Game 1, tonight, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports North.
Good afternoon from Scottrade Center, where I’ll be bunkered until about 1 in the morning.
Let’s get this hashtag trending: #NoOvertime#NoOvertime#NoOvertime.
I’ll be doing a podcast with Jim Souhan at souhanunfiltered.com at 4 p.m. and will be on KFAN at 5:30 p.m.
I’ll also be on Fox Sports North around 7:35 p.m., roughly.
Sean Bergenheim gets the fourth-line left wing spot for Game 1. His 12 goals and 17 points in 23 playoff games is the reason, coach Mike Yeo said.
“Third time I get to play the playoffs. I’m very excited. These are the best games for a hockey player to play,” Bergenheim said. “I don’t really analyze [why I’ve been good in the playoffs]. I have to go out, as everybody on this team, and do my best. Previously, it’s worked for me. That’s what I’m going to try to do and more importantly it’s what we do as a team.”
Niklas Backstrom will back up Devan Dubnyk’s playoff debut tonight. Darcy Kuemper, ill yesterday, is flying to St. Louis today and should practice tomorrow.
Yeo was loose this morning. As the tech guy was giving instructions to the media before the press conference, the guy who looked strikingly like Yeo (I may add) was unaware Yeo was waiting at stage right. Finally, as everybody was chuckling and the guy not picking up on it, Yeo finally chimed in, “How do you fix your power play?”
“Well, finally,” Yeo said, referring to Game 1 finally being upon us.
Why Bergenheim over Ryan Carter? “Comes down to Bergenheim’s production in the playoffs. Before we acquired him, we watched a lot of video and we watched that playoffs when he was real instrumental in their team probably achieving more than anybody thought they would. And the way he was scoring the goals are ways we would need to score goals in this type of playoff series against this type of team. Part of it as well is just matchup-wise, what they’re going to face as a line, we need to make sure we have guys that can defend but we also want to make sure we have guys that are a threat. If they’re on the ice against skilled type players, you have to be ready to defend but there might be opportunities maybe where you can take advantage of something too.”
Matt Cooke a possibility for Game 2? “Possibility. I’ve given zero thought to Game 2 right now, so I’m not sure on that.”
Yeo on the officiating: I try not to come in with an expectation. That way you’re not really caught off guard too much. You meet with the supervisors. It’s a pretty safe presumption on our part as far as the gameplan that they’re going to have trying to establish a physical tone. We’ve got no problem with that. you hope that the stuff after the whistles are eliminated. I don’t think that’s good for the game. As long as everything’s clean, we’ve got no problem with that.
Matchups: The depth on both teams makes it a little bit different. You probably don’t have to chase your matchups quite as hard. We’ve got six D and four forward lines that we’re comfortable being on the ice with anybody. For us to try to hide guys or we lose guys or play guys too much because we’re trying to chase a matchup, that’s not going to happen tonight. So I can’t speak for how they’re going to play the matchup game, but we want to make sure we get everybody in the game early and obviously you evaluate how the games going along.
Good to be healthy: Huge key for sure. It’s great that we have depth, but important guys are healthy right now and getting a guy like Zuck back before the playoffs was really important. He had a couple games to find his game and get used to game speed again, and probably more important for us to see that he’s at that level so we have the confidence throwing him on that line and on the ice as much as we have. That’s always a huge factor. You want your best players available, and then as the playoffs go on, then injuries are always a part of it and how you overcome that, the depth and guys coming into the lineup at certain times, that’s always part of it.
Jake Allen?: I actually [coached] against him in the minors a little bit too when I was in Houston. As a team, we break down the other team’s goalies. Our goalie coach, Bob Mason, does a good job of that. we have a scout, we show video. When the game starts, I think you have to be careful. I always believe the quick shot is the best shot, especially against a team like this. If you take an extra second to try to make sure you’re shooting to one particular spot, then odds are you’re not going to get the shot off or it’s going to have to be the perfect shot to beat the goalie. We try not to have too much thought into it where we’re focusing more on them than ourselves, but with that said, he’s a good goalie. First off, he plays the much well, so that will challenge us as far as our puck placement, even our forecheck off of that. But he’s a battler in the net, good athleticism and good positioning.
Was yelling at the team in January a turning point beyond Dubnyk? No, I’m not going to say that at all. I think that it was just something that happens. We were going down the wrong path, and we had tried a few different things. Status quo. And we had to try something different. It was more of a reaction than anything. That was caught on tape that day accidentally. These type of things happen behind closed doors most of the time and reaction to that was part of what we’ve been doing, but just the lull that we were going into that practice with. We had stopped practice once. That wasn’t caught on tape. Quietly and collectively just said this is not good enough and it continued on, so I had to try a different approach.
Matt Dumba’s debut and balancing the fact he can be an impact but needing to lasso him in? I think it’s important for him how he approaches the morning skate. I had a conversation with him yesterday (to say) the game doesn’t change. There’s definitely more intensity and there’s definitely more emotion and that’s the big thing. As far as his game, he should have the same approach, the same preparation going into the game. His play without the puck I’ve been real pleased with. He has to make sure he has a strong focus on that. And then just as far as what I’d like to see – early in the game things happen quite quickly. Things happen on the road, the other teams crowd is going to be into it, they’re going to be pressuring hard. Things happen quickly, so your first decision is the right decision right now. That’s what I want to see. Don’t try to over complicate things. I hate to say make simple plays, but start the game that way, give yourself a chance to get settled into the game. But at the same time, he’s a guy that has impactful and the chance to make dynamic plays. Our execution from our defensemen is going to be a huge factor in this series as far as how they want to get in on the forecheck, how they play in the offensive zone. Any time we can break that and execute to get our game going the other direction, that’s going to be a big factor.
Dumba, by the way, I’ll be writing about tomorrow and I got great stuff today was partner and former Blue Jordan Leopold.
Central Division? Five teams last year, too. And the two teams that aren’t in it, were in it last year. It’s a tough division. But with that, and we’ve said this before, any team that gets in is well prepared. You’re playing all the best teams and you’re playing tough hockey every night, tough matchups. The intensity is always high and the level of play that you have to have both with and without the puck I think prepares you well.
You seem to do better when they score first? I think we have a better resiliency and part of it is we have more offense in our lineup. To be able to come back, for sure it’s an attitude. You have to be able to trust your game and stay with your game. But you also have to trust your goalie and know that he can make some saves for you so the other team is not extending the lead. But for sure we’ve got some skill. And I think there’s that confidence with the group knowing some guys are capable of going out and scoring goals and different guys are capable of going out and doing it is a big factor in that.
Chris Stewart? He’s something that we needed in terms of a big, physical presence. He’s a guy that is always willing to stick up for his teammates, he’s a guy that’s going to be strong along the boards and is tough to get the puck off of. On top of that, he’s a very underrated playmaker. We know that he can score goals, we know that he can be dangerous around the net. He’s got very deceptive speed and I’ve been real impressed with some of the subtle plays he’s made. He’s been a big factor in some key goals for us since he arrived. One thing that I’ve been real impressed with is quite often you get these guys (rental players) in a trade. And a guy like him doesn’t have a contract for next year, but I think he’s handled it the right way. He’s gone all in to our team. Obviously he’s got a lot to gain by performing well and having lots of points, but he went all in to the team first and I think he’s been getting rewarded for that.
Sense him getting pumped up? I had a good talk with him yesterday. Of course he’s pumped. He’d be pumped if we were playing anybody in the first round of the playoffs. But there’s some excitement going against a former team. The big thing we talked about is making sure you use that emotion, you use that energy. But you have to control it as well. He’s ready for it.
Stay away from emotions? That’s part of the challenge of playoff hockey – the emotions are so high. Whether it’s through the course of a game when the other team is pressing or you have some success, you have to keep your focus, stay level headed, stay on task. And likewise from game to game there’s going to be times when things go your way and you’re feeling really good and you have to make sure you manage that. And likewise if things don’t go your way, it’s how you come back to the rink the next day and get ready to be at your best.
By the way, Stewart is real tight with Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves. Both were in his wedding. Really close with Vladimir Tarasenko, too. Tarasenko, whom I’ll be featuring soon in the playoffs, told me today Stewart really took him under his wing. You wouldn’t believe how good Tarasenko’s English is. The dynamic player is ready to go and said what he did during the regular season means nothing now (37 goals).
Ken Hitchcock said he’s ready, too. “Nah, I'd like to practice some more,” he said, sarcastically. “The players are really enjoying that. Let’s get playing. Find out what we got, make adjustments, move from there.”
Nervous at this time of year? Not in the playoffs. I do in the regular season because there's so much watching of others. Not now. You've got so much time to prepare. It's the fun part for us, sure it's agonizing for the players going over details, this is really the fun part for coaches. Then you have to adjust after today's game and make inroads on getting better whether you win or lose. I think the wakeup call for all of us was the road team won so many games last night. It shows you how even things are. You talk about home ice advantage, it turns on a dime and you have to make adjustments.
Special teams? I don't think you're going to get a lot of power play in this series. I don't think the power plays are really relevant. This series is going to be won 5 on 5. I think your penalty killing is going to get challenged. There's a lot of really competitive players that play on the power play so how you kill penalties is going to be really important and whether you can get penalty killing done at the right time in the right phase of the game. I think it's going to be really important. I think teams that are on the power play are going to have a really difficult time. So many good, good players – they use their top players to kill penalties, we use our top players to kill penalties. You've got a lot of good players out there, it's going to be hard scoring against that many committed players. If you have a tough time killing, you're going to have a tough time controlling the series because there's going to be that little advantage a team is looking for.
More prepared to handle ebbs and flows of series this year? I would say last year really unfair to even evaluate this team based on the lineup we tried to put in at start of series, which was not even close to the lineup all year with. I think our team deserves way more credit that criticisms for how they mustered it up and played through the things they did. We had a lot of players who spent two months in rebab playing one series. They came in banged up, got banged up worse. It was a tough go. I don't think you can evaluate that. For me, when a team says that they're ready, it's that they're ready to handle the ups and downs emotionally. Because there's an upheaval during the game, what you think is normal in league play is not normal. You're looking at a playoff game in Nashville, yesterday, in the first period of overtime, there are seven odd man rushes. You're just going to have to deal with that. It's the emotion that the players put in the. The games in first series have the most energy, have most bizarre plays at times. You're just going to have to feel through that. I think that's where we're better equipped. We've gone through these emotional … last year the series was four overtime games, two of them really long. We've gone through a lot of that so I think we're capable of handling that a little bit better than we were two or three years ago.
Not many penalties. Why? I don't think players are going to be cautious. I think both teams are built on structure and discipline. I think both teams recognize you don't want to let other teams best players on the ice. My feeling is, like any playoffs series, at the end of the day, you end up winning it 5 on 5. We spend all this time practicing on the power play and then we spend 50 of 60 minutes 5 on 5. I think that's where the series is going to be won.
The goaltending choice, Jake getting hot when he did, winning the games against Chicago impacted our decision a little bit, not saying made it easier, made it more defined. The pairs we have right now are natural. We're missing a pretty good player. We're missing a player that can add to the group, if we need to put Bortuzzo in, he's played very well for us. That's why, a month ago, when Shatty came back, why we practice him so much on the left side. We just felt that Bortuzzo was a lot better player than we thought we were getting, which was good for him and great for us. We needed to put things in place so if get to that it's not going to be a surprise. Shatty played a lot with Petro, he played the left side, did very well on it, we're prepared to make that change if we have to.
Making big changes in the postseason, like pulling a goalie? I think you deal with every game a separate entity. I don't you say anything is long term, not in this day and age. I think if you've got two goalies that you trust and one's not going well, you move in a different direction. You honor the start and then you deal with everything day by day. You look at the series last year between Minnesota and Chicago, players that weren't even in the series had a major impact halfway through. You have to gauge all that stuff. You can't look at anything longterm, you can't look at anything, where are we going to be at Game 3 or Game 4. You look at it every day individually and then you make decisions from there. You've got to put guys in you think can make a little bit of a difference because that's the little edge you're looking for every day. Once the next day starts, you have to look at things pretty critically.
Be back tonight after the game, and follow me on Twitter @russostrib for live game tweets.