Ryan Kesler has embarrassed Ryan Johansen, at least in his head

Puck Daddy

Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen has 32 playoff games to his credit. This is the first time he’s played in the conference finals. Asking him to “act like you’ve been there” is asking a lot, because he hasn’t been here before.

But for [expletive] sake, Ryan … as Kris Kristofferson once told Sinead O’Connor as she was booed off stage, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Ryan Kesler is a sneaky one, especially in the postseason, where he does whatever is necessary for his team to win. To that end, he’s a modern day Claude Lemieux: He has 25 points in his last 36 playoff games to go along with 52 penalty minutes. He’s all sticks and elbows and trash talk and faux intimidation, designed less to shut you down than to establish a base camp in your cerebral cortex in order to influence future stupidity.

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Like, for example, when Johansen “accidentally” smacked Kesler in the face with his stick after a faceoff, drawing a penalty after several that could have been called on Kesler weren’t.

“I think Ryan’s been completely composed,” said coach Peter Laviolette, whose team heads back to Nashville tied 1-1 after losing Game 2 on Sunday night. “The penalty that he took tonight was a faceoff where he was battling for a puck and the stick came up. I think it was accidental more than anything.”

OK then.

After the game, Kesler was asked about Johansen.

“I play the game hard, obviously he doesn’t like that,” he said.

And after the game, Johansen was asked about Kesler.

Q – Ryan Kesler is known to be a pretty good defensive center in this league. He’s been up for some awards. Has he gone over the line in this series?

(Let’s pause for a second to appreciate the mastery of this question, in which Kesler’s prowess as a Selke-winning defensive forward is somehow divorced from the kind of underhanded filthiness that otherwise characterizes his existence. Sure, Pavel Datsyuk and Patrice Bergeron don’t play the way Kesler does. But Kris Draper, Michael Peca and Doug Gilmour sure as heck did.)

Johansen’s response?

JOHANSEN: “I mean he just blows my mind. I mean watching … I don’t know what’s going through his head out there.”

Yeah, that’s kind of the point.

“But like his family and his friends, watching him play … I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.”

His friends and family are probably constantly impressed that an American-born player with two good offensive seasons has played 897 NHL games and has crafted a fruitful career as a “defensive stopper” using any means necessary.

Also they’re his friends and family, so obviously they’re going to cheer for him, dummy.

“It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game.”

I don’t know, it totally does if the game involved tapping your stick blade on another guy’s taint.

“I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey and it sucks when you gotta pull a stick out of your groin every shift.”

To wit.

This is just embarrassing for Johansen. Not just because whining about a defensive player’s dirty tricks is just empty droning if you’re not going to make a clarion call to the referees to call stuff like this …

… which would actually influence a call or two in Game 3.

No, it’s embarrassing because despite all these dirty little plays, Johansen outplayed Kesler in Game 2.

Johansen had a goal and an assist in Game 2. He was a plus-5 in Corsi (shot attempts) in Game 2 and a plus-14 in Corsi in Game 1. Kesler was a plus-2 in Game 2 and a minus-13 in Game 1.

Before going off on Kesler and his family’s affinity for his play, Johansen was asked about his own Game 2 performance. In his answer he said:

“I just gotta focus on my game.”

Yes. That’s it. Full stop. Don’t comment on the other guy. Don’t cry about the other guy. When asked about Ryan Kesler, don’t cut a promo on how his nefarious play “blows your mind”; just do that thing that hockey players do when attempting to deflect praise from an opponent’s efforts and say “I just gotta focus on my game.”

Maybe say it enough, and you can convince yourself that you’re not just another guy in the playoffs that has Ryan Kesler in his head.

Because this has happened before for Kesler and the Predators. And it didn’t end well for Nashville.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.


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