Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
Finally, Game 1 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks is upon us.
It only requires just a little more waiting on your part for the Central Division time slot of 8:45 p.m. CT for the opening puck drop.
By now, unless you didn't read a word this week, you know the lines and lineups.
No changes, but if you don't know, click the scouting report links I'm about to post for the projected lines for both teams.
Today, at 5 p.m., I will be doing a podcast with Jim Souhan live from Chicago. You can listen at souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart Radio or subscribe on iTunes.
Also, at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jim and I will be doing a podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul. Our special guest will be Wild owner Craig Leipold.
Also, at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, I will be doing a live chat at startribune.com/wild. Please join and pepper me with questions.
I will be on KFAN today at 4:30 p.m.
Twitter follows tonight:
Team Star Tribune: @russostrib, @souhanstrib, @schustee, @CarlosGphoto, @fromjefferson
Some Blackhawks scribes: @MarkLazerus, @TramyersCSN, @ChrisKuc, @BrianHedger and @ESPNChiPowers.
Here's today's Star Tribune coverage:
Here's my Zach Parise/Patrick Kane feature on how they're very different players with different styles and personalities, yet they have a ton of respect for each other and it gives some insight into how both tick.
Here is Jim Souhan's column on Iron Men Ryan Suter and Devan Dubnyk
Here is the notebook on how the Wild wants to keep up with its good discipline, on Dubnyk being a finalist for the Masterton, on the sick bay and Las Vegas odds on this series.
Here's some coach Joel Quenneville stuff from this morning:
"Minny is probably he most disciplined team as far as positionally aware of denying either access through the middle of the ice, through the zone, to the middle fo the net. as good a checking team as you’re going to see, that we’ve faced all year. we know how tough it is to generate shots, chances, and the willingness to be patient and improvising when you can. you have to be aware of cautioning yourselves: when you try to create, you’re vulnerable. so let’s make good decisions with the puck."
On Jason Zucker: "He’s played well, very dangerous player, excellent speed, use him in a few ways. but his speed jumps out at you. has some presence aswell, dangerous off the rush. whether they use him offensively or defensively, he’s a factor."
How "Minny" has changed: "In the last three years they’ve improved each and every year, they’re deeper up front, very balanced on the back end as well. improvement in team game – goaltending’s improved as well – they’ve progressed."
Here's Devan Dubnyk on being a finalist for the Masterton: "That’s a completely different side of it compared to the Vezina [finalist]. It’s been a big story and a big part of my life over the last year turning it around, so to get that recognition, I’m certainly honored."
Here's some Mike Yeo, who opened his presser by eating a doughnut (so he's loose):
On Mikko Koivu the last two series against Chicago: It’s always a tough challenge and he’s going to face some of the toughest challenges. He’s always going to face good d pairings or whether it’s Toews or a checking line to try to match them up, he’s going to be in a role that’s going to challenge him at both ends of the ice. We’ve been pleased with what he’s done so far. I think when you come out on the short end of it like we have in a series, you’re always looking for a reason. We haven’t scored enough goals. I think the biggest difference really is there has been times where he’s done very well in his matchup, making sure he hasn’t lost in very difficult matchups, but we’ve gotten beat elsewhere in our lineup and that’s where we have to see if we’re different this year.
Biggest gut-punch the way the series ended last year? "That was a tough one, yeah. That still stings a little bit that one. You know, I think there’s some good things that we can take out of that series, but bottom line was we still fell a little bit short. Even if we won that game there’s still no guarantees. We said the last couple of days, ‘We haven’t won a playoff game in this building.’ So obviously if we’re going to win this playoff series then we have to find a way to do that."
What convinces you that you can beat them this time? "Again, there’s nothing that’s convincing here. I’ve said this for the last couple of days, there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, there’s a lot of reasons why we could feel good or feel confident. We have a quiet confidence about us and we know what we’re capable of. We also know what we’re up against. For the last several months we’ve been at it pretty good and we’ve had to be at our best. And with that we’ve been probably pretty close to the best team in the league, and obviously with respect to the other teams out there, but the bottom line is until we get into this series, until we find something different, or prove that something’s different, then nothing’s changed. We have to change something here along the way."
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last week, was named a finalist for the Masterton Trophy on Thursday.
The trophy is presented annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and is named after Bill Masterton, the North Stars player who died on the ice in 1968.
The other finalists are Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond and Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang.
Wild goalie Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy in 2013 to become the first player in Wild history to win a voted-on NHL Award.
Dubnyk was nominated by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association because of his remarkable second-half run after being traded to the Wild from Arizona. He became the toast of the NHL after starting 38 consecutive games with the Wild and saving Minnesota's season.
After playing for three teams last year and ending up in the minors, Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with the Wild with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts.
Overall, he finished the season second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
Finally, the wait is over. As much as coach Mike Yeo appreciated the time to prepare for the Wild's second-round playoff series against Chicago, he seemed antsy to get going Thursday. The Wild held its last pre-Round 2 practice at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday morning, then flew to Chicago in the afternoon.
Yeo said the Wild would have a team dinner Thursday night, then watch some hockey and relax. Everyone on the active roster remains healthy, and everyone participated fully in practice. Jason Pominville, who sat out Wednesday because of illness, looked up to speed Thursday. Yeo said Pominville was given the day off to ensure he got "all his energy back.''
Despite the Wild's 0-6 playoff record at United Center, several players seemed excited to kick off the second round in that raucous arena. The Wild does have a 14-12-2 record there and defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center on April 7 in the game that clinched its playoff spot.
Charlie Coyle said he gets chills during the ultra-loud national anthem in the building, and he doesn't expect the Wild to be bothered by the rowdy environment.
"It’s just how you look at it, really,'' he said. "You know they’re going to be loud. Chicago’s a great building to play in with their crowd. They’re into it. They love their hockey. So it’s going to be fun. We always look forward to playing in their rink.
"As of late, we’ve been doing pretty good over there. We’re not really worried about what happened in the past. It’s a new year. We’ve got a new team here. We’ve got a different mindset. This group has so much confidence in our team, what we have in here, and what we can accomplish. We have to keep the mindset of going into this building, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a good atmosphere. We’ve been a good road team as of late. So we want to keep that going.''
The Wild worked on several phases of its game in Thursday's practice, which lasted a little more than an hour. That followed a long, detailed practice on Wednesday. Yeo said it had been a productive week, and the long layoff prevented players and coaches from having to scramble to get ready for a new opponent. They could spread out preparations over a few days, so players weren't overwhelmed by a flood of information in a short period of time--and as the week went on, Yeo said, they had the time to focus on their own game.
Matt Cooke also was happy to have more time between the first and second rounds. Last year, he said, the Wild was "still hung up'' on its first-round victory when it traveled to Chicago for Game 1 of the second round, only two days after defeating Colorado in an emotional Game 7 on the road.
"I think it’s been good for us,'' he said. "It allows us to get time for preparation, and it allows us to heal a little bit. Last year, we rushed right from Colorado to Chicago to get started. This year, we were able to come home and refresh a little bit, enjoy the first-round win, but really get focused for the second round.''
Cooke said he thinks the Wild have a great matchup in the Blackhawks, and he added that the Wild will be looking to control the pace of Game 1 on the road. While his team shouldn't overemphasize Game 1, Cooke said, it shouldn't underemphasize it, either. He stressed that it's important for the Wild to be assertive in the opener.
Mikko Koivu said the Wild has a better understanding of how to advance in the playoffs, now that the team has won a series in each of the past two years. "I think that makes a difference, when you know what it takes,'' he said. "You’re not going to get anything with luck, or if you’re hoping you might get away with something; it’s not going to happen that way. You need to play really good hockey for a lot of games.
“(Chicago has) been there. They know what it takes. You have to be ready from Game 1 and be ready to do what it takes to even win one hockey game and stick with that. I think we’ve done a good job with that lately. We spent the last couple months day to day, just getting ready for the next one. That’s what it’s all about.”
Russo was in Chicago for today's Blackhawks practice and reports that winger Kris Versteeg--who wasn't expected to play in Game 1--sat out the practice because of a lower-body injury and is day-to-day.
I feel like a kid on a long car ride asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
I’m sure you feel the same way.
Let’s get this series started already.
Two more days until Wild-Blackhawks, Part 3.
Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center’s press box. A reminder, I’ll be doing a podcast with columnist Jim Souhan today at 5 p.m. at the Liffey in St. Paul. Come on down or listen at souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart radio or iTunes.
If you didn’t read it, here was my latest of many Nino Niederreiter profiles I have written.
Just an fyi: follow Rachel Blount on Twitter (@blountstrib) Thursday. She’ll be covering the Wild’s practice here in Minnesota before it departs in the afternoon and I’ll be tweeting away, I’m sure, from Blackhawks practice in Chicago.
By the way, make sure you follow @schustee (Blake Schuster) on Twitter. He’ll be covering Games 1 and 2 with Souhan (@souhanstrib) and I from Chicago. Also, some Blackhawks scribes to follow are @MarkLazerus, @TramyersCSN, @ChrisKuc, @BrianHedger and @ESPNChiPowers.
The only bit of news from today’s Wild practice is Jason Pominville, whom I mentioned last week was playing sick along with at least Devan Dubnyk, did miss practice today because he was “under the weather,” according to coach Mike Yeo.
Jordan Schroeder took his spot on the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund line today. As long as Pominville is OK by Game 1, the Wild’s lineup to start the series is expected to be the same as its Games 5 and 6 lineups against St. Louis. That would mean Schroeder, Erik Haula, Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter and Nate Prosser would start the series as scratches.
The big question going into this series is whether there will be a different outcome.
The Wild had a great second half, a great second half on the road. It has the goalie, more experience with the youngsters, good balance, depth up the middle. Lots of reasons why it should be different, but will it be?
“Nothing’s different right now,” Yeo said. “They’ve beaten us two years in a row and so it’s up to us to prove that something is different. It’s up to us to make something different. In other years we’ve gone in and we’ve said we’ve played pretty well against them. Last year we went in thinking we were pretty good against them, but nothing was different. I think it’s up to us to find something and make something different.”
On the Hawks, Yeo said, “One of the real challenges with them is it’s real tough to get a team like that to break. Part of that is their experience, what they’ve gone through, the fact that they’ve won. Maybe in different series you feel like you can frustrate a team or you can get in their head pressure-wise. I don’t think they feel a lot of those things. I think that maybe in-game from time to time there might be some of that, but I think it’s a team that regroups well. I think it’s got great leadership, great coaching. There’s many moments in the game where they’re able to withstand a lot and bend but maybe not break. But also very opportunistic where if you’re not extremely strong at those times, you open up just a little bit and that’s where they kill you.”
So it’ll really be imperative not to get into a track meet with them, in my opinion. I think it’s important the Wild tries to go in there and play it’s normal patient, frustrating, stick to it, gameplan, kinda like the way the Wild played in that building April 7 when it finally pounced with two quick goals by Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund in the third period.
The Wild’s fast and deep, BUT, it doesn’t have the starpower that the Hawks have and if you get into that type of game, more times than not the Hawks will outskill you.
One player who could produce more is Thomas Vanek. He hit a crossbar and set up a couple plays for Charlie Coyle in the first round, but he had no goals and 10 shots in six games. Defensively, he was good, Yeo said.
But I felt he could be stronger on the wall and shoot more. I really feel this Zucker-Coyle-Vanek line could be an X factor against Chicago because you know the Hawks will really focus on shutting down the Granlund and Koivu lines. Zucker led the Wild with three goals in five games against the Hawks this season.
“Actually, I thought Charlie and I for the most part were pretty solid,” Vanek said. “I don’t think we got the bounces necessarily to score a big goal. But overall, I thought out line played a good role. Sometimes you don’t get the points and you think your series wasn’t that great, but overall I thought whatever line we were matched up against we did a good job. Offensively, I thought we could have contributed more, especially in Games 1 and 3. We hit some posts. But it’s a long playoffs and with the way our team is, we don’t rely on one or two teams to score. We score in bunches in lines. That’s what I told Chuckie – ‘We just need to stay positive and our turn will come.’”
On the Chicago series, Vanek said, “If you want to advance, we need depth and I think we have that. Obviously it’s frustrating when you don’t get on the board especially considering for the most part I thought we were pretty good. But our moment will come and we’ve just got to keep playing our game and making sure we’re good defensively which I thought for the most part we were. Offensively, we’ve just got to do a better job of putting them in.”
Against the Hawks, Vanek feels there could be more chances than the defensively-suffocating Blues.
“Against St. Louis, the focus, especially for our line, wasn’t to be creative,” Vanek said. “It was to be good defensively. We played a lot against the Lehtera, Stastny line so it was making sure that we made it hard on them. At the same time, we countered hard on them a few times, especially when Zucker got to our line. But again, the focus wasn’t to create much, it was more to make it tough for them. But Chicago is different. They have four lines that can score and they can create. Creating is going to be more of a premium in this round.”
This quote is kind of funny. Asked if he measures success by points, Vanek said, “I think when the goals go in, you measure it by points. When they don’t, you try to be positive and look at the chances. Against St. Louis, there weren’t many chances; the premium was on defense and checking. I thought our line did good. We shut them down and played well for the most part. Offensively we created a few chances and they just wouldn’t go in for us. Chuckie got one finally. But I told him, we just need to stay positive and our time will come.”
Asked if there’s pressure on him in his first postseason with the Wild to make a difference, Vanek said, “Sure. You want to be a difference maker this time of year. The St. Louis series was tough. There wasn’t much there. There were a lot of guys with open net goals. The score didn’t necessarily reflect the series sometimes. But Chicago is two-time Stanley Cup champs. To me, they’re still the best team in the league. For us, it’s a tough task but I think we’re up for it. For our line, we have to create like we have been and even more.”
Asked if he wants to prove people wrong after last postseason with Montreal, Vanek said, “Each postseason is different. Last year was tough for me. I got there at the deadline and found my niche early on and got away from that. I think you bring that experience of playing a little bit less and make sure you’re sharp, where last year I don’t think I was as good as this when my ice time was a little bit limited. I wasn’t as good as I should’ve been, but I’ve learned a lot from that series and that’s what I take away from it.”
Vanek said he’s motivated to win a Cup, something you appreciate as you get older in your career and you’ve had previous playoff success without getting to the pinnacle.
“That’s my message to young or old,” Vanek said. “I’ve been on three teams now where I went to the conference final and haven’t once advanced to the Cup. It’s hard – don’t take it for granted because you don’t know when you’ll get that chance again. We have something good going here, so let’s make sure we leave it all out there.”
Devan Dubnyk is getting excited for this round. He was in a typically jovial mood today, and I’ve got to say, he was awesome in practice.
“It’s all new stuff for me,” he said. “I tried as hard as I could to just treat it like I’ve been treating all the games and I felt pretty good about being able to do that. Same thing going forward. It’s good to get that first taste and that first series win out of the way. Keep moving forward.”
On his playoff beard, he jokingly asked, “Are you impressed with what’s on my face right now? I don’t think anyone’s impressed with what’s on my face. I’m enjoying it. It can just keep getting greasier.”
On how to beat Chicago, Dubnyk said, “I think just staying with how we play and the strengths of our game is our defensive game and our speed. A lot of our defense comes from puck possession in the offensive zone and being aggressive and using our speed to make turnovers. It’s all over the ice for us. Both teams are real good puck possession teams. It was the same thing with St. Louis. We’re going to continue to work on that and make sure we’re pressuring and not giving a lot of time and creating turnovers.”
Good late afternoon from Xcel Energy Center.
I trust you’ve seen the schedule. Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Sunday in Chicago, Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday in St. Paul.
Get your beauty sleep early because they’re all going to be late nights.
Any single-game tickets released for home playoff games in Round 2 will be made available through Ticketmaster and the Xcel Energy Center Box Office. The Wild encourages fans to frequently check ticketmaster.com for availability and visit wild.com/ticketexchange to locate legitimate tickets being re-sold.
I will be hosting a live podcast at the Liffey at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, so come on down or listen on souhanunfiltered.com or iHeart Radio or subscribe on iTunes.
This will be another fairly large cut and paste quote blog toward the bottom because this day got away from me and I need to get out of here because I have tickets to a thing tonight and I’m already LATE for dinner.
If you didn’t see today’s stuff, go to startribune.com/wild for my advance on the series, a Blackhawks notebook led with Bryan Bickell and his Wild killerness, a Chip Scoggins’ column on the job Mike Yeo did this season as coach and a look at this year’s Blackhawks-Wild series.
In Wednesday’s Star Tribune, I wrote a feature on Nino Niederreiter, Patrick Reusse wrote a column and there’s a notebook with a lot of the stuff you’ll see here.
The gist of today?
The Wild’s just happy to take a few days to breathe.
Part of the benefit of finishing a series before seven games is a team can decompress before hitting it hard the next round. Last year, the Wild beat Colorado on April 30 and opened with the Chicago Blackhawks two days later. The Wild got smoked in Game 1, 5-2.
That same two-day scenario would have occurred this year had the Wild won Game 7 against the St. Louis, a game originally scheduled for Wednesday that won’t be played because the Wild took care of business Sunday in Game 6.
“It’s nice to not have to rush, to get a little extra time,” Yeo said before the Wild opens in Chicago on Friday. “It’s nice to have an opportunity to collect yourself after. Whenever you go through a hard series like that and come out with the win, there’s a lot of emotion involved.”
The Wild took Monday off. On Tuesday, it had an off-ice workout and an optional practice in which Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Matt Cooke, Chris Stewart, Kyle Brodziak and Devan Dubnyk didn’t skate. A couple of those guys are banged up, so it’s good they’re getting time to rest.
Wednesday, Yeo will be looking for a “quality” practice from everyone.
“It’s an opportunity to rest here,” Yeo said. “Part of it is the physical part, but part of it is the mental part as well.”
Behind the scenes, the coaches have begun prepping for the Blackhawks, a team the Wild has played the past two postseasons.
“It can be overkill, too, if you bombard your players with too much information,” Yeo said. “So we’ll present the things we need to present. A lot of it is very familiar with this.”
Other highlights of today?
Yeo’s admiration for Dubnyk has grown throughout the season, as the coach has seen his goaltender meet challenge after challenge. It reached new heights last week, when Dubnyk absorbed a postseason battering for the first time in his career and came back with two magnificent performances.
Yeo admitted Tuesday that he was not certain how Dubnyk would handle his poor outing in Game 4 against St. Louis, when he was pulled after allowing six goals on 17 shots. Based on what Yeo had seen from him during the regular season, he was hopeful that Dubnyk would move on quickly, but the goalie had never been in such a situation. Dubnyk remained unflappable, stopping 36 of 37 shots—and frustrating the Blues with several highlight-reel saves—in a Game 5 victory that staggered St. Louis. In the Game 6 clincher, he stopped 30 of 31 shots.
“One critical thing for me—and I can say it now—is the way he responded after Game 4,’’ Yeo said. “I think that was a real important bounce-back for him.
“He’s had to battle through many things. There were reasons why we could believe that he would bounce back from that, but you never fully know until you’re faced with that—especially because there are more emotions in the playoffs. You’re dealing with a lot more. But the way he got through that was extremely impressive.”
For the third year in a row, the Wild will be starting a playoff series in Chicago. It has yet to win a postseason game at United Center, going 0-3 there in a first-round loss in 2013 and 0-3 in a second-round loss last year.
The Wild was outscored 11-4 at United Center in last year’s playoffs, with all three games drawing deafening crowds of more than 22,000. In 2013, the Blackhawks rolled up a 12-4 scoring margin.
While the players are well aware of their postseason victory drought at the arena, they have hope that things will be different this time around. The Wild went 24-15-2 on the road during the regular season--including a 12-game win streak that matched the NHL record—and won two of three first-round games at St. Louis.
“It’s a tough rink to play in,’’ winger Zach Parise said of the Hawks’ home. “It’s not a secret; we haven’t had any success there in the playoffs the last couple of years. It is a hard building.
“But like we’ve said, the last little while and the last (playoff) round, we’ve been playing well on the road. That’s a good sign for us.’’
The Blackhawks were off today, so the below quotes are smatterings from today’s availability:
How important will discipline be this round like last round? No question that will be a big factor. That was one of the keys to the last series was the discipline, and that comes in a few different forms and it’ll be a challenge again this series. First off, power play, you don’t want to be putting them on the ice. The discipline to take care of the puck, to play with the puck a certain way, to not feed into their rush game and obviously the discipline to make sure you’re moving your feet, keeping your sticks down, those little things.
Seems no animosity and hatred against Chicago as there is against St. Louis and Colorado? Well, probably a different [animosity]. I mean, I don’t think, I don’t think that we love them (grins). They knocked us out a couple years in a row here. It’s a different intensity in the game. There’s not the scrums, there’s not as much as that stuff going on after the whistles. That’s probably a little bit more because the two teams are built differently. But it is a good rivalry. It’s been that way. We certainly remember the feelings of getting knocked out twice by these guys.
How important is center play in this series: “It’s going to be huge through the middle. We always talk about goaltending, we can talk about defense, and our centermen are going to be key. They’re going to be key because you have to be good at both ends of the ice. We’re playing against a very well-rounded team, a very good offensive and defensive team, so they’re going to challenge you at both ends. It’s not like you can go into a shift in the offensive zone and just let your guard down; you’ve got to be ready to go.
“But again, because of their well-roundedness, because of their depth, this not just about our centermen, this is not just about one position. This is about our team. That’s how we were successful last series, that’s how we’re going to be successful this series.”
On the team’s defense: “It’s team commitment. First off, you have to have capable players -- especially the defensemen. But it’s very well-rounded, it’s very connected to every part of our game. For us to be effective defensively, there aren’t a lot of things that can be missing. We like to say we play as a unit of five on the ice. The better we execute, the better we play with the puck, the easier our defensive game is because we’re defending less. But I think it’s like everything else: It’s an aggressive mindset on how we play the game. We’ve got some speed, we’ve got some guys that really compete hard. But as a group, as a unit of five, we like to think we get on teams quickly and pressure them hard, and we like to think we do that with a good structure.
On Chicago: “They have some guys that are going to finish checks, but they have a lot of guys that are far more physical than you realize, and physical in their puck strength and their puck battles and how they’re going to get to the hard areas and compete on the boards and to get to the net. They’re heavy in that area for sure. They also play with a lot of pace.
“When you have a team that’s won a couple Cups, like they have, and they’ve had to play off success like they have, you have to be able to play different types of games and beat different types of opponents. They’ve demonstrated that.”
On the time off: “It’s nice to have that little break. It was a pretty physical series so everyone gets some bumps and bruises. It’s nice to have couple days off, mentally, especially, forget about hockey for a day or two and then come back fresh. The break is good.”
Help to be so familiar with them: “It helps, you’re familiar with them, they haven’t changed the way they play, their systems are the same, their players for the most part, it’s all the same guys. We know them really well throughout the regular season and the playoffs, we’re familiar with them.”
How do they compare to St. Louis: “It’s a different style. They’re a much more puck possession style team. I think St. Louis is more a lot of quick up, dump it in and try and get on the forecheck where Chicago makes more plays off the rush and holds onto the puck a lot more. Their [defensemen] are really mobile.”
How far have the Wild come since the first playoff series against Chicago: “A long ways. I think just the development and improvement of all the players. There have been some different personnel changes. But from the guys who are still here who were there for that first year, it’s a lot different. We’re playing better, we feel like we’re playing better and I think we’ve improved over the last couple of years.”
Is this a way for you to gauge how you are as a puck-possession team: “They’ve been the team to beat, them and LA, in the Western Conference, they’ve been the teams to beat the last couple of years. When you get a chance, yeah, you see where you’re at. If you want to get out of the West, you have to beat them. It seems like they’re in the conference finals every year and playing for the Stanley Cup. It’ll be a good test.”
Is there something they do to slow you down personally: “They’ve got a good checking line that’s tough to play against. They handle the puck really well, their [defensemen] can skate, so they don’t give you a lot of room. That’s something that we have to look at and be better with the puck and when we get chances. But the last couple games, as a line, we played well against them.”
Importance of depth: “Throughout the whole postseason it’s going to be important, and these guys, they’ve got a lot of scoring throughout their lineup and it seems like if one line’s not going then the other one is. And if that one isn’t, then the other. They’ve got a lot of good scorers up front, and they get a lot of contributions from their defensemen throughout, so you have to know who you’re out against and you have to beat the line that you’re playing against. That depth for us has been a big part of our success the last little while and it’s going to be from here on out.”
is there more respect for Chicago than hatred? There’s definitely not going to be that stuff after the whistle. I think they’re a good team. They play hard, they play smart. I think they’ve been successful the last couple of years, I think they like to play during the whistle and not after, that’s how they’ve been successful. It’s going to be a good series. We’re just looking forward to the first one, getting ready, we know it’s a good team over there we’re going to face.
On the Hawks: “We obviously respect them. We know how good of a team they are. But we’re pretty confident in what we’ve got over here. It’s going to be a good battle for us. They’ve knocked us out the last two years, so we want some sort of payback here. We want to be on the winning end of things this time around. So I think that’s what we’re looking to do. We’ve got to focus on that first game, and that’s what’s nice about this time, is to prepare for that first one. We have plenty of time to do that.”
what do they throw at you offensively vs. what you saw from St Louis? I think as far as our game, nothing’s changing. There are little things we have to go over. St. Louis, they’re not afraid to put it behind you, go get it, bang in there. Chicago, they like controlling the puck. They like making plays. They have enough skill over there, they have skill and speed, kind of similar to us, I think. They’ve got some guys over there who like to have the puck on their stick and make those pretty plays. It’s gonna be a little different, yeah. But for the most part, I think we’re just gonna focus on our game.
How important is playoff experience to the young players, and how far do you think you’ve come since your first experience? It’s been huge. We have a lot of young guys in here who already have two years worth. So it’s just to gain that experience and carry it with you, to know what to expect. Just the whole atmosphere of the playoffs; the intensity ramps up. So just to know what to expect. I think coming in, everyone felt a little more confident, not worrying about what to expect or what not to expect. Everyone just kind of knew and carried that confidence, and I think that helped us in the first round here to kind of just jump at them right away. I think the last couple years, we’ve gotten off to slow starts. I don’t know if was inexperience or what. It’s a new series here, and we’ve got to keep carrying that confidence and keep it building.
Looking back at the first playoff series vs Chicago two years ago, does it feel worlds different? Yeah, it does. I think we’re pretty confident in our group right now. I think in years before, we had a good team. We were just happy to be in the playoffs, to be honest. I think this time around, we know we have a team that can do something special, to make a run. And we have the confidence to go with it, I think, and that’s huge. We just have to keep building that. The group we have in here, we like our chances. You just try to enjoy the process. I think that's just what we're trying to do. I don't think we're surprised by the way we beat St. Louis; we were pretty confident. They're obviously a great team and finished the year in a great position, but the second half of the year, we were one of the top teams in the league, if not the best. I think we just kind of carried that with us. You do look around. You just try to enjoy it. We have a great team, and we know that, and we're going against a great team. So it's going to be a good battle; we're just trying to prepare for it.”
More on Chicago: We know what to expect from them. We've seen them before. And I think facing them the last two times, I think the team we have right now, we just feel so much more confident with what we have here. We've gotten better, and you can see that by we got knocked out the first round two years ago, we made it to the second round last year. So we've taken steps, but we feel like this group can do a lot more, and I think that just comes with our confidence here. We've got to just put that in our mindset. We're a good team, and like I said, we're going against a great team in Chicago. They're always out there at the end of the year; they never leave early. They're always there, and they definitely have a ton of experience, but we're so happy with what we've got here. We're looking to do more, and we know we have more to give. That's the scary part, too. It's going to be fun. We're ready for it.”
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