So perhaps you’re not a Bruins fan at all and you’re not exactly gung-ho in rooting for Boston to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972. You’re looking at the Vancouver Canucks and not really falling in love with them either. Either you’re weirded out by the Sedin twins or you’re harboring ill feelings toward Roberto Luongo for being the winning goalie during Team Canada’s run to the gold medal over Team USA in the 2010 Olympics. If you’re an American hockey fan, getting warm and cozy even for one series with the Vancouver Canucks might be a bit difficult.
Ryan Kesler is here to tell you that it’ll be OK if you root for Vancouver because of him.
Kesler is a Livonia, Michigan native who spent his formative years playing hockey with the United States National Under-18 team and then for a year at Ohio State University. While we’re pretty sure Jim Tressel had nothing to do with him being there, Kesler’s season at Ohio State was good enough for Vancouver to pluck him out of Columbus and get him working in their system with the Manitoba Moose. While Kesler spent a year and a half with the Moose, upon graduating to the NHL he’s turned himself into one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards, ultimately turning in his best pro season this year scoring 41 goals and adding 32 assists this year and a Selke Trophy nomination for best defensive forward.
In the playoffs, Kesler is perhaps the leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP right now after scoring seven goals and 11 assists through 18 games in the playoffs. A point-per-game pace at anytime is great to see, but in the playoffs that’s the sort of thing that helps win you hardware. Add all that to his appearance in the 2010 Olympics with Team USA and you’ve got yourself a player that the American version of Don Cherry would be awfully proud of as a “fine American boy.”
Joining Kesler as Americans fighting for the Cup for Canada are backup goalie Cory Schneider (Marblehead, MA), forward Chris Higgins (Smithtown, NY), and defensemen Keith Ballard (Baudette, MN) and Andrew Alberts (Minneapolis, MN). While Boston’s Milan Lucic might be in a weird position as a native of Vancouver trying to win the Cup against his hometown team, Schneider being a Marblehead native and former goalie at Boston College makes life a little conflicted for him too.
Such conflict could be squared away though thanks to Kesler as he’s been a dominant force on the Canucks second line and as a penalty killer and defensive shutdown center. If he can help rein in David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron while scoring goals he’ll be a legend in Vancouver and back home in Michigan too.
It doesn’t get much better than a player making the type of save you’d only expect from a goalie. OK, how about this: when it happens amid the high stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel had already been distinguishing himself with a red-hot scoring start to the postseason, but he made a big difference in a way that won’t show up in the box score (aside from maybe as a blocked shot) for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals.
In one of the few golden opportunities in a notably tight first period, Guentzel made a “kick save” to keep it 0-0. He also managed to avoid giving the Capitals a penalty shot in the process, so this was quite the effort from the impressive rookie.
Video will be added soon. Here’s the moment in GIF form first:
You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.
The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.
As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.
In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.
That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.
Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.
The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.
The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.
So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.
He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:
The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).
In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):
Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone.
So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.
Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.
Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?