It was a clash of the titans. Or it would have been, except Ryan Kesler just said no. Darn the Vancouver Canuck's new discipline and focus.

The first puck hadn't even dropped on the National Hockey League's Western Conference final when San Jose Shark Joe Thornton challenged Kesler to fight. Each had managed to get himself thrown out of the opening faceoff of the Stanley Cup semifinal — a draw that typically is only slightly more contested than the puck Queen Elizabeth II dropped between Mike Ricci and Markus Naslund when the Canucks and Sharks played a few years ago.

Things have changed.

A few years, Thornton, maligned for a perceived lack of playoff heart, probably wouldn't have challenged the opposition's best player just to prove a point before any others were scored in a series. And a few years ago, Kesler may have still said no but almost certainly would have begun chirping about Thornton's reputation or girlfriend or haircut.

Each has evolved for the better.

Even without the turbo button for playoff speed that many players possess, Thornton has become as formidable in the Stanley Cup tournament as he has been during the regular season. And Kesler's sharpened focus and sense of purpose have allowed him to become one of the best players in hockey, not merely one of its best checking centres.

With Game 2 Wednesday night (6 p.m., CBC, Team 1040), Kesler vs. Thornton will be a tremendous matchup even if all they do is play hockey. Oh, please coaches, let this matchup be so.

"He was asking me to fight; I laughed at him," Kesler said after the Canucks practised Tuesday at the University of B.C. "I don't know what he was trying to do there, but I'm not intimidated by him. I'm not going to be. He's a good player. But no one scares me on the ice. I played against [Nashville Predator] Shea Weber and that beard last round. Nothing's going to scare me on the ice. He can play me anyway he wants to, and I'm going to put the same game on the ice."

Asked if he were channeling Dave "The Hammer" Schultz on Sunday, Thornton said: "No, I'm not that tough."

Then what was his thinking when he challenged Kesler?