Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Canucks must finish off Predators at home

Categories: Nashville Predators, VAN vs. NSH, Vancouver Canucks

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With his six-point outburst, Ryan Kesler, left, almost has doubled his production from his previous 13 Stanley Cup playoff games prior to this post-season. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) With his six-point outburst, Ryan Kesler, left, almost has doubled his production from his previous 13 Stanley Cup playoff games prior to this post-season. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

By Tim Wharnsby

The Vancouver Canucks have tried to portray themselves as disinterested in what has transpired in the three other semifinal series.

But how can they not notice that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins already are resting and waiting, and that the San Jose Sharks need one more win to join those teams in the conference finals?

So with that in mind, the Canucks want to avoid allowing the upset-minded Nashville Predators from extending their second-round series to a sixth game back in the Music City on Monday.

It's essential the Canucks finish off the offensively-struggling Predators at home on Saturday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET) and get some rest for what could be their first appearance in the Western Conference final since they advanced to the 1993-94 Stanley Cup final.

If the Sharks and Canucks finish off their series, the Western Conference final could begin on Wednesday.

The Canucks believe they have learned a lesson in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Stanley Cup champions only to rebound and win the deciding seventh game in overtime on an Alex Burrows goal.

Kesler's the man

Canucks forward Ryan Kesler was playing well and meant so much to the Canucks success before he went on his Nashville tear with three goals, including both game-winners, and six points in two wins for a 3-1 series lead. But with his six-point outburst, he almost has doubled his production from his previous 13 Stanley Cup playoff games prior to this post-season.

He entered this playoff run with three goals and 14 points in 13 games. This spring, Kesler has checked in with three goals and 11 points in 11 games.

"He's been our best player and has been a factor in more ways than one," Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said.

"He's been our top performer and a difference maker for our team," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault added.

Predators bench boss Barry Trotz went one step further and compared Kesler's play to that of the ultimate leader and Hall of Famer Mark Messier when he was in his heyday with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.

Smithson out

Injured centre Jerred Smithson did not make the trip with the Nashville Predators for Game 5.
Smithson officially is out with an upper-body injury. He took an elbow from Kesler in the first period of Vancouver's 4-2 win on Thursday and appeared to suffer a broken nose. But there also has been speculation that he suffered a concussion, too.

With Smithson out of the lineup, veteran J.P. Dumont will return to action. He played in the final two games of the opening-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, both victories. But Dumont hasn't played since those outings.

The lines Trotz employed in practice at Rogers Arena on Friday reunited the top two lines of Mike Fisher between Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist as well as centre David Legwand with Joel Ward and Martin Erat.

Colin Wilson replaced Smithson as the centre of the third line between Nick Spaling and Jordon Tootoo. The fourth line consisted of rookie centre Blake Geoffrion with Dumont and Matt Halischuk.

Odds and ends

The Predators, built mainly from draft picks, believe they have another good one in University of Wisconsin centre Craig Smith. He was selected in the fourth round (98th overall) in 2009 and made the United States entry for the 2011 world championship. Through four games, the 21-year-old forward is tied with New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan for the team lead in points with two goals and five points ... The Canucks and Predators will take different approaches to prepare for Game 5. Nashville skated in Vancouver on Friday, but likely will not conduct a morning practice with Saturday's game time set for 5 p.m. locally. The Canucks elected not practice on Friday, but will hold a morning skate on Saturday.