After a week off, the wait is over. The Hurricanes and Predators will begin their round one series at PNC Arena Monday night.
Jordan Staal, Brett Pesce and Rod Brind’Amour spoke to the media following Monday’s morning skate, here’s a full breakdown of everything they had to say:
On if Alex Nedeljkovic will start: He might be. We make that decision just based on tons of stuff. If he starts, it’ll be because he earned it, for sure. He’s been good, I think that’s been pretty clear. So he might be out there tonight.
On game-time decisions: [Jaccob Slavin] was the one, for sure. I don’t think [Cedric Paquette] will make it in, but [Slavin], we’re hopeful that he’ll make it in tonight. That’s the one guy.
On leaving his goalie decisions to the goalie coaches: [Paul Schonfelder]’s the goalie coach, we had [Jason Muzzatti] last year. I defer to those guys because that’s what they do. They’ve been goalies their whole life and they’ve studied it. They have the relationship with these guys, they work with them every day. So when they come to me and say this is probably the right guy, why would I second guess that? I don’t think there’s even been one time where I’ve said ‘Oh, I don’t think that’s the right move.’ So I rely on those guys and their opinion because they’re good at what they do.
On relying on players’ instincts for game-time decisions: That plays a lot to it. It’s always the player’s decision, where they’re at physically, and then mentally, that goes a big part of it. They might not be 100%, but a lot of guys are not 100% this time of year. But if you don’t think you can play, that’s a whole other hurdle. We’re hopeful [Slavin] can play, and if he feels he’s ready to go, he’ll be in there.
On the fact that the younger guys have had playoff runs at the lower level: That’s part of it. I think that stuff helps if you go long, if you’ve had the experience, because it just becomes a grind, mentally, physically. I don’t know how much it helps today or in the first round. Everybody’s juiced up and it’ll be intense for sure. I don’t know if experience really matters at this point. You’ve got to be at your best. Our young guys, the way I look at it, have been around a while, have had experience at this level. I think that helps a little bit. But I’m not sure how much it matters in this round.
On staying in the moment: I don’t know if it’s a problem. Guys are pretty good. They understand it’s always about your next shift, it’s always about staying in the moment, good or bad, whatever happens happens. We just keep moving forward. I don’t think that’s a problem with this group, at all, looking ahead. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just getting it done today. And then we’ll worry about tomorrow as it comes. That’s the way you have to approach the playoffs, for sure.
On the difference between a pre-game playoff locker room and the regular season: We try not to make it much different, to be honest. At the end of the day, I’ve asked our guys to come work hard every day. What changes now? Now you have more to give me? Then what were you holding out for all year? Nothing really changes. Obviously the other team, they’re going to come. Maybe they were holding out, but we weren’t. There’s nothing we have to do differently. Obviously the details discipline and all these things that we’ve preached all year become that much more magnified, but there’s nothing that we have to do different.
On if there’s more of an excitement: I think there will be when you walk out and there’s actually that big crowd, or just I’m anticipating that there will be a lot more emotion. That, I think, will be interesting. Because that’s what we’ve missed, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve had some good crowds, but nothing that we’re expecting. That emotion is what’s been missing in hockey and in all sports. It’s a big deal. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
On if there’s a special feeling to this playoffs: It doesn’t feel much different. Every playoff, like I said before, you feel like once you’re in you’re in and it’s playoff time. It’s obviously an opportunity in front of us. I’m very confident with our group is one thing that might be different. But every year, you’re pretty confident with your group when you make the playoffs. So it’s going to be playoff hockey. It’s an exciting time. It’s fun hockey to play. I’m sure us, fans and everyone else included is just excited to get going.
On having more funs: I know the guys are really excited about it. It’s going to feel great. There’s no better building when the Caniacs are going. I think we got a little bump in attendance, and it’s going to be that much louder. I’m very excited about it. It’s good to have some normalcy and some good hockey back.
On the three goalies and their relationship: They’ve all been professionals about it. I think all three of them have played really well at different times this season. Obviously right now we’re going to go with the guy that we think’s going to be the best for us, but just like anything, it’s a position you want depth in. Hopefully we won’t ever have to use all of them, but you never know what can happen. It’s a position that’s been strong for us all season, and that’s because those three guys have been good and been professionals about coming in, being ready and all those things that you need to do to be a pro. Kudos to them.
On the young guys having playoff experience at the lower levels: Playoff hockey is different. It’s definitely a lot more energy and every play gets magnified. It’s a lot more physical and all those things. I think our group is ready for it and all throughout the lineup, I think even the young guys look like they’re ready to go, so we’re ready to get going.
On setting the tone in game one: Game one and every one is always important. But setting the tone is always big. We talked about it all season, you want to have a good start, and that goes the same for a series. It’s a fun building to play in when the fans get going here and the energy’s flowing here and the guys are buzzing. That’s what we’re hoping for and we’ve got to show that tonight.
On if he still gets pre-game jitters before the playoffs: I think I get nervous, and I think it’s a good thing. I think it gets the body on alert. You’ve got to be ready to go. There’s definitely those jitters a little bit, but usually once that first puck drops, it all of the sudden just kind of goes away. Once you get going, it’s basically just the anxiety of just getting in the game. That’s what I think everyone in our room is just excited to get into it and get this thing started.
On how excited he is to getting back to playing in the playoffs: I’m definitely not going to take it for granted this time. With my injury last year, it was kind of tough sitting on the sidelines. But I’m just super excited and ready to go. I’ve been waiting for a long time for this, so I’m just excited for puck drop.
On playing in front of more fans: It’s awesome. I remember two years ago, not being able to hear yourself in those games at home. Obviously we feed off that. Every team does. But I think our fans are especially loud. It’s going to be awesome to play for them and have them around.
On the three goalies: I just see three goalies who could be number ones, honestly. We’re fortunate enough to have all of them on our team, and we’re looking to have a long cup run, so you’re going to need all of them to be ready to rock, and I know they will.
On the emotions of a playoff game: You just kind of go with the flow. Usually you’re kind of anxious and you’ve got those butterflies until puck drop, and then you simmer down. At the end of the day, it’s still a game of hockey and you’ve been doing it your whole life, so you’ve just got to go out and play.
On putting the regular season series behind them: I do think the layoff has helped. Obviously we had a week to kind of reset, so usually you don’t get that much time. So a full week kind of makes it feel like you kind of have a fresh season here, and that’s kind of what we have.