Going into the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, it seemed like the Boston Bruins were confronted with a pick-your-poison proposition. The feeling was that they’d either get shredded by the Sedin twins’ cycling game or fall victim to Ryan Kesler facing lesser defensive matchups much like the Nashville Predators did in Round 2.
Yet through five games, it seems like they haven’t been victimized by either of the Vancouver Canucks’ one-two punches very often. While they’re creating the odd chance here or there, Henrik and Daniel Sedin are getting bottled up by the Bruins’ responsible two-way forwards and the dynamic D duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. It would seem like that focus would open the door for Kesler, but it’s quite possible that he is simply too banged up to take advantage of what might normally be beneficial matchups.
While Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said that “he’s fine” and was just receiving some rest, NHL.com notes that Kesler missed his first “non-optional” practice on Sunday. His absence probably emboldens many who wonder if Kesler is far from 100 percent, pointing to a possible groin injury suffered in Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks as a chief problem among other bumps and bruises.
Despite the Bruins’ reputation for strong defense (which admittedly has been shaken at times in the playoffs), many people think that injuries are the main explanation for Kesler’s Cup finals struggles. He has zero goals and just one assist – on Raffi Torres’ Game 1 winner – in five games against Boston. Those away games really hurt his plus/minus (-4 in those two losses, -3 overall in the last round) and his frustration is apparent in the 33 PIM he collected in the last three games.
That being said, Kesler is fighting through whatever pain and hindrance he’s dealing with quite admirably. He’s still receiving plentiful ice time and continues to win a nice amount of faceoffs on most nights. It’s a bit reminiscent of his performances against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, although he was able to collect more points in that series.
The Canucks have managed to get this far in this series with limited help from their star players, who must range from “running out of gas” to nursing injuries (or just bottled up by great defense). Yet if Vancouver wants to avoid a high-pressure Game 7 in front of what could be a fragile bunch of Canucks fans, they might need some more heroics from Kesler, a player who once seemed like a shoo-in for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
They’ll probably settle for him merely playing in Game 6, though.