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2011 NHL Playoffs: Joe Thornton-Ryan Kesler, Who Will Be the Difference Maker?

April WeinerCorrespondent IMay 16, 2011

2011 NHL Playoffs: Joe Thornton-Ryan Kesler, Who Will Be the Difference Maker?

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 15:  Ryan Kesler #17 and Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Vancouver Canucks defend Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 makes a save in the third period in the second period in Game One of the Western Conferenc
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    If you watched the San Jose Sharks-Vancouver Canucks game on Versus last night, you were treated to an analysis of the Joe Thornton-Ryan Kesler matchup.

    Kesler and Thornton didn't disappoint, quickly conflicting with each other on the opening faceoff.

    Thornton set the tone early in Game 1 with a goal off of a Roberto Luongo misstep, but it wasn't enough to ward off a Canucks comeback.

    Luckily though, there will be three to six more games in this series, plenty of time left for either team to prove themselves.

    And for Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler to battle.

2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    VANCOUVER, BC - MAY 15:  Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with teammate Ryan Kesler #17 after his third period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Both Ryan Kesler and Joe Thornton lead their respective teams in scoring this postseason (Thornton is tied with Ryane Clowe).

    Kesler has five goals and 11 assists; Thornton has three goals and 10 assists. Each player has two game-winning goals for their team in the playoffs.

    Kesler leads the league in points and assists in the playoffs so far.

    If past precedent is an indication of future success, Kesler should continue this success in the series against the Sharks.

2010-11 Regular Season

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 12:  Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after they beat the Detroit Red Wings in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 12, 2011 in San Jose, Califo
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Each player had great years this past season.

    Kesler tallied 73 points—41 goals and 32 assists—the third best on the Canucks, behind the Sedin twins and fifth in the league in goals.

    Thornton tallied 70 points, 21 goals and 49 assists, the second best on the Sharks, behind Patrick Marleau.

Career Playoffs

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 30: Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks watches goalie Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators make a glove save during the second period in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Pl
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Ryan Kesler had played in 23 playoff games prior to this postseason. He had accumulated three goals and 11 assists.

    He already has more of both this season, although that could be contributed to the team getting farther this year than they have since Kesler has been on the team.

    Joe Thornton had played in 91 playoff games prior to this postseason. He had accumulated 15 goals and 50 assists.  

    Thornton, too, is having a career postseason. He has never had as many points as he already has this season and with one more goal will have a career postseason in goals as well.

Career Versus the Opposing Team

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    VANCOUVER, BC - MAY 15:  Patrick Marleau #12 and Devin Setoguchi #16 of the San Jose Sharks react after a goal by teammate Joe Thornton #19 (not in photo) as Kevin Bieksa #3 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on in the first period in Game One of the Western
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Ryan Kesler has played 21 games against the San Jose Sharks. In those games, Kesler has two goals, seven assists and is a minus-five.

    Kesler also has six hits and 10 blocked shots against the Sharks.

    Joe Thornton has played 34 games against the Vancouver Canucks. Thornton has 41 points against Vancouver, 10 goals and 31 assists.

    He has been a plus-five against Vancouver, with eight hits and three blocked shots as well.

    Thornton has the advantage in history against the opposing team.

Game 1 of 2011 Western Conference Finals

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 15:  Douglas Murray #3, Dan Boyle #22, Devin Setoguchi #16 and Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Shars congratulate Joe Thornton #19 after Thornton scored against the Vancouver Canucks in the first period in Game One of the Weste
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The Joe Thornton-Ryan Kesler matchup was heated right from the opening faceoff, where there were two false starts before both were kicked out.

    Thornton got the scoring started late with his goal, late in the first period. He added an assist on Patrick Marleau's goal to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead.

    However, the Canucks found their way back. Kesler recorded his only point by setting up Henrik Sedin's game-winning goal in the third period.

Verdict: Ryan Kesler Will Be the Difference Maker

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 7: Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by teammates Chris Higgins #20, Sami Salo #6 and Mikael Samuelsson #26 after scoring his third goal of the game against the Minnesota Wild during the third period in NH
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Joe Thornton has better numbers against the Vancouver Canucks and had more points in Game 1.

    However, Ryan Kesler has come up big for the Canucks this past season and already in the playoffs. He even did it last night, setting up the game-winning goal.

    Plus, Kesler has taken time to get hot in the other two series already. In the first games of the preceding two series, Kesler only had one point. He tallied an assist against the Chicago Blackhawks and no points against the Nashville Predators, in each of those Game 1s.

    We've seen how Kesler finished both of those series.

    I predict Kesler will do the same in this series, making his presence known when it really matters.

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