BOSTON -- There has been speculation that Ryan Kesler has been playing hurt during the Stanley Cup Final. His absence from Canucks practice Sunday reaffirmed the idea that he is likely playing with a nagging injury.
Kesler -- along with defenseman Dan Hamhuis and forward Steve Tambellini -- did not take part in Sunday's hour-long practice at TD Garden. It's customary at this point of the season for players to take a maintenance day to rest sore muscles or injured body parts, but Kesler hadn't missed a non-optional practice during this series before Sunday.
"He's fine, just gave him a day off," coach Alain Vigneault said. "That's all."
The Canucks haven't specified exactly what's ailing Kesler, but he suffered an apparent groin injury during Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Sharks while chasing defenseman Dan Boyle during a San Jose power play. Kesler went to the locker room immediately, but returned to the game and scored with 13.2 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, where the Canucks eventually won 3-2 on Kevin Bieksa's wild goal to take the series.
The early end to the Western Conference Finals gave Kesler a week to rest his unspecified injury, but it hasn't helped his production. He has just one assist in five games and was minus-3 in Game 3, his worst rating in a game since the first game of the 2007-08 regular season. He also seemed to lack explosion when trying to defend Brad Marchand's shorthanded goal in the second period that game.
Kesler appeared to have more jump during Game 5. He played 21:41 and his 30 shifts were the most he's had in any game of the series. Even with Kesler at less than 100 percent, he's better than most, and he's giving his team a little bit of inspiration heading into Monday night's potential Cup-clinching Game 6.
"He's proved it all year that he likes the word 'warrior,'" linemate Mason Raymond said. "He's fought through a lot and been through a lot. At this time of year, you lay it out on the line no matter what you're going through. He's continued to do that. We need a big game out of him tomorrow for sure. For all the guys, yeah, it's definitely an incentive. If he's doing it, we can do it."
Alexandre Burrows is expecting Kesler to have his best game of the series Monday.
"He's huge. All season long, he's been like that," Burrows said. "His heart and his mind, when he puts that into his game, there's nothing that can stop him. He's a leader offensively and he shows it on the offensive side and defensive side of things.
"We know how much he wants to win. We know how much he cares about this team and this opportunity. I know he's going to be in the lineup tomorrow and he's going to be 100 percent to go."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo