Thornton vs. Kesler promises heavyweight battle

May 18, 2011, 12:09 am
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Tim Panaccio
CSNCalifornia.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Joe Thornton doesnt drop the gloves very often.

He has all of 24 career fights in 13 years in the National Hockey League, according to hockeyfights.com.

So what was going through his mind in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final when he asked Ryan Kesler to fight on the opening faceoff, after he got tossed out for trading head butts?

You channeling Dave Schultz there?

No, I'm not that tough, Thornton replied, laughing. Let's fight. Let's start the series off with a bang. That's about it.

It seems a bit disingenuous. Thornton isnt a fighter. Hes been under the microscope his whole career -- especially in the playoffs the past two years -- as a player who doesnt need to score more goals. He's expected to get his team to the Stanley Cup Final by making a difference.

Hes been in a few scraps, teammate Ben Eager said. Joes a big guy. When he gets fired up, I dont know if Id like to be fighting him. Hes got long reach and hes a strong guy."

And of the matchup with Kesler?

I didnt know what they were going to do with each other," Eager said. "Thought maybe theyd head butt each other for five minutes.

And what did Sharks coach Todd McLellan think?

That's between two players on the ice, McLellan said. That's where it stays.

You cant create toughness in a series. You have to bring it.

Chances are, Thorntons actions were premeditated like they were two years ago in the playoffs during Game 6 at Anaheim.

Thornton took the opening faceoff against the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf and dropped the gloves immediately.

Kesler said he laughed at the idea of throwing down with Thornton.

He asked me to fight and Im not going to engage in that, said Kesler, whos been wearing a face that blares intensity for days now and saw no humor whatsoever in the topic. He can talk all he wants. He wont get anything from me ... It takes energy away from you, too.

Obviously, Thornton wanted to get Kesler off his game right away. Kesler had an assist in Game 1, while Thornton scored a goal.

Hes smart, Kesler said. He uses his size to protect the puck. Once he gets position, you cant move him. Its useless. You have to worry about his stick then and go from there.

Thornton said there isnt much of a rivalry, even if you go back to 2010 Olympic Games, with Kesler on Team USA in the gold medal game against Team Canada.

Yeah, I don't know if it was a rivalry really, Thornton said. I don't really recall playing against him in the past, to be honest with you. I think just this year. He's competitive. I like playing against competitive guys. Yeah, it makes you elevate your game. You want to win every inch out there. It's a great battle all series long.

And maybe before this series ends, theyll have a go at it when it really means something.
Tim Panaccio is the NHL Insider for CSNPhilly.com E-mail him at tpanotch@comcast.net