Ryan Kesler's disturbingly quiet night

 

 
 
 
 
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.
 
 

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

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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.

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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.

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

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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.
 

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

 
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.
San Jose Sharks winger Raffi Torres (left) and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Frank Corrado collide during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi takes a break during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks winger Jannik Hansen (right) scores a goal against San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi as Logan Couture (centre) during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
San Jose Sharks winger Raffi Torres (left) and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Frank Corrado collide during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi makes the save as blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic defends against Vancouver Canucks winger Zack Kassian during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks (from left) Derek Roy, Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond celebrate Hansen’s goal as San Jose Sharks winger Raffi Torres skates away during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo makes a glove save against the San Jose Sharks during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Zack Kassian of the Vancouver Canucks (left) has words with Justin Braun of the San Jose Sharks after the whistle during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks winger Zack Kassian (right) battles San Jose Sharks Justin Braun during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks winger Jannik Hansen gets in front of San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Goalie Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks makes a glove save against the San Jose Sharks during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Canucks and Sharks players get their sticks up near the boards during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks hits Matt Irwin of the San Jose Sharks along the boards during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks winger Jannik Hansen (left) chases San Jose Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin tangles with San Jose Sharks Marc-Edouard Vlasic (right) and Justin Braun behind goalie Antti Niemi during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and San Jose Sharks star Joe Thornton watch as a shot by Logan Couture enters the net for a goal during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski is stopped by Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo as Andrew Alberts defends during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks winger Jannik Hansen (right) celebrates his goal as San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi and (from left) Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Raffi Torres look on during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
San Jose Shark James Sheppard sends Vancouver Canucks forward Andrew Ebbett into the Sharks bench during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo reacts as referee Francois St. Laurent indicates a goal during the third period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and teammate Jason Garrison (in background) look dejected as Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks celebrates his team’s third goal during San Jose’s 3-1 victory in Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (left) sits on the bench next to Dan Hamhuis after he was taken off the ice for the extra skater during the final moments of the third period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final playoff series at Rogers Arena on Wednesday May 1, 2013. The visiting San Jose Sharks won 3-1.
Defenceman Andrew Alberts of the Vancouver Canucks (right) tries to check centre Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks off the puck during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks tries to clear the puck while being checked by T.J. Galiardi (left) and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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