NASHVILLE – Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler has missed 31 games this season with two different injuries so the idea that he hasn't shown any rust in the last few games tickled him.
"Ha," the former 41-goal scorer said. "A little bit. I was able to work on my shot when I was off there so I think that's really coming into form. It's just a product of everyone around me playing well."
On Monday, Kesler scored twice, giving him three goals and three assists in four games since returning from a broken foot that sidelined him for 19 games, in a 5-2 win at Bridgestone Arena that eliminated the Nashville Predators from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loss was the Predators' seventh straight, tying a franchise record that the club set more than 13 years ago in its second season in the NHL.
The day before the game, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault tinkered a bit with his lines. He toyed with the idea of playing Kesler on right wing with Derek Roy at center. Instead, when it came game time it was the newly acquired Roy who moved to the wing with Kesler at center and Jannik Hansen at the other wing. Roy earned first goal with the Canucks since arriving in an April 2 trade from the Buffalo Sabres. Hansen had two assists and Roy also added an assist.
"It was all right," Vigneault said of the line. "I thought it had some good moments. ... They showed some good offensive abilities."
Vancouver rebounded from a 4-3 loss to Colorado on Saturday in which it blew two third-period leads. The win was the Canucks' fifth in their last six games.
Vancouver went 2-for-4 on the power play, including the game-winning goal from Jason Garrison at 17:02 of the second period. Hal Gill received two minutes for roughing after knocking Alex Burrows to the ice after the whistle. Six seconds later, Garrison blasted a slap shot from just inside the blue line with Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne screened on the play.
Nashville had qualified for the playoffs seven times in the previous eight seasons, advancing past the first round in each of the past two. However, injuries have decimated the Predators' lineup.
"It's frustrating, I don't think anyone is happy with what has gone on this year," Gill said. "I guess it's something we'll … when we're done with the season we'll look back on it and try and evaluate it, but right now, it's a tough pill to swallow. You want to go out and give everything you got every night, and to play for nothing is tough.
"I mean, that's my one goal right now. Luckily it's not points, assists or goals, it's win the Cup, that's the only goal I have on my mind, it's very frustrating to not have a chance at that."
On Monday, the Predators iced a lineup in which 11 forwards had played a combined total of 1,066 NHL games, compared to the 889 of the 12th forward, David Legwand.
"We know what went wrong, it's mostly the injuries, that's where it all went wrong, for the big part of it," coach Barry Trotz said, "and there are other things that come off of that."
Such a huge influx of new personnel for Nashville had the negative side effect of communication issues going awry. Despite keeping the puck in Vancouver's zone after the initial faceoff, the Predators were whistled for too many men on the ice when they went to change following the game's first shift.
Vancouver made them pay when Kesler took a feed from Henrik Sedin and beat Rinne with a wrist shot from the slot at 1:34.
Exactly three minutes later, the newest Predator, defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who was called up on Monday and arrived a few hours before game time, could not clear a rebound of a shot by Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis, an ex-Predator. Roy put it in for his fifth goal and a 2-0 lead.
Nick Spaling broke a scoreless streak by Nashville of 89 minutes 22 seconds with a goal at 1:34 of the second period to make it 2-1. Spaling snuck right in front of the crease and roofed a pass from Sergei Kostitsyn, who was behind the net, over Roberto Luongo.
Bobby Butler tied the game at 11:40. In the second period, the Canucks' defense was leaving a big gap for the Predators' forwards and they took advantage of the extra ice. Skating down the right wing off the rush, Butler had plenty of space to rip a wrist shot low to Luongo's blocker side.
Vancouver made it 4-2 just 50 seconds into the third period when Burrows redirected Henrik Sedin's shot form the high slot. Kesler added his second goal at 15:53 with a 19-foot wrist shot.
"He's a fun guy to play with," Kesler said of Roy. "He's very crafty out there. He's good all over the ice."
In goal for Vancouver, Roberto Luongo had to withstand a 19-shot onslaught in the second period – Nashville's most in a period this season. He finished with 36 saves and has played in two of the last three games for the Canucks, winning both, after an 11-game stretch in which he played only once while Cory Schneider started the other 10 games.
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