After the Predators jumped to a 2-0 first period lead in Game 2, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle took immediate action, swapping out veteran Corey Perry in favor of Czech rookie RW Ondrej Kase on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Ritchie.
The effect was profound as the Ducks came back to win, 5-3 at Honda Center.
With a speedy effort and a game-tying goal (his first playoff goal as a pro), Kase earned first star.
“He’s been an energizer bunny,” quipped Carlyle of Kase, who was also on the ice for Nick Ritchie’s game-winner, “(He) can make plays in small areas, create space for himself and he’s not afraid to go into those areas. He’s a fearless player for his size.”
Kase saw 15:25 TOI Sunday. During his 53 regular season games (5-10-15), he surpassed fifteen minutes on just eight occasions.
Kase missed a couple of games during the Edmonton series, but has not missed a beat upon his return.
Perry played alongside Nate Thompson and Rickard Rakell, a combination Carlyle turned to during Round 1 vs. Calgary.
Kesler under Johansen’s skin
“He just blows my mind, I don’t know what’s going through his head out there,” Johansen said of Ducks center Ryan Kesler Sunday night. “His family and friends watching him play, I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.”
Kesler has the assignment of shutting down the opposition’s best players, and is coming off a huge Round 2 performance vs. Connor McDavid; before that, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau was his subject.
Johansen laughed first (and second) Sunday scoring on a nice breakaway at 4:18 of the first, then assisted on James Neal’s second of the series just 4:16 later. As the game wore on, and the Ducks stormed back to win, 5-3, Kesler wore on Johansen.
“I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey,” said Johansen, “And it sucks when you have to pull a stick out of your groin after every shift.”
Kesler responded with his usual deadpan after enjoying the last laugh (at least for a day).
“I play the game hard, and obviously he doesn’t like that.”
The Nick Ritchie “Project” Hums Along
21-year-old Ritchie, from Orangeville, Ontario, now has two game-winning goals in the past three games, including Game 7 vs. Edmonton in Round 2, and last night’s wrist shot that sealed Game 2 in the West Final vs. Nashville.
“Nick Ritchie’s a guy that has scored a lot of goals similar to what he scored tonight,” Carlyle. He was a shooter in junior hockey, and that’s what our project is, to continue to develop him into a power forward and to have that release and that weapon that he possesses become more evident to the hockey world.”
Ritchie’s game-winner at 17:07 of the second was a perfectly-placed laser that glanced off Pekka Rinne’s ear, into the net. Not an easy shot to stop under any circumstance.
“It was hard, it was quick…he put it really into about the only spot he could,” said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette.
“He’s obviously a butterfly goalie that goes down on most shots,” Ritchie said of Rinne. “If you hit the right spot, it’s in on most goalies these days because they’re all going down, so I got lucky and got the puck up there.”
Game 3 is Tuesday at 8p.m. Eastern in Nashville.
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PHOTO OF ONDREJ KASE: GETTY IMAGES