, his desire to be on the ice whenever, wherever, no matter how injured.

As teammate Alex Burrows said yesterday, explaining Kesler’s high pain threshold, “He probably got beat up by his sister when he was younger.’’

It’s as good an explanation as any. Because Kesler certainly wasn’t offering any such analysis. He barely would acknowledge an injury, after explaining in recent days that he came off the ice in that game to call his wife because he might have left the iron on. He said only that he was “feeling good,’’ and added, “I’m no different than anybody in this room. Anybody would do the same for our teammates.’’

“He’s never going to quit, obviously,’’ Burrows said about a player who also returned to the game after taking a puck to the face against Nashville. “He [plays at less than] 100 percent [physically] all the time. But at the same time you don’t see it on the ice. He really puts his work boots on. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He just wants to keep going and improving and obviously he’s been through a lot all year and in the past and again in the playoffs.

“He’s been one of our best players, so that says a lot about him.’’

Kesler was the driving force in the Canucks’ win over the Predators in the second round, putting up a scintillating series that helped Vancouver overcome a perceived lack of production from Daniel and Henrik Sedin, whose difficult matchup led to an underwhelming stat line. Kesler’s was exactly the opposite; he had 11 points in the six-game series.

“Ryan Kesler’s in the best situation of any hockey player in the NHL,’’ Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. “[The Sedins] were occupying the checking line and the best pair of defensemen on the other team and then Ryan Kesler lights it up.’’

As Burke pointed out, there was a drop-off in the next round, against the Sharks, with Kesler putting up three points in the five-game series. But he didn’t need to do as much as he had in the earlier round, because the matchups were more favorable, and his more heralded teammates were getting the scoring chances they hadn’t before.

Of course, then there’s Kesler’s version of why he was so good against the Predators: “I would say I was feeling good and the puck was following me around the ice.’’

His teammates are a bit more complimentary of the player who has put himself in the competition for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

“He was unbelievable,’’ Burrows said. “Obviously he carried the load for the most part in [the Nashville] series offensively. Obviously he put up a lot of points in that series, but I thought in the Chicago series he was maybe even better, but didn’t get on the scoreboard, and even in the last series playing against [Joe] Thornton’s line.’’

Kesler’s play has been overwhelming at times. That’s why there’s such a stark contrast when faced with the man himself.

Asked what this playoff run has meant to him, Kesler barely acknowledged that he’d contributed, barely acknowledged that without him it’s unlikely the Canucks would be getting ready to face the Bruins in Game 1 of the Cup finals tomorrow night.

“For me, it’s satisfying to help the team win, to do what I’ve done so far,’’ Kesler said, before correcting himself. “I don’t think satisfying is the right word. I’m happy where we are now, but I’m going to be even happier after this round. I just try to put the same game on the ice [every series], try to use my strengths to my advantage, not get off my game too much, and hope for the best.’’

The rest of the Canucks will be hoping the same, knowing that they need him, that he is crucial to their hopes. Because he has done everything. And, especially in these playoffs, he has done everything well.

“Obviously, he’s big on the [penalty kill], he plays on the power play, he plays in every situation for us,’’ Daniel Sedin said. “To have a guy like that, we need him to play well. He’s been good. We expect nothing else from him. That’s the kind of player he is, and we need him to be this good in the finals.’’

Plus, there’s one more factor, one that bodes well for Vancouver.

“He likes to win,’’ Sedin said. “Anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s hockey or something else. He’s a winner.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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