Johansen and Kesler take spotlight in Western Conference Final

Ryan Johansen (Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It may be the Ducks and Predators in the Western Conference Final, but after only two games, all anyone wants to talk about is the budding rivalry of Ryan Johansen and Ryan Kesler.

The two centers have taken center stage as they trade words, elbows, and cheap shots on the ice.

Johansen has bordered on spectacular for the Predators in the post season with a career high 13 points in 12 playoffs games, and he is at a +10 for the post season. Preds forward Filip Forsberg said Johansen has been more than good

“I think he’s been our best player in the first two games, especially the first period last night he was dominating out there,” he said.

Clearly, knocking Johansen off his game is important for Anaheim to advance. In steps Kesler.

Kesler has been an agitator, a pest, and overall a problem for opponents for years in the NHL, and he clearly has Johansen in his cross hairs.

Sunday night after Game 2, Johansen sounded off about Kesler’s relentless pokes and jabs.

“Like his family and his friends watching him play, I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that. It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game,” he told the media.

Those comments had many wondering if Kesler had succeeded in getting in Johansen’s head for the rest of the series. Ducks defenseman Josh Mason said he would be in his head.

“He’s a tough guy to play against. You watch him and he’s a guy that you love to have on your head and you hate to play against. So you watch throughout the series and throughout the Playoffs, so far he takes pride in throwing guys off their game,” Mason explained.

In a strange way, it is Kesler’s way of complimenting Johansen. He’s worthy of the extra effort to knock him off his game. Predators defenseman PK Subban understands why the Ducks are after the young center.

“Joey is one of the best centermen in the game right now, and I think if people didn’t know that before the playoffs, they know that now. In terms of how he plays a 200-foot game and it is a compliment when you get that kind of attention,” Subban told the media.

Monday when the Predators returned to Nashville, head coach Peter Laviolette was repeatedly asked about Johansen’s comments, what was happening on the ice, and what would happen, but he was only interested in talking about one thing– how well Johansen has played.

“I think he’s done a good job. He’s done really well, their lines playing really well, they’re generating a lot,” the coach said.

The Predators and Ducks are tied up at 1-1 in their best of seven series. Game 3 and Game 4 are Tuesday and Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.