Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While hockey fans all over the world were gearing up for a long night filled with overtime drama, Ryan Kesler had other plans.
Perfection was needed to solve a fantastic display of goaltending on both sides in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Kesler was able to provide just that for the hometown Vancouver Canucks with time running out in regulation.
For 59-plus minutes, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo posted dueling shutouts and showed why they are two of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy. However, even Thomas, considered the favorite for the goaltending award, wasn't able to do anything about the game-winning play that Kesler set into motion.
Sure, it was Raffi Torres who wound up scoring the goal with 18 seconds left in regulation for Vancouver's 1-0 win, but Kesler's determination made it all possible. Jannik Hansen also made a nifty pass to find Torres in front of the net for the game-winner, but again, Kesler was the man who made something out of nothing.
With overtime seeming like a foregone conclusion, Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk tried to shield Kesler from a loose puck with his body, but he wound up being outsmarted by the Vancouver forward. Kesler poked the puck away from Boychuk and into the offensive zone, then skated around the Boston blueliner before retrieving the disc and dishing to Hansen.
Ryan Kesler has become an essential part of what makes this Vancouver team great.
With three Bruin players drawn to Kesler at the left boards, he calmly found Hansen all alone on the other side of the ice. Hansen then smartly faked a shot to get Thomas moving and make it an easy scoring opportunity for Torres.
Still, Kesler was the one who shifted the ice in Vancouver's favor and changed the outcome. Once he poked the puck away from Boychuk's reach, everything went into slow motion and it soon became apparent that the game was all but over. The fact that Kesler's play was so close to being offsides makes it even more impressive, proving again how hockey -- like so many other sports -- is a game of inches.
It's not the first time that Kesler has provided a clutch play for Vancouver when it needed it most. In fact, in the Canucks' previous game -- a series- clinching win over San Jose in the Game 5 of the Western Conference finals -- Kesler tied the contest with 14 seconds left in regulation before Kevin Bieksa won it in double overtime. Kesler also had an overtime winner of his own in the second round against Nashville.
Simply stated, the American is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of these playoffs, and his game-changing play on Wednesday night proved why that is the case.
Sure, the Sedin twins have provided tons of offense this spring for Vancouver, but Kesler is not only scoring, he is coming through when it matters most. Not to mention he is doing a superb job of shutting down the opposition in his own team's zone, and that's a big reason why he's leading all Canucks forwards in ice time per game in the playoffs.
There is no situation that Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault feels uncomfortable putting Kesler in, and why would he? The 26-year-old has proven his boss right time and time again and is also coming off a career-best 41 goals in the regular season.
"He's a workhorse," Vigneault said of Kesler after Game 1. "Great second- effort play on that goal. That's what we expect and need from him every shift."
Kesler has become an essential part of what makes this Vancouver team great, and he could continue to make Boston pay in this series. It's a "pick your poison" situation, and while Bruins head coach Claude Julien is right to put the defensive focus on the Sedin's top line, that should lead to more quality offensive opportunities for Kesler and his second unit.
Judging by the postseason he's having and the goal he helped create in the opening game of hockey's biggest stage, Kesler isn't a guy who needs any favors when it comes to helping his team win.