VANCOUVER – Ryan Kesler has a message for Joe Thornton and anyone else who wants to drop the gloves during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I’m not going to fight,”said Kesler.“Why would I want to sit in the box for five minutes?”
He made the comments Wednesday morning as his Vancouver Canucks prepared to meet the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
Thornton and Kesler were tossed out of the opening face-off in Game 1 as they tried to get position on each other, and the Sharks centre invited Kesler to fight, but Kesler declined.
“Obviously, I’m not scared of anybody out there,”said Kesler.“I’ll fight anybody–but now is not the time.”
Thornton said afterwards he was trying to get his team going against the club that finished first overall in the NHL during the regular season.
“I’m surprised he asked me,”said Kesler.“That’s probably going to be his job, to get under my skin. It’s not a part of my game anymore.”
Thornton did not say a word when told that Kesler was surprised by his actions. But the Shark feigned surprise after learning of Kesler’s no-fighting mantra.
“I’m shocked–very shocked,”said Thornton with a big grin.
Canucks winger Alex Burrows praised Kesler for his decision not to fight, adding the Canucks can’t afford to have him serving a five-minute major. The Canucks need Kesler to aggravate opponents while playing hard and well defensively, he added.
In previous seasons, Kesler often engaged in post-whistle scuffles with other teams’top players. But he swore off them at the start of the current campaign.
Burrows said Kesler has become a target for opponents looking to get him off the ice for an extended stretch.
“Maybe two or three years ago, Kes would have loved to get under (Thornton’s) skin,”said Burrows.“But it seems now the tables have turned and I think (Thornton) wanted to get at Kes. But we need Kes on the ice. He’s such a good player. It was really good to see him (stay calm) the way he did.”
Post-season fights were once common, but they have become rare in a salary-cap era that emphasizes speed and skill over rough stuff. However, Burrows and other players from clubs say they are not adopting Kesler’s approach.
“There’s always a time and place,”said Burrows.“Obviously, you don’t go into games thinking you’re going to fight. But if it has to happen, it happens. It doesn’t really bother me a whole lot if I have to do that.”
Vancouver centre Maxim Lapierre wondered what the big deal was about Kesler’s approach. He downplayed the significance of fighting majors taken during a time when clubs are fighting to keep their seasons alive.
“If it’s a five-minute penalty, obviously, a guy has done something,”said Lapierre, also a renown agitator.“But, normally, when there’s two guys going in the box, it’s not that bad of a penalty. It’s the same in the regular season. I don’t know why you asked me that question. It’s playoff hockey. Obviously, guys are going to do dumb (stuff) on the ice.”
Sharks defensive Douglas Murray, who has dropped the gloves on occasion said he does not have a specific view on post-season fisticuffs.
“I don’t really have a policy on it,”said Murray.“But, obviously, if you’re in the right moment and the right time.…But it’s nothing that happens often, I guess.”
Meanwhile, Canucks centre Manny Malhotra, out since mid-March with an eye injury that the club said ended his season, participated in Vancouver’s optional morning skate wearing a full face shield and gear. He took part in drills, acting as a defenceman on occasion while tutoring teammates on the art of taking face-offs.
“It’s a lot of little things and details,”said Canucks rookie centre Cody Hodgson.“But that stuff’s just invaluable. A little tweak here and there can make a big difference. Any time you get advice from someone who’s been one of the best face-off men in the league for a while, you know it works and you try to take as much as possible away.”
It was Malhotra’s second straight workout in full gear after skating lightly in a sweatsuit previously. But the Canucks continue to insist he won’t play in the post-season, even though general manager Mike Gillis has called his recovery“miraculous.”
Malhotra has been around the team throughout the playoffs, participating in meetings and other activities, but has not spoken publicly about his situation. Hodgson said Malhotra’s presence means a lot to his teammates.
“Obviously, we’re all playing for him, (hoping) that he can get better here and be able to play again,”said Hodgson.“So (his resumption of on-ice workouts) is a big step and we’re all happy to see him around.”
Notes: Winger Jeff Tambellini returned to the Vancouver lineup after being a healthy scratch in 13 of the previous 14 playoff games. He replaced Tanner Glass.…Sharks coach Todd McLellan called for his second line of Dany Heatley, Logan Couture and Ryan Clowe to provide a better effort in Game 2, but indicated he was not concerned about Heatley’s production.…Minor-league call-up Alex Bolduc participated in Vancouver’s morning skate. Other recent call-ups from the Manitoba Moose have been skating separately.