Column: Ryan Kesler continues to deliver for the Ducks; scores winner against Kings
This was why the Ducks were so eager to acquire Ryan Kesler from Vancouver last season and pursued him again in June: to win games like their 3-2 overtime decision over the Kings on Wednesday and the other four games they won from the Kings in the rivals’ season series.
Taking advantage of a mistake by the Kings during their defensive coverage, Kesler curled out from behind the net, skated unchecked toward the slot and rifled a shot past goaltender Jonathan Quick only 45 seconds into sudden-death play at Honda Center. It was the 200th goal of his NHL career but, more importantly to the Ducks, his fifth goal and seventh point in five games against the Kings, whose seven-game playoff triumph last spring was due in part to their superiority up the middle.
Kesler has erased the Kings’ advantage there, as the second half of a one-two center punch with Ryan Getzlaf. Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter are no slouches -- and weren’t slouches on Wednesday -- but Kesler brings strength, savvy and nastiness that the Kings haven’t been able to match this season.
“Kesler’s been, I can’t say other than against us, but he’s been a dominant player for sure in these five games against us,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said.
Kesler, acquired with a third-round draft pick for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and first- and third-round draft picks, has been worth every bit the price the Ducks paid, and more.
Every game they play against the Kings is emotional and has a playoff-like tension, even when they meet in October or January. He has risen to the occasion every time. If he can continue that when the actual playoffs begin -- and if the Ducks can resolve their second-period woes -- they will have a good chance to go beyond last season’s second-round exit.
In true hockey fashion, Kesler on Wednesday was modest when asked if he feels he has given the Ducks all the elements they sought when they brought him to Southern California.
“You hear about why you’re brought here and stuff like that. To answer your question, it’s tough,” he said. “It’s a team game but you want to put your best foot forward. You want to make them happy that they brought you here and succeed for why they brought you here.
“I thought the team played well tonight. It’s not just me against the Kings. It’s the whole team. We play hard against them and we definitely deserve these wins that we’re getting.”
Ducks goaltender John Gibson, who stopped 29 shots, said it was “weird” but he had a sense that Kesler would be a standout Wednesday. That’s not exactly going out on a limb given Kesler’s previous performances against the Kings this season, but it’s interesting
“I had a feeling all game he was going to get one, to be honest,” Gibson said. “It was nice, especially his 200th and in a fashion like that.”
Any fashion would have sufficed for the league-leading Ducks, but rallying to win fit the style they’ve established this season. They lead the NHL with 12 wins in games they’ve trailed after two periods.
“We’re comfortable playing from behin,” Kesler said. “We play our best hockey when we’re behind. That’s when we’re pushing. That’s when we’re skating. If we can ever figure out how to do that from the start of the game it would be nice.”
Nice, but apparently not necessary.
“We keep battling. We’ve done it all year,” Kesler said. “And that’s what this team is all about and what we’re going to continue to be all about down the stretch here.”
Kesler plays a huge role in the Ducks’ ability to come back and work up a sense of urgency.
“We don’t give up in this room. We played hard tonight. We played hard from the puck drop,” he said. “Their first goal was kind of a fluke goal, I thought it was going high and it kind of dipped and went over Gibby’s shoulder but we didn’t give up. We kept pressing and pressing and finally we broke through.”
It’s clear that Kesler gives them a better chance to break free of the playoff woes that have plagued them the last few seasons.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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