ANAHEIM, Calif. - There's no history of bad blood, no reason to expect two-handed slashes or line brawls from the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks. At least not right away.
Even though this is the only first-round series that doesn't pit two division rivals against one another, playoff hatred can build quickly.
"I think it's already started," Anaheim centre Ryan Kesler said.
The NHL's divisional playoff format, now in its second season, is designed to stoke the flames of classic rivalries and start some new ones. Fortunately in this case, there's some history between players on the two teams. To no one's surprise, that starts with Kesler.
Kesler is in his first season with the Ducks, but he had plenty of playoff battles in his time with the Vancouver Canucks. You might remember him from such run-ins as the 2010 series against Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kesler was none too happy when Byfuglien taunted fans at Rogers Arena after scoring a goal in that series, and the two don't shy away from contact. Intensity in this series could ramp up quickly with Kesler versus Byfuglien.
"It's playoffs," Kesler said, brushing off past hostilities. "It's a dog fight in the first round, and I don't expect anything different from their side over there. That's why I play. It's the fun time of the year."
The Blackhawks and Canucks played in 2009, 2010 and 2011, three series that jump-started that rivalry and may have stirred things up for the Jets and Ducks. Byfuglien was part of the 2009 and 2010 Chicago teams and said he and Kesler are "on different slates."
But he hasn't forgotten.
"Everyone's got a job to go out there and do," Byfuglien said. "It's all we can do is go out there and battle."
For the Jets, the second-most penalized team in the NHL, part of the challenge is not letting emotions get the best of them. Coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday he wasn't concerned about players crossing the line in the playoffs based on how they finished the regular season.
"There was a lot of pressure built into that run and (we) found a way," Maurice said. "When the pressure's there, I think you see more negative pieces of humans' personality come out when there's that kind of pressure, and we didn't see it. We handled it well. So I'm not expecting that to be an issue."
Still there's Kesler, the six-foot-two, 208-pound second-line centre who lives not only to produce, but get under the skin of his opponents.
"He plays mean, he plays with an edge and he's been able to put some pucks in the net for us," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "It's something that he's going to have to play on the edge like he always does, as well as staying disciplined."
Discipline could be a challenge for Anaheim, too, and to no one's surprise that starts with Byfuglien. Suspended four of the final five regular-season games for a cross-check to the back of New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller's neck, Byfuglien is on the Ducks' minds.
"Buff's a big strong guy that plays hard," Getzlaf said. "He's going to make some hits and we're going to have to react properly to those, and we'll go from there."
Byfuglien certainly isn't worried about physical play making for some Jets-Ducks hatred.
"It doesn't take much," he said. "Hockey's hockey. Either you like them or you don't."
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