Ryan Kesler found his goal-scoring groove to lead his Vancouver Canucks to an overtime victory in the usually pivotal Game 3 of their series against the diligent Nashville Predators.
But the 3-2 outcome, that ended with Kesler’s deflection from a Mikael Samuelsson shot on the power play 10 minutes and 45 seconds into extra time, was not settled without controversy.
The Predators strongly disagreed with referee Tim Peel’s decision to penalize Nashville captain Shea Weber for hooking as he jostled with Kesler along the sideboards. The questionable infraction led to the Canucks game-winner and second power-play goal of the game. Weber felt that Kesler grabbed his stick to make it appear like a hook.
"It's unfortunate that a call like that cost us the game," Weber said.
His teammates were stronger in their assessment.
"Timmy Peel must have had a date or something because he wanted to get out of here really quick," said Predators forward David Legwand in a remark that will likely result in a fine.
Kesler, who also scored a game-tying on the power-play in the first period, disputed the way the Predators saw Peel’s call. He felt Weber’s stick hook him. But Predators coach Barry Trotz accused the Canucks second-line centre of selling the penalty.
"I thought it was a little bit light, considering all the other stuff they let go," Trotz said. "Kesler sold it with his chicken wing [action]. They’ll say it was a good penalty and I’ll say it was a bad penalty."
Trotz, however, can’t dispute the Canucks deserved to win the game, even though the Sedins still don’t have a goal in the series, although Daniel picked up a second assist on Kesler’s first goal. Vancouver out-shot its opponents 47-30.
The Canucks finally got their power-play going with two Kesler goals in man-advantage situations and they found a way of busting through the neutral zone more efficiently by sending a player in behind the Predators defence.
After Nashville went ahead on Legwand’s shorthanded goal when he stole the puck from Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler midway through the first period, the Canucks took over the game.
The Predators had only shot on goal in the first 19 minutes of the second period, and it wasn’t really a true shot, just a tip in from the blue line that was directed at Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who was sharp all game and made a big stop on a Steve Sullivan breakaway in the first period.
But after Chris Higgins continued his strong play with an open-net goal after Nashville’s stingy goalie Pekka Rinne was knocked out of the crease by his own teammate, the Canucks surrendered their third late-game goal to force overtime. This time, Predators forward Joel Ward chased down a loose puck for a wraparound goal with 6:42 left after Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin won a draw in his own end.
"I give them credit," said Kesler, when asked if he was concerned about these late-game goals from the opposition. "They worked hard. That was a bit disappointing, but we worked hard and deserved the win."
Kesler checked in for his first two goals of the 2011 playoffs. But unlike the Sedin twins, who simply have not been noticeable in this series, Kesler has escaped criticism because he has been a force in both ends of the rink.
"He’s playing unbelievable," Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. "He had a really good first series [in which he shut down Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews] but just didn’t get rewarded for it."