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Canucks’ Ryan Kesler has edge vs. Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews

Jonathan Toews Ryan Kesler Vancouver Canucks will be facing off agatonight Las Vegas. | Getty Images

Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks will be facing off again tonight in Las Vegas. | Getty Images

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Updated: June 22, 2011 2:13AM

LAS VEGAS — Months have passed since Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler took a faceoff against each other.

But they’re up against each other again — this time in Las Vegas. It’s the Blackhawks against the Vancouver Canucks for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which goes to the best defensive forward.

Despite all the compliments Toews and Kesler paid each other Tuesday at the Palms, the rivalry between the teams and players is still festering.

“It means a lot,” said Toews, who brought his parents, brother David and some friends from Winnipeg to Las Vegas. “It’s just another one of those things. It gets really competitive and maybe personal at times, especially when it’s off the ice.

“But whatever happens [tonight at the NHL awards show], if Ryan walks away with the trophy, you have to respect him for that. He’s earned the right to be there with the season he had this year. He’s a big part of that team that went to the [Stanley Cup finals].”

Detroit Red Wings star center Pavel Datsyuk, who has won the last three Selke trophies, is a finalist again. But this is considered Kesler’s time to win after being a finalist three consecutive years. He’s definitely the favorite for the Selke, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Kesler, 26, was a main reason why the Canucks had the lowest goals-against average in the NHL (2.20) and one of the best penalty kills. He led all forwards with 80 blocks and had a team-high 65 takeaways. He also won a career-best 57.4 percent of his faceoffs and had career highs with 41 goals and a plus-24 rating.

Although the awards are based solely on regular-season numbers, it’s not a stretch to say that Kesler’s effectiveness against Toews in the first round gave him a boost for his dominating performance in the next round against the Nashville Predators, although he doesn’t think so.

“Playing against Toews, he’s very hard to defend and he’s a great player, but I don’t think it was anything,” Kesler said. “I just kept playing the same game. Nashville is a great team. . . . I was just feeling it. I was in the zone.”

The odds might be stacked against Toews, 23, this time, but he’s not far off after finishing fourth in the voting last season. Toews had a career-best 76 points and plus-25 rating.

Both players figure to be finalists for the Selke many times down the road. Toews and Kesler also were considered Hart Memorial Trophy finalists at one point this season.

And as long as the Hawks and Canucks remain heated rivals, they’ll be compared.

“You always want to get yourself there and appreciate the moment, knowing what it takes to get here,” Toews said of being a finalist. “A lot of great players [who have won], a guy like Pavel Datsyuk, prove you just don’t have to be a solid defensive forward. You can be one of those top scorers, top players in the league and still be recognized in this category.

‘‘Hopefully, that’s something I can work toward.”

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