Now that Ryan Kesler is scoring, too, he has become the Vancouver Canucks' Swiss Army knife in this playoff run.
The beast from Mike Modano’s hometown of Livonia, Mich., was dominant in so many ways in the Canucks' 4-2 victory Thursday night that pushed Vancouver to a 3-1 lead in the second-round series against the Nashville Predators and one win from a berth in the West final.
Kesler was physical. He blocked shots. He was so effective in helping the Canucks kill off a 47-second two-man disadvantage in the second period. He even drew the holding penalty from Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter midway through the third period and then scored the game-winning goal on the power play to make sure his club wasn’t going to blow an third-period lead.
"Kes is our go-to guy," Vancouver forward Alex Burrows said. "Not only on the scoresheet, he does it all over the ice. He does it on the [penalty kill]. He blocks shots.
"He can be a difference, a difference maker."
And Kesler was the difference maker on Thursday, in what may have been the Canucks' best all-around performance in 11 playoff games so far. But again it was a close call for the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy because of its outstanding regular season.
For the sixth consecutive game, the Canucks entered the third period with a lead and for the fifth time, they squandered that lead. Only on this occasion, after a shot from Nashville defenceman Cody Franson found its way through the pads of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo early in the third period, Kesler made sure his team wasn’t going to be extended to overtime.
Four minutes after the Franson goal, Kesler built up a head of steam through the neutral zone. Henrik Sedin then hit Kesler with a pass as he hit full stride. He stickhandled through Predators defencemen Shea Weber and Shane O’Brien and then deposited a perfect shot past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne for a dazzling game-winner.
"We were resilient tonight," said Kesler, who also had two assists in the game. "We gave up a couple leads, but we kept fighting back."
"It was a great play by Hank [Henrik Sedin] to hit me in stride."
It took Kesler until his 10th playoff game to score a goal on Tuesday, but he had been a contributor in so many other ways to the Canucks cause, he didn’t fret. Neither did his teammates.
From the Twitterverse
"I know we came up short tonight but thanks again to all the fans you guys are unbelieveable." — Nashville's Blake Geoffrion
Now everything offensively has gone his way. When Canucks defenceman Alex Edler put his team up 2-1 with a low shot from the point, the puck first came to Kesler and as he was about to take a shot, his stick snapped. But as luck would have it, the puck continued to Edler for the go-ahead goal.
"I was going to take the shot, but it worked out," Kesler said. "I don’t know what happened. I was surprised and then when it went in, I was laughing."
Elder wasn’t the only Vancouver defencemen to score in Game 4. Christian Ehrhoff got his teammates on the board late in the first period, but the Predators managed to tie the game with their first power-play goal of the series. Joel Ward knocked in a rebound.
After Edler put the Canucks ahead in the second period, Franson tied the game before Kesler’s heroics.
Henrik Sedin scored an empty netter for his first of the playoffs. He also had two assists. The Predators lost Jerred Smithson with an upper-body injury in the first period and Nashville coach Barry Trotz remarked that his centre is doubtful to return on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Vancouver veteran defenceman Sami Salo returned to action after missing four games with a suspected leg injury.