VANCOUVER – Ryan Kesler has another chance to make history Wednesday night.
But, this time, he is looking forward to being a hero instead of the enemy.
The Vancouver Canucks centre will battle in the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday against the Boston Bruins on the same ice on which his U.S. team lost to Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympic gold-medal game.
“It’s tough to compare the two, but one difference is, I think I’ve got 18,000 on my side this time,” said Kesler. “It’s going to be a little different that way, but it’s going to be fun. Obviously, the Olympics was a great experience, but I’ve seen what these guys have worked so hard for all year and as a team, as a family, we want this really bad.”
The Canucks are hoping to capitalize on home-ice advantage for the fourth time after losing all three games in Boston by lopsided margins.
Kesler scored a goal in the gold-medal game and is looking to repeat that feat during another historic game. The Canucks are attempting to become the first Canadian team since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 to hoist the Stanley Cup.
But the veteran centre has had a tough time offensively in this series. The 26-year-old Livonia, Mich., native has mustered only one point against the Bruins after producing 18 in the first three rounds of the playoffs, when he received early consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
But Kesler downplayed his lack of production.
“Obviously, you want to score,” said Kesler. “You want to help the team win, but (Wednesday) is all that matters. Everything in the past is in the past. If we win (Wednesday), we become legends—and I don’t think anybody worries (whether) I have one point in six games.”
But Kesler is not the only Vancouver player who has struggled to score on Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who is now a clear favourite for the Conn Smythe. The Canucks are in the unique position of having a chance to win the Stanley Cup while being outscored by the opposition over the course of the seven games.
To date, the Bruins have outscored the Canucks 19-8 in the six games.
“I think Thomas has something to do with it,” said Kesler. “Obviously, we’re playing a team that didn’t get here by chance. They’re a very good team and they play a very good defensive system. For us, we just need to keep gettin’ shots.”
But getting shots might be more difficult for Kesler. Following Mason Raymond’s back injury suffered in Game 6, Kesler’s second line has now lost both of its usual wingers to health woes.
Mikael Samuelsson, out since the second round against Nashville, is recuperating from successful surgery to repair his adductor tendon and sports hernia problems.
But the centre said the Canucks won’t have a problem dealing with the extra adversity.
“We’ve dealt with injuries the entire year,” said Kesler. “I think, for us, we’ve lost many guys this year to injuries and it’s going to be the same thing. Go about business as usual, work extremely hard and just do business that way.”
Ultimately, he said, the cup will come down to a battle of will versus skill—and, possibly, home-ice advantage.
“I just think we need to keep doing what we did at home the last three games,” said Kesler. “Focus on our game plan, execute it to a T and impose our will on them. Both teams really want this, obviously, but we have to be the harder-working team.”
Meanwhile, Canucks winger Raffi Torres will also attempt to reverse history Wednesday. Torres will play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final for the second time in his career.
He was a member of the Edmonton Oilers squad that lost the cup to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and can offer advice on how to prepare for Game 7 to his teammates—none of whom have played in one.
“I think the main thing that I stress in the room is just to leave it all out there,” said Torres. “It’s a chance to, obviously, bring the cup here to Vancouver and at the end of the day, you don’t want regrets out there.”
The 29-year-old Toronto native indicated the Oilers, who finished eighth in the regular season and were eternal underdogs, had fewer chances for regrets than the Canucks, who finished first overall and were the heavy favourites to win the first Stanley Cup in their 40-season history.
“At the end of the day, hard work and the effort we put in, you know, it beats skill every night there—obviously not in the finals (in the Oilers’ case),” said Torres. “But for here, we’ve played the right way. We put ourselves in a great position all year long to play this way.”
Torres, one of Vancouver’s hardest hitters in a series that has been extremely physical, said fatigue won’t be a factor for his injury-riddled team.
“We feel confident,” he said. “We’re happy to be at home. It’s going to be good. At the end of the day, it’s one game—do or die.”