Ducks’ Ryan Kesler (17) is shadowed by Nashville’s Ryan Johansen, right, as he takes on Roman Josi during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
No matter what Predators center Ryan Johansen thinks, Ryan Kesler still has the support of his family and friends.
Johansen sounded off about Kesler’s smothering, agitating defensive tactics Sunday during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, complaining that Kesler’s style of play “doesn’t make sense.” Johansen added, “Like, his family and his friends watching him play, I don’t know how you can cheer for a guy like that. It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game.”
Johansen didn’t speak to the media Tuesday morning, before the Ducks and Predators played Game 3 of their series at Bridgestone Arena, but Kesler said he took Johansen’s comments as affirmation that he’s doing the job he’s supposed to do — shut down the opposing team’s biggest offensive threat.
“I laughed. Got a lot of text messages from my friends and family saying they still cheered me on,” Kesler said of his reaction to Johansen’s comments. “He could say whatever he wants to. I’m not going to change my game. I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win some games here and to ultimately win the series. He can say whatever he wants to say.”
Kesler said he thought Johansen made things “a bit” personal, and, “I know he doesn’t like it now.” But then again, Kesler made things personal when he repeatedly tried to impede Johansen by putting his stick in an uncomfortable place. Not that the mischief was limited to the Ducks: Nashville forward Filip Forsberg hobbled Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg with a quick spear to the groin during Game 2, in which the Ducks rallied for a 5-3 victory that evened the series at one game each.
“It doesn’t matter,” Kesler said of Johansen. “He’s not my friend. He’s not going to be my friend. He can say whatever he wants …. It seemed like he was a bit rattled. I’m just going to go out and play my game like I always do.”
Kesler was just as tough playing against Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid in the second round, but McDavid — at least publicly — took it in stride and accepted it as part of life in the NHL. Johansen’s complaints seem to indicate that he has let Kesler get into his head, which could be an edge for Kesler and the Ducks.
“It doesn’t matter if I did or didn’t get in his head, for me,” Kesler said. “If I did, good. It means I’m doing my job. If I didn’t, I’m going to keep doing the same things and playing defense like I have been.”
Despite all that, Kesler had some praise for Johansen. “Obviously he’s a big body. Good vision and he can skate,” Kesler said of the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Johansen. “It’s a bit different than other guys I’ve faced but still I’m up for the challenge.”
Kesler’s left wing, Andrew Cogliano, said he hated playing against Kesler and Kevin Bieksa, the Ducks defenseman who formerly played for the Vancouver Canucks. “They were good and they’re strong players and tough players to play against,” he said. “They’re players that make you earn every inch of the ice.”