Rod Brind’Amour wasn’t happy with his squad after Wednesday’s exhibition against the Capitals. And if there’s one thing you can take to the bank, it’s that the Carolina Hurricanes head coach would have something to say about it in the two days prior to the first game of the Hurricanes’ qualifying-round series against the New York Rangers in Toronto on Saturday.
Just like last year, Brind’Amour pushed all the right buttons, starting Petr Mrazek when it seemed obvious James Reimer had the stronger game on Wednesday, slotting newcomer Sami Vatanen in next to Jaccob Slavin and trusting him with more than 20 minutes of ice time, and firing his team up to manufacture the momentum they needed to take a 1-0 series lead. Here’s what the coach had to say to the media following the 3-2 win.
On preparing for the game: We’ve all had a lot of time to prepare for this game. The lead up to it, so much of it, the guys were ready to play something for real. They haven’t had that opportunity in a long, long time, and they were ready to take advantage of it. I think the guys were really excited – and grateful, to be honest with you – to play for something. I thought we had a good game. We came out really strong.
On the start of the game: I was happy with the way we came ready to play, no doubt about it. For us, it’s playoff hockey. Call it what you want, but that’s the kind of way I expected the game to go. They had a physical game too, they were going at it with us toe to toe. It was definitely a physical and an emotional game, even without the crowd. The guys were into it. That’s the competitiveness of both teams. These guys are great athletes for a reason, and you could feel it out there.
On relief at getting the first goal early past the Rangers: That’s the way you want to draw it up if you could, obviously. I don’t think we put a lot of weight into the games in the regular season and things that have gone on in the past. But anytime you get a good start, and we got great goaltending. To get one early kind of settled the bench a little bit. It’s always better to play in front. It kind of settles you down and you don’t have to chase the game.
On Sebastian Aho’s performance: He’s an elite player, and I think he wants his time. He plays hard and how much more can you expect from him? I don’t know. I think he’s getting better and better. There are great athletes out here, but the ones that want to get better and work to get better are the ones that continually get better, and he’s one of them. We’ll see. I’d love to see him keep getting better, but he was pretty good out there.
On the difference between winning and losing Game 1: I thought it was a good game. We had a couple hiccups, and obviously at the end there, but overall I thought our game was pretty solid. Obviously I’d have to look at it again, but it felt like everybody was contributing. That’s all you can ask. We’ll put this one to bed, and it’s a whole new game (Monday), but you’d obviously rather have one in the bank than not.
On the play of Martin Necas: We weren’t 100% sure he was going to go. He hadn’t practiced but one time in the last two days, so I wasn’t 100% sure how that was going to work out. I think he was a little rusty early. We had a preseason game, so he had a real long layoff, and you could see it affected him a little bit in the first period. But he got better as we went along. Another one of these young kids who has a lot of talent, a lot of skill. Obviously it was a big goal for us. But he’s got the ability to be a difference maker, and he still has a lot of room to get better, and I think he will.
On Vatanen joining the lineup: He’s got big shoes to fill. Dougie being out is just a huge hole for us, and again, go back to why we got Sami to begin with, it’s because Dougie was out – a season ago, it seems like – but that was the reason, to help fill that void. I thought his game got better as we went along too. He’s been out a long, long time, but he’s pretty comfortable with how we play and I expect that to continue.