FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, April 14th, 2014
TRANSCRIPT – NBC SPORTS GROUP 2014 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS CONFERENCE CALL
April 14, 2014
2:00 pm ET
Chris McCloskey: Thank you and thank you everyone for joining us today for our 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff conference call. This is the third consecutive year that NBC Sports group will use NBC, NBC SN, CNBC and the NHL network to televise every Stanley Cup Playoff game, and the second consecutive year that all games will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra.
In a moment we’ll be joined by our lead broadcast team of Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire as well as NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood. As always a replay and a transcript of this call will be available in a few hours after the call ends. The replay number is 719-457-0820, passcode is 2621517 – I’ll give those numbers again at the end of the call.
We’re going to begin today’s call with some opening remarks followed by Q&A and we’ll go now to the first opening remark from Executive Producer Sam Flood.
Sam Flood: Hey everybody thanks for joining us. We are very excited to get going on Wednesday night. I think this is one of the most special playoffs we’ve been through yet just because of the new format. We think it’s going to add a whole degree of hatred on ice as you’re going to have rivalry games up and down the brackets, which we have found adds a whole other dimension to the game of hockey.
When there’s this kind of familiarity between teams there’s some extra energy on the ice. The kind of energy that Doc Emrick loves above all else, so we should have some fun with this thing and you can also look ahead the brackets to see who’s going to match up with who if certain teams get out of their opening round tilts and that should add some fun to it. So I will hand it off to Doc who always loves this kind of loyalty.
Mike Emrick: It is crazy isn’t it? I think one of the joys of this time of the year is it’s a wild first week and multiple games every night.
But I’m talking about this as a guy who is not going to work every night but will have a night off to be in a hotel room and watch all the other games. I remember there were times when I was with other networks and I’d go into a city and fans, you know, they feel free to come up to you which is wonderful. But they say, why aren’t you guys covering more of our series, you’re only doing one game and then you’re leaving? And it has been so much fun to say we’re doing every game of every series.
That was 87 games two years ago, that was 88 games last year, and, who knows, it might have 90 this year. But I consider it entertainment for me on the nights that I’m not working because I’m there watching all the games until late at night. I consider myself very lucky to be doing games on the nights I am working but also fortunate to be able to just sit in a hotel on the off nights and watch everything, it’s a lot of fun.
And for the eighth year, it will be the finals with Pierre and also with Eddie Olczyk as our team and so the tag team means that Ox Baker, Eddie Olczyk steps into the ring.
Eddie Olczyk: Thank you Doc, Pierre, Sam – always good to be with you guys, it’s great to be a part of our team again.
It’s been a long last regular season when you throw the Olympics right in the middle. I think everybody’s looking forward to dropping a puck on Wednesday and great to be a part of it. And a lot of different story lines I’m sure people want to talk about, but it’s great to be a part of and I’m looking forward to seeing the journey begin on Wednesday.
And looking forward to getting to St. Louis for my first assignment for NBC on Saturday afternoon between the Hawks and the Blues, so I will take the opportunity to pass the puck and over to Pierre.
Pierre McGuire: And I’ll try not to turn it over, thanks very much Doc, thanks Eddie, Sam so often this is probably going to be the best playoff we’ve had.
We’ve had it at NBC for nine years now and you look at the balance, you look at the animosity level, you look at the matchups, you look at the teams that have had great surges to make the playoffs. You look at the resurgennt Colorado Avalanche and the new identity under Patrick Roy. You look at how St. Louis has stumbled into the playoffs and the huge hatred animosity level between St. Louis and Chicago.
And in the East the original six matchup of Boston and Detroit and the animosity series of the Rangers in Philadelphia, everybody knows. And a new rivalry that’s starting to burgeon is Pittsburgh and Columbus. I mean this has got a chance to be one of the most memorable playoffs we’ve had in the last 20 years in the Stanley Cup run. It’s just been amazing and we’re privileged to be part of it.
Sam Flood: All right thank you Pierre and we can begin the Q&A session.
This is for Sam and Doc but I’ll start with Sam since you’ve spoken so eloquently about the joys of hatred over the years.You know, this Rangers Flyers series only came about right at the last moment and it just happened. How happy were you to see it play out that way?
Sam Flood: I think it’s great, I think these two teams know each other well and have a nice train ride between the two buildings which makes it convenient for them to get back and forth.
And I see it as one of the great rivalries that just get nastier and nastier. And they’re two teams that both have something to prove this year. Philadelphia has got to be thrilled the way they started the year that they’re going to be even in the playoffs and what the new coach has done to change that team is pretty remarkable. So I think it adds a whole new dimension and two new coaches that are trying to fix teams that struggle in the playoffs.
We’re lucky and happy that they’re matching up and one of them could have Pittsburgh or Columbus waiting on the other side. So you go from one wild one to another wild one.
Doc what do you think about that matchup?
Mike Emrick: Yes I think it’s terrific not only because of the past history but also the way these teams were going right near the end.
I liked a lot of what I saw with the Rangers down at the homestretch of the season. And the Flyers seemed to always rise to a challenge whenever it was necessary for them to come up with a big goal – it seems like their captain was always able to do it. They have a string of real frustration inside Madison Square Garden and so it’s always interesting to see whether that can be overcome.
They got two cracks at it out of the first four and I guess that’s one of the things because all we have is history. That’s our part of this penalty kill that we have until the first puck drops on Wednesday night is what we’ve got to work with is recent history. And I sure like what New York and Philadelphia have both done – not necessarily against one another, but what they’ve done, you know, down the homestretch and what they’ll carry in here. I think that’s all a part of what makes this divisional thing so much better.
I remember 20 years ago Bob Gainey was with the Minnesota North Stars and he said what makes playoffs are rivalry and what makes rivalries are regular season divisional games. And at that time we were in the same system that we are now where it was 1, 4, 2, 3.
What I remember from my days in Philadelphia was the Flyers and Mike Keenan blowing through the regular season with over 100 points, the Rangers coasting along in fourth and then a best of five first round in two successive years, the Rangers eliminating the Flyers in less than five games and ending a spectacular season for them in less than a week’s time.
Hi gentlemen, a question for Sam and then a question for Eddie Olczyk. Sam, could you possibly draw up these playoffs better from a ratings perspective? I mean you’ve got all the big markets, only one Canadian team and even that one Canadian team and the team that’s been able to draw on the past too. Could you draw it up any better from the first 16?
Sam Flood: It looks fabulous, it’s a great setup and we love the Montreal Canadians. We consider them the Green Bay Packers of Hockey because they’re in a small market but people know who they are.
Their jersey is so recognizable, so it’s fun to have them in the mix. And the possibility of them if they get out of the first round they’ll be facing either Boston or Detroit in an original six matchup, although I don’t think it’s going to be easy to get out of Tampa. So it’s fun and every series on paper can go a long way as long as St. Louis starts playing better hockey. But I would say the hockey gods are smiling on us right now.
Pierre or Eddie feel free over this one, a lot’s been said this season about disparity between the Eastern conference and the Western Conference and everyone’s talking about how the Western Conference is better. Do you think that the Western Conference playoffs could be so difficult for the team that advances out of that for like a San Jose or a LA or a St. Louis or Chicago that whatever Eastern team wins their conference might have it a little – might have a small advantage in the Stanley Cup Final?
Pierre McGuire: Well I think the biggest thing is if the series ends early in the West then it won’t be a problem.
But if the series are as grueling as what happened with Los Angeles and St. Louis in the first round last year then it can create a bit of a problem for the Western Conference, there’s no question. One of the things besides Chicago being a great team is that a lot of the teams that they had to play against after they got out of a very difficult series with Detroit is there was a fatigue factor and a breakdown factor and I give the Chicago Blackhawks a ton of credit there.
I think they’re the best team in the National Hockey League and we’ll see how that plays out over the course of the playoff. I think that’s unfortunately news for St. Louis but I do think that if in fact it becomes a battle of attrition in the West then I do think that the team in the East has a little bit of an edge. But we’ll see because if the series ends quickly in the West then all that stuff goes out the window.
Eddie Olczyk: I think it’s a great talking point and Pierre hit it on the head. I mean – you got an opportunity to eliminate a team in five games or whatever it is, I don’t see any sweeps, I really don’t.
And I think in the Western Conference I mean you’re talking about six games for every playoff series in my opinion in the Western Conference. I will say this though and we’ve seen it and yes Boston swept the Penguins last year and the Penguins scored two goals in four games, it’s well documented. And remember back in ’05 I believe or maybe even the year after that, maybe ’06 whatever it was when Anaheim and Ottawa played, you could get some rest.
Like everybody thought last year that with Boston getting out of that series really quick and yes Chicago won in five games against LA. You know, the rest factor and sometimes it’s overextended, sometimes there’s almost too much time. You look at Ottawa I mean Ottawa had what nine days off I believe before the Stanley Cup Final started against Anaheim. Doc, you can correct me if it’s minus one on old check, it’s not anything out of the ordinary, but I will take the minus one.
As much as you’d like to anticipate or think that the road is going to be less traveled in the Eastern conference when the teams in the West, you expect them to beat the crap out of each other which isn’t a bad thing as Sam likes to say…I think there’s something to that, but in the big picture is, you know, we went series when their teams had had nothing left and that’s why it makes the Stanley Cup the run – or the skate for the Stanley Cup the hardest in all professional sports, because you have that great equalizer and goal.
And these players and these coaches somehow find a way when you think they’re out of it…there’s no better reality TV in the world then watching the run to the Stanley Cup Final.
I wanted to get your take on the upstart Colorado Avalanche, what an exciting story. But do you worry at all Eddie and Doc that this might be a Cinderella thing hitting the clock at midnight? Or can you see this young team worse in the Western Conference a year ago making a playoff push?
EdDie Olczyk: The thing that I think has been maybe gone under the radar for a lot of people has been a team that has a real young – the youngest, I use that word – the back end…for Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche to be able to be where they are has been one of the better stories.
I talked a lot about the Boston Bruins and Claude Julien and the job that his staff has done with a lot of young defensemen in the lineup and be the best team in the National Hockey League when it comes to points. But to have a really young, inexperienced defense to me is what’s really stood out in both of those situations, in particular with the Avalanche.
I mean the one thing they’ve gotten this year that they didn’t get last year in the shortened season for whatever was consistent goaltending. Semyon Varlamov will be a finalist for the Vezina trophy given to the best goalie in the National Hockey League. Their young defense has really stepped up, I mean they have a lot of talent up front. Nathan MacKinnon is on the way of being a superstar in this league, Ryan O’Reilly has had a great year and they’ve done a lot of this without Matt Duchene in the last little while.
PA Parenteau has been out, another offensive guy. But they can play – they can get up and go – they can play up-tempo type of style. And I will say this is – I don’t think Joe Sacco has got enough credit for the job that he did prior to when Patrick Roy took over. I think Joe Sacco helped teach a lot of these kids – remember they got in a playoff a couple of years ago. I think there’s something for the job that he did to help kind of lay that foundation.
Patrick Roy comes in there and massage this team to his liking, I mean, I’m not surprised to see them in the playoffs. I am surprised to see how quickly they’ve ascended to the top of Central Division for sure.
Mike Emrick: Well I like the fact that they finished 15th in team defense when you consider what they started with. To be halfway in the pack was pretty impressive too. But the thing that’s noteworthy in my mind is that Varlamov has shown that he can play in the playoffs and he’s been thrown into some difficult situations in his past in Washington, but you can’t sneeze at 41 wins.
And Patrick Roy has shown me an awful lot this year. Not only in the regular season but I remember so many years when he was that guy that they would always count on to succeed at playoff time and he almost always, almost always did. I think that transfers to his coaching. I really do.
This goalie for the Minnesota Wild, he’s kind of wild. He has a crazy personality but he’s played a lot of times. What’s your take on this guy?
Mike Emrick: Well see that’s the dice roll, isn’t it? Goaltending in almost all of these series is the same thing. I mean, when you win seven out of 11 and down the stretch when your team needs you you’re just brilliant, if that doesn’t get lost in the three days or the four days between the end of the regular season and your first game, you can turn Denver on its ear that first night. And it may be a quiet exit for people if the goaltender comes up big.
The same could be said in Pittsburgh on opening night. If Bobrovsky who won the very first game comes in there and turns the team on its ear that first night it could be a quiet exit in Pittsburgh after game one.
Bryzgalov was acquired to basically provide insurance. We’ve seen some of his meltdowns previously. You guys are right there between the benches, up there watching his games. Should Wild fans be concerned here or do you feel like the Wild’s defensive structure will be able to kind of almost protect him here?
Pierre McGuire: I think Bryzgalov obviously has got some big game experience. Some of it’s been good, some of it hasn’t been good. It is a lot like Doc said, like Marc-Andre Fleury basically. When you look at it he’s going to have to stand and deliver because of the injury situations and the untested nature of Darcy Kuemper, and John Curry for that matter.
So it’ll be very interesting to see how it plays out with Minnesota. And the one thing Eddie made a point about with Colorado and I completely agree because I talked with Patrick Roy at the beginning of the season, he said, “Yes, the old system was great but we need to get back to playing the way the Colorado Avalanche play. And the Avalanche style that I’m used to is in-your-face, it’s fast, it’s skillful, it’s offensive and we dominate the puck and – which force you into mistakes.”
And I really believe one of the reasons why they’ve been successful this year is they’ve re-found that identity that made those Colorado teams in the ‘90s in particular really good. So it’s going to put a lot of duress on Ilya Bryzgalov and it’s going to put a lot of duress on the Minnesota defense.
And the guy that’s going to have to stand tall and really straighten things out I think is Ryan Suter if they’re going to be successful. Everybody’s talking about Bryzgalov; Ryan Suter’s going to have to bring that defense together in a hurry in Minnesota.
Eddie Olczyk: Yes I don’t see that being an issue at all. I mean, the guy’s literally played out of this world, has he not? I mean…he’s just been – there’s a confidence – and he’s a very confident – any dealings that I’ve had with him…he’s always been a very confident athlete. I mean, he’s always knows exactly where he is and just kind of goes out there and does his thing.
And I think that there has to be a confidence inside that room. I talked to Ryan Suter a couple of weeks ago just about the whole lay of the land with what’s going on there and in Minnesota here as of late. I think there’s a real strong confidence inside that room…here’s a guy that’s been a part of a team that’s one and he’s had some success and yes, Pierre touched on it: there’s been some errors and some blemishes for sure.
But I think the way that Mike Yeo has got this team playing — like I said earlier — I don’t see this being, you know, over in four games. I don’t see that at all. I think the Avalanche certainly have the upper hand but not by a lot. This is going to be really fun to watch because I think Minnesota is – with the moves that Chuck Fletcher has made — as you know being there every day — they’re a team that has the puck a little bit more now than they’ve had in the past.
And when you don’t have it a lot and all you do is retreating — and Pierre touched on that on how the Avalanche had been playing and now they have a new style — I think there’s something for okay, yes, you know what? You know, Spurgeon can go ahead and jump in and give up a two on one and you have confidence that the goaltender’s going to make the save.
So for me I think there’s a lot of confidence I think in both goaltenders but to me Bryzgalov is a guy that can certainly be a difference maker in a game and give the Minnesota Wild every opportunity in this series against the Avalanche.
I’m doing a story on Pominville tomorrow. And here’s a guy that went into the last year’s playoffs with a concussion and changed the complexion of the way that series went and leads them in scoring again this year, and yet overshadow by Mikko and Suter. How important do you think he could be in the playoffs?
Pierre McGuire: He’s really important because he can do it in so many different ways. He’s a five-on-five scorer, he’s a power play threat both from the top of the circle and also up at – by the blue line because he’s a great distributor. And he also can shoot the wick in one-time it and he’s an excellent penalty killer, as you know.
So you put it altogether he might be the most well-rounded player on their team in terms of being a pure scorer, a really good defensive player, and especially when it comes to special teams play. I know Mikko Koivu was really highly regarded in all of those things but if you look at the consistency level of Jason Pominville it’s hard to argue if he’s not the most important player just because of the balance that he brings to the team.
There are other guys that are flashier. Koivu would be one of them, Zach Parise would be another one of them but Jason Pominville just does his job all the time. He’s like a good defenseman: you don’t notice him until you see the stats at the end of the night.
Hey guys. Can you talk a little bit about the Boston/Detroit series and specifically what you think the Redwings have to do to have some success?
Eddie Olczyk: Yes, I mean, the one thing that the Red Wings have done – and we touched on it the other day when we were in Pittsburgh – the Redwings went assembled. Again, it doesn’t look like Henrik Zetterburg is going to be around to start this series, and that was a couple of days ago.
But this is a much different team than earlier in the year. This is a much younger, quicker team. I think that’s the way that they have to play. They’re not going to be a physical, you know, a physical team. They have some guys that can bang around and, you know, I’m sure Niklas Kronwall’s going to look for one of those big hits along the boards just inside the Bruins’ offensive zone.
But to me that will be a real big key is can the Redwings manage the puck well enough? And can they play a fast game and try to keep it a real quick game? There’s no doubt the Bruins are the team to beat for sure and rightfully so, and the Bruins can come in four lines and the size and the depth and the leadership of Patrice Bergeron.
But to me, can the Red Wings be able to play that real fast game to maybe get the Bruins on the run a little bit? You know, force them to be a little bit more wide open, try to up the game because the Redwings right now, when healthy with all these young guys is, I mean, they put themselves to maybe being in the top six or seven when you talk about quickness when you look at the dynamics of how their forwards are in that lineup when healthy.
That’s saying something considering you probably would’ve put them in the bottom eight when it comes to not being very quick at the start of the years and these young guys have come in and give them a whole different look. So that to me is going to be really a key to this series is, can the Red Wings play a quick game? Because it becomes a station to station, grind it out game, you’re feeding literally right into the Bruins.
Pierre McGuire: Well one of the things I like about the Wings is a lot of the young players that Eddie just talked about won a championship last year with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League and they were really important players. Tomas Tatar was the Most Valuable Player of the American Hockey League playoffs. Gustav Nyquist went down there and did some very good things. Riley Sheahan had a phenomenal playoff after having a tough start to the year.
Joakim Andersson is another one that’s had tremendous success at the American Hockey League level. Luke Glendening who was never even drafted coming out of the University of Michigan has become a huge energy player. And I see Glendening and I think of Kris Draper and what he was able to do when he played for the Red Wings playing with [Kirk] Maltby and [Darren] McCarty and they called it ‘The Grindline’ back then. But Tomas Jurco’s another one.
Eddie’s spot on when he talks about Detroit and the speed that they have, the quickness. Mike Babcock talked to us about it in terms of how it’s really invigorated him as a coach. I think Mike also remembers the ’06 playoffs, his first as the head coach for the Detroit Red Wings. They lost in six games to the Edmonton Oilers and Craig MacTavish that year was probably the most creative coach of any coach in the National Hockey League. He got his team within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. They lost the game seven in Carolina.
In the first round they beat Detroit and the reason why they beat Detroit: they were the most creative. If Mike Babcock, who I personally believe is the most creative coach in the league right now, can get creative he can cause the Bruins some problems. I still think the Bruins are the favorite but Detroit can cause some problems.
I’d like to ask you Pierre: what are your thoughts about how the Minnesota Wild have performed these last two years? Do you think, Pierre, that they’ve overachieved getting to the playoffs the last few years with some obstacles or have they underachieved?
Pierre McGuire: No I think they’re about right on target. Chuck Fletcher went in, there was a major rebuild. I knew their roster really well, I knew what the job was going in for Chuck. I had evaluated that position and I really think he’s done a nice job. I know Eddie touched on it and Doc has touched on it, but the acquisition of Jason Pominville, the acquisition of Zach Parise, naming Mikko Koivu as captain, bringing in Ryan Suter, the development of Mikael Granlund, the trading for Niederreiter, the acquisition of Charlie Coyle, bringing in a veteran hand like Matt Cooke….I think they’ve done some fantastic things there.
I look at it and I see a team that everybody wants it to win immediately. That’s not how it works in this league. It’s hard to do that. You have to go in steps and phases. And I think – I remember sitting with Mr. Leipold, the owner of the Minnesota Wild last year before game one of the Chicago/Minnesota series and he said, “What do you think?”
I said, “Honestly, you know, I’m not going to lie to you: I don’t think your team can win. But I think you can learnso much from this series as a group because of the creativity of your coaches, the intelligence of your management team, and the decent skill of your players in the heart of some of your leaders that you will learn a lot from this, and I think it will help you going down the road.”
And I truly believe that last year’s loss to Chicago and the way Chicago beat Minnesota, Minnesota could learn a lot. Just like Chicago used to learn from losing to Detroit all those years, and Chicago used Detroit as a role model and finally they broke through. Minnesota I think learned a lot last year in the playoffs from losing to Chicago. So no I think they’re right on track. I think they’ve done a lot of good things there.
Eddie Olczyk: I think they’ve upgraded their talent level via the players Pierre made mention through trades, through development. I mean Jonas Brodin is such a good defenseman.
Not only with the acquisition of Parise and Suter, but all of a sudden, they are a much deeper team. They’re playing a little bit more different, they are playing with a lot of confidence.
You can’t be in retreat mode in the Western Conference. I’m sorry, you can’t. And I think that… there is somewhere in between last year loss to Chicago and this time around the trade deadline…I talked to Mike Yeo about this early in the season, that they are trying to play a little bit quicker.
You could say you want to play quick, but if you don’t have the thoroughbreds that do that – and yes, it’s almost the first Saturday in May by the way, which you can see on NBC. But you’ve got to be able to play a certain way in the Western Conference. That to me has really been the biggest thing for the Minnesota Wild.
But at the end of the day, if you’re going to play in the Western Conference and you’re going to have some sort of success and everybody’s definition is different, is that you’ve got to have better players, you have to be able to have somebody that’s going to guide you, and I think Mike Yeo has done a really good job with the staff there of using the assets that he was given or the players that had come up and put in those positions.
Like, you know, they weren’t a very quick team last year. They’re playing quicker because they have players that are allowed to play that way and they have some guys that have some experience.
Pierre McGuire: At the start of the call, Eddie talked about, you know, the goaltending in Colorado, and I follow that team really closely. The one guy that’s not getting enough credit for everything there is Francois Allaire. He has done – I know everybody is looking at Patrick and Patrick learned the position from Francois in Montreal; I saw it firsthand. And I’m telling you, the job that he’s done with Semyon Varlamov has been phenomenal. The growth in that player’s game from winning broken an elite with Washington to star in a league and a Vezina trophy nominee, at least I think and I know Eddie agrees with that, has been phenomenal. And Francois deserves a lot of credit there.
What kind of challenges does the Lightning have going in the first round of series assuming that Ben Bishop is not available to play? Can they still win without him?
Pierre McGuire: Well this is Pierre McGuire, I’ll just talk about from the Tampa side of things.
They’ve got to find a way to stabilize David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek. If they can’t shut that line down and it becomes more difficult after you leave Tampa and you go up to Montreal because you don’t get last change, I believe that line is going to cause a lot of problems, early on this series, until it becomes more of fatigue-driven series.
But if they don’t find a way to stabilize that elite line from Montreal with Desharnais, Pacioretty and Vanek, it’s going to be problematic for Tampa. But I expect this one of the quickest series we’ll see in terms of the overall speed component of the series.
Eddie Olczyk: I think for Tampa is they’ve got to use – they’ve got some big boys there – they’ve got to use that to their advantage. I mean the Montreal Canadians, you know, over the last couple of years, I mean Paciorettty and Vanek are going to play a lot – those are some guys you got to lean on, and I think that for Tampa.
And I’m sure Jon Cooper is going to make sure that’s highlighted for his team. They’ve got some guys that, you know, you got to play a big game. And I think if you have that ability against Montreal, I don’t think you’re going to neutralize them, but certainly you give yourself a really, really good chance.
And look, they got to get the goalie back; there’s no question about it. You’re going to see a guy on the other end, Carey Price, who Pierre touched on François Allaire, You could look at the same situation there with Carey Price winning a gold medal and getting a new goaltending coach there.
With Stéphane Waite leaving the Chicago Blackhawks and going to the Montreal Canadians, remember Stéphane Waite worked with Anton Niemi in Chicago, he won a Stanley Cup, he worked with Corey Crawford, he won a Stanley Cup. Now he’s gone back home in a decision that he made personally. He wanted to go back home to Montreal, and Marc Bergevin even signed him up to General Manager.
So Carey Price is as good as it gets in a National Hockey League. So for me, they got to get the goalie back for sure for Tampa. But to me, when you talk about schematically is that they can play that real fast game, I understand that. But I think in order to, you know, to give themselves even a better chance, it’s got to become a little bit more junkyard dog mentality, maybe even ox-big type where you’ve got to slug it out every once in a while if you’re Tampa.
When Steve Yzerman took over four years ago, he talked about patience and letting players develop, and they’re certainly seeing some of those guys make an impact with Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, guys like that. Is this in anybody’s eyes, is this a first step in a path of Steve Yzerman’s vision of kind of taking this team and making a perennial playoff team?
Pierre McGuire: I think the answer is yes, and one of the reasons why, Steve quickly identified the need to upgrade their scouting staff. And one of the first things he did after his first NHL entry draft is he decided that they needed to go in a different direction and he brought in Al Murray from Hockey Canada.
And Al Murray, to me, is one of the better evaluators of amateur talent in the world, and he’s done a fantastic job helping him identify those players. And I think absolutely, Steve had a vision; he knew that they couldn’t play in the free-agent market. They had to go out there and develop their own players.
Yes, they did sign Valtteri Filppula and I think there was a lot home cooking in there because Steve knew them from Detroit and Fippula obviously knew Steve from Detroit. But they’ve done a really good job at the amateur level and the development level.
And Eddie talked about Jon Cooper and how he’s going to make a difference. Let’s remember, we’re only two years away from Jon Cooper taking his team in Norfolk to an American Hockey League Championship. And he had players like Radko Gudas on that team who’s really become an important player; Mark Barbario another one who’s become an important player for them.
So they’ve done a really good job. And Steve and his crew with Pat Verbeek there and Stevie Thomas, they deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve been able to do.
But Eddie, you know, the blue six-game losing streak at the end there kind of play right into the Blackhawks’ hands. It looked like they were going to play Colorado for so long and you know the problems they were having with Colorado.Are the Blues a better matchup for the Blackhawks?
Eddie Olczyk: We’ve seen teams that have just happened to be at the end of the season for the Blues. We’ve seen teams go into some slumps over the course of the season and everybody thinks, you know, it’s the end of the season, can they ever get out of it and are they going to make the playoffs. It just happens that the Blues came down at the end of the regular season.
Now I’m saying that injuries certainly played a huge part into it. Their offense went completely dry, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with the injuries that they’ve had.
The first three games of the regular season between Chicago and St. Louis, St. Louis won them all, two of them were in a shootout we understand. Thankfully, there’s no shootout come to playoff time.
The last two games, and I think we did both of those games, the three of us, Doc, Pierre and myself, we did both of those games at the United Center.
I think the one thing that was very evident in those two games is that you go back two games ago, the game was at a pace that the Blues wanted to play. The first ten minutes it wasn’t even close, like St. Louis had the Blackhawks on the run in the first ten minutes, if you can have a team on the run in the first ten minutes of a regular season game.
All of a sudden, Chicago started skating. They started picking their spots on when they were physical, and then it wasn’t even close for the last 50 minutes. I mean it was taking somebody out to the schoolyard and showing them how it’s done. It wasn’t even close in that game.
The last game they played was a little bit closer, but Chicago just played a much faster game than the Blues. I don’t think that you ask for any matchup when it gets to this time of the season; I really don’t, like you do match up well against other teams.
And you mentioned Colorado – the only reason Colorado won four of the five games against the Blackhawks was because their goalie was way better than the goaltending Chicago got in those games. If you don’t have it, you got no shot to win when it comes in the playoffs.
But you know, for me, this is the long series between the Blues and Blackhawks.
And Pierre, not many people are talking about this L.A./San Jose series, which might end up being the best one of them all. It’s two teams that love to have the puck. The Sharks probably have a higher end offense, where do you see this going other than being deep, you know, in a long series? Is it going to be the team that dominates the puck possession in that series?
Pierre McGuire: I think the team that dominates the puck and the team that stays out of trouble because you know the physical part of it is going to be there too. So the teams that can avoid the long-term injuries or guys getting really nicked up so it does affect their ability to have puck possession.
You know, it’s interesting. Daryl Sutter’s got four simple rules for his players; win the slot battles in our end, win the slot battles in our their end, win the board battles and don’t lose any races. If you do those four things for him, you get to play and you have the chance to win. That’s why they won the Cup in 2012.
It’s the same thing for San Jose. I think Todd McClellan, and Eddie and I like to talk about young coaches or even coaches in the league, Todd McClellan is one of the most overlooked coaches in the league. But he’s had an amazing record with the San Jose Sharks, he’s done a fantastic job there. And he’s surrounded himself with really good coaches, one of them being Larry Robinson who’s won a Stanley Cup as a head coach and is a former head coach of the Los Angeles Kings.
I think this series could be one of the best ones because there is a huge animosity level there. I know during the regular season San Jose did very well against Los Angeles.
But I think this one, as long as everybody can stay healthy, and I don’t know how easy that will be, this has a chance to be the best series. But puck possession will definitely matter; no question because you get to, as Eddie likes to say, you get to dictate the terms.
Eddie Olczyk: These two series in particular, Chicago/St. Louis, and moreso, I mean when you play against the Blues in a playoff series, I mean ask L.A. You play against the Blues in a seven-game series, it’s going to feel like nine.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that that series, San Jose and L.A., is going to feel like a nine-game series because both of these teams – both these series are so good, could a goalie get hot and could you see a team winning in four games? I don’t see that happening.
But I think in both these series, that’s the feeling that you get once you come out of those series. So if you can win it and if you can end it quickly, so like what we talked about a little bit earlier when Pierre was talking about the comparison between the West and the East, you play a seven game series when you’re talking about those teams, it’s going to feel like nine. And win know how hard it is to win.
So the less feeling, you know, the less that you can play, the more you’re going to have in the tank as you move forward through this unbelievable journey.
Chris McCloskey: All right, well thank you everybody for joining us today. Again, a replay and a transcript to this call will be available in a few hours. The replay number is 719-457-0820, passcode 262-1517. You can go to NBC Sports Group Pressbox Dot Com for a transcript.
Thank you everyone. Again, NBC Sports Group coverage of the NHL Playoffs begins Wednesday.