In the din and disaster of the Ducks uninspired Western Conference Final Game 7 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks there was one player who seemed to play his game.
A guy who created scoring chances – including a few right before Jonathan Toews started shoveling dirt on Anaheim’s grave with two early first period goals in the 5-3 defeat. It was Ryan Kesler – the man brought in to take the Ducks to new playoff heights, but found himself now lumped with a group that simply can’t get the job done in big moments.
“Obviously, we’re not happy with this, we’re not happy with the outcome,” Kesler said via the Orange County Register. “There’s big things ahead for this group.
For the Ducks, Kesler was as good as advertised. He played solid and consistent two-way hockey during the regular season with 47 points in 81 games. He won 56 percent of his face offs. He was Anaheim’s top penalty killing center and a threat at forward.
In the playoffs, his heavy game buried the Winnipeg Jets on the road in Anaheim’s first round sweep. He did his job against Jonathan Toews in Games 1-5 before Chicago coach Joel Quenneville moved Toews away from the match up in Games 6 and 7. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau couldn’t find a way to counter and Kesler switched around match ups with different wingers trying to figure out his place in the madness.
He won 57.6 percent of face offs this postseason. He wasn’t super disciplined with 24 penalty minutes, but he didn’t, at least openly, pull any of the after-the-whistle stuff or the chirping he was known for in Vancouver before his offseason trade to Anaheim. He did his job and he did it well.
Kesler was a major reason why this group got as far as it did. But he alone couldn’t get the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final. There were others who were culpable. Captain Ryan Getzlaf was flat-out beat by Toews in their match up the last two games.
Here’s an interesting point via the LA Daily News:
Asked about matching up against Toews, he said, “I don’t know. I didn’t play against him tonight, so I can’t answer that question.”
There were all sorts of match ups for the Ducks that just seemed off and a lot of that falls on the coach and the inability to get the right guys on the ice at the right time.
Francois Beauchemin, at age 34 averaged the most minutes of Ducks defense, even though Cam Fowler and Simon Despres proved Anaheim’s best pair this entire series. Just my opinion from the press box, though I admit fully that I’m not a coach, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
It’s not like Kesler was great in Game 6 for the Ducks. He won 23 percent of his face offs and was a minus-2. But that happens in the playoffs. You’re not going to have your best game every night.
He came back angry in Game 7 and played the type of inspired hockey we expected from the rest of his teammates. The type of hockey nobody else played.
Acquiring him did have the desired result for Anaheim. The Ducks were meaner this year. They went further in the playoffs than ever before under Boudreau. But it takes more than one player to push a team to a Cup Final. It takes an entire group. In spite of Kesler’s play in Game 7, for many reasons that will be parsed and picked apart over the next several months nobody could follow.
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