Goalie Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks watches as Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks attempts to block a shot with Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks looking.
Photograph by: Rich Lam, Getty Images
VANCOUVER — Oh, how we long for those carefree spring days when the only medical intrigue surrounded goalie Cory Schneider and the Vancouver Canucks didn't trail anyone in the playoffs. Seems like only yesterday.
Technically, it's not possible to lose a seven-game National Hockey League series on opening night, but it was difficult for Canuck fans to leave Wednesday's game at Rogers Arena with much to feel optimistic about.
Yes, some of the gloom was a reflection of the accumulated baggage from playoff failures, and a here-we-go-again foreboding that yet another Stanley Cup tournament will be short and disappointing in Vancouver.
And it's more than just the San Jose Sharks pouring in the final three goals to overcome a late second-period deficit and win 3-1, lifting “home-ice advantage” from the Canucks. The Sharks are 17-2-5 this season in San Jose, and now the Canucks will have to win at least once in the Silicon Valley if they hope to make the second round.
Other than an inspired night by goalie Roberto Luongo, filling in while Schneider recovers from an undisclosed injury, there wasn't much spark to the Canucks.
And the player most capable of providing it appeared to labour through some shifts after conspicuously no-showing for the morning skate.
For Pete's sake, is Ryan Kesler hurt again?
“I was good,” Kesler insisted. “I was good to play. Game 2, we'll all be better.”
Kesler was the only Canuck who didn't take the morning skate.
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault told reporters it was optional.
“We've got him locked up in the back and we're feeding him raw meat,” Vigneault joked in the morning. “The beast will be ready tonight. It was an optional. That's the player's call.”
But why would Kesler, who played only 17 games this season due to injuries and told reporters on Tuesday how fresh he felt after the extra time off, be the only Canuck to skip a morning skate before the first game of the playoffs?
“I thought it was the best option to prepare me to have enough energy for the night,” Kesler explained post-game.
After logging just 3:05 of even-strength ice time in the first period (out of 16:21 of five-on-five play), Kesler eventually finished with a hefty 21:33 of playing time – easily the most among Canuck forwards. But it was still a quiet night for him. He registered two shots, one hit, went 12-13 on faceoffs and finished minus-one.
“It's disappointing going into the third period in your own building being tied and losing like that,” Kesler said. “We need to take care of our third period better than that.”
It was the Canucks' fifth straight loss at home in the playoffs, a streak that began with the final game of the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins two years ago.
“I don't think we're worried about that,” Kesler said. “We're worried about the next game. Like I said, it's not our (style of) hockey to go into the third period tied and lose the game. It's uncharacteristic of us.”
Forgive us for being skeptical about Kesler's health, but it was Kesler's lack of health that contributed greatly to the Canucks' exit from the playoffs the last two seasons.
Kesler certainly didn't spend Wednesday's game on the bench. We don't know if he spent the intermissions in the medical room.
But he has a recent history of playing hurt in the playoffs – significant, off-season-surgery-required hurt.
This is supposed to be the playoffs when Kesler, so banged up in last year's first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings that he needed operations on his shoulder and wrist, is finally healthy again and able to power the Canucks.
Maybe he is and maybe he will but his game appeared to lack some speed and power against the Sharks.
If Kesler is playing hurt, it will probably become more apparent in the coming days, betrayed by both his performance and the Canucks.' Even with the trade-deadline acquisition of Derek Roy, the Canucks aren't strong enough down the middle to go very far without Kesler.
Remember, the Canucks were in Game 18 of their playoff run in 2011 before Kesler got hurt. Had he torn his labrum, say, in the final game of the first round, the Canucks may not have made it through the Nashville Predators in a second-round series dominated by Kesler.
He logged a lot of minutes in the final two periods against the Sharks in Game 1. Like he said, the Canucks need to be better in Game 2 and so does Kesler. If he is able.
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