1. Ryan Kesler, Canucks: No more "Ryan Kesler is still in search of his first playoff goal" stories. The Canucks center took care of that increasingly popular hockey media topic with two goals -- including the game-winner -- and an assist in Vancouver's tough 3-2 overtime win at Nashville in Game 3 of its Western Conference semifinals. Kesler's tip of Mikael Samuelsson's shot from the point capped off a memorable night, including a power-play marker a minute into the second period to get Vancouver even 1-1. In the third period, he made the play to set up Chris Higgins for a go-ahead goal. True, Kesler's no goals in nine previous games was a bit alarming, but it's not like the Michigan native had been doing nothing. He came into the contest with five assists and a plus-3 and helped limit Chicago's Jonathan Toews to one goal and a minus-4 in the first round.
2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning: When he's hot, he's hot. And Stamkos, make no mistake, is getting hot again. For the third time in six games, the young Bolts star scored a goal, and it was quite the shot -- a wrist shot from high between the circles on Michal Neuvirth to tie the game 3-3. Twenty-four seconds later, Ryan Malone scored the game-winner for Tampa Bay, which is one win away from the Eastern Conference finals. Stamkos is getting involved in the play again; he put four shots on net and was credited with three hits. He has at least three shots on goal in five of his last six games and a game-tying or game-winning goal in two of his last three.
ELIOT: Stamkos, Bolts on brink of sweeping Caps
3. Pekka Rinne, Predators: Tweet seen Tuesday night: "Rinne is a beast." No argument here. The 6-foot-5 Nashville netminder did his best to get the Predators what would have been a fortunate win in Game 3. But Shea Weber's foolish hooking violation on Kesler set up Vancouver's game-winning power-play goal. Versus television analyst Mike Keenan called it a "lousy call," but anything short of decapitation was always a source of complaint for Iron Mike. True, Kesler appeared to lock up Weber's stick and perhaps drew an iffy call, but Weber's continual shoving of Kesler to the back with his free right hand kept drawing increased attention to the play and did him no favors. Rinne finished with 44 saves, many of them spectacular. Right now, he is clearly the offensively challenged Predators' best hope in this or any other series.
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