The Carolina Hurricanes hit the practice ice for the first and last time between their first-round and second-round series on Saturday in preparation for a date with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
There was one minor scare, though, as Nino Niederreiter left practice early with an apparent injury.
Rod Brind’Amour, Jordan Staal, and Alex Nedeljkovic spoke to the media via Zoom after practice, fielding questions about the status of a couple of players, their second-round matchup, how things might change in round two, and the return of an MVP player to Tampa Bay’s lineup.
On Cedric Paquette’s availability and Nino Niederreiter’s status after leaving practice early: Cedric’s been available the whole time. And Nino, I don’t know. He did a little something. I’m not sure how serious it is, but I don’t think it’s an issue.
On if he’s more or less confident in going up against a team that might lead to things being more wide-open: I think however it’s going to work out, we’re fine with it. I look back at our games against Tampa, there wasn’t a lot of room. It was low-scoring, low shots. We had more against Nashville. I think it might be tighter in this series than the other series because of how they defend. They have high power, so we have to try to defend them and shut them down. That’s going to be the key. If they get rush opportunities, it’s going to look a lot different. We have to make sure we don’t give up a lot of those.
On if he’s seen improvement in Alex Nedeljkovic along the course of the season: I don’t know if I saw any improvement. He’s been that way for a long time. I just don’t think we thought he’d take that step with being consistent and looking the part. He looks like he fits right in this role. We’ve had high expectations since we got him in the organization.
On Tampa Bay getting Nikita Kucherov back for the playoffs: That’s the X-factor there. He’s one of the most talented players and he’s probably the freshest guy in the league. When you add in both factors, that doesn’t bode well, but that’s part of it. That’s a huge weapon for them that they haven’t had and it’s something we’re going to have to be aware of.
On if Paquette being a former Lightning adds any value in playing him: Not because it’s the team he played for. You want to get him in because I know he’s effective, but who do you take out? At this point, we’re playing pretty well. I like how the group’s going. Right now he’s the odd-man-out. There’s a good chance he’ll get in here. Very rarely do you go through a couple of series without guys getting knicked up. He’s ready to go if we need him.
On the weird in-between feeling now that the emotion is down and how they have to ratchet it back up for the next series: It’s what we’re feeling right now. I’ll be honest. That’s exactly what’s happening. You’re ratcheting it up with all that tension and stress and everything. Then you let it all out and that’s where we’re at right now and then we’ll have to do it again. I can feel it. I felt it today with the guys. We have to get ready to do it again, and we will. I didn’t want it today. I didn’t need to see it out there today. That’s certainly not the time, but in order to win these series, you have to get that emotional and physical energy.
On if the team will focus on attacking certain Tampa defenders over others: You can say all of that, but that gets you out of what you’re trying to do. We know they’re elite on the left side, but they’re not bad on the right side either. To sit there and build a game plan around that gets you away from what you’re doing. We know they’re a great team with zero weaknesses. You don’t win a Stanley Cup without being the best at everything. They have everything covered off. That’s the big challenge, but we’re ready for it.
On the importance of being fully healthy going into round two: You have to be at full strength to have a chance. You saw the difference between us being healthy and not healthy, and that was just one player. It’s a big deal. To win a playoff series, you gotta have your team to give yourself the best chance. That means you have to be healthy.
On if he expects the second round style of play to be different than the first round: I think our team takes pride in finding different ways to win. (Tampa) is a team that is very dangerous on the rush and on turnovers and quick transition. It’ll be a different style for sure, but I think our group is able to adapt, and hopefully, we will in this series as well.
On if he looks forward to the style of play changing: I don’t know if it really matters. They play tough and have guys who are very physical and they’re a group that’s tough to play against. It won’t be a cakewalk going up and down the ice. It’s going to be another tough series with regards to physicality and all that stuff. I don’t think it really matters. We’re just trying to win games.
On Tampa having Kucherov back: He’s an elite player. Just like any elite player, you try to take away his time and space as much as you can. Our group has to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box, because they have a very good power play as well. A player like that, it’s all time and space and not creating turnovers and making him play defense. That’s what we’ll try to focus on against that top line. We’ll do the best we can.
On Nedeljkovic’s first-round performance: He looked calm and comfortable. He’s got a lot of gamer attitude in making those big saves when you need them. He’s consistently played the puck well for our D and our forwards and helped us break it a lot, too. He’s done a lot of the little things that have helped us win. The boys feel comfortable with him in the net, and that’s what you want. He’s been really good for us.
On is getting Svechnikov going is a key for the series: We need everybody. That’s one of Roddy’s lines all season, we need everyone if we want to win. (Svechnikov) is no different. He’s getting chances and playing well. He’s an elite player and when the puck starts going in for him, look out. He’s one shot away from really helping the squad. He does a lot of little things throughout the game that help us throughout the game anyway, but he’s a guy who wants to score goals and I’m sure they’ll start going in very soon.
On if his game changes when he knows he has to face such a dangerous top line: I don’t really change much. When the puck’s going in, it’s going in. If it’s not, you still want to play well defensively. In the playoffs, you step into a game wanting to give them nothing. That’s the ultimate goal and when you do that you give yourself the best chance to win. That’s your number one focus, and we have a group of guys with a lot of great skill and have the capability to put the puck in the net, and those chances will come. Against a highly dangerous team like, that has to be the focus and that’s no different for myself.
On how the style of play will change from Nashville to Tampa Bay: They have a lot of high-end skill and their power play is clicking pretty good right now. If you watch that first-round series against Florida, the biggest thing is that everyone’s doing the same thing - playing hard and playing physical. It’s not just the third and fourth line, who are really good at it. They can get down and grind you and wear you down. The first two lines are doing the same exact thing. They’re getting pucks deep behind the defensemen and hitting guys and creating separation. They create their own space through that physical play. They’re passing through you as well, but they’re working hard as well.
On if he ever thinks about his opposing goalie and how this series will be Andrei Vasilevskiy: No, it doesn’t matter who we play or who is in the other net. At the end of the day, he has nothing to do with what I do in the middle of a game and vice versa. What I do has no effect on what he should be doing. That’s what you tell yourself. Obviously, he’ll make timely saves. He’s one of the best in the league and he has been for a long time now. He knows what it takes to get to the end. You just have to worry about yourself. For me, that’s what it’s always going to be. Just focus on what I can control and that’s playing my game and worrying about stopping pucks.
On if the team’s approach changes at all from one series to the next: There’s nothing changed. That’s our entire game plan. What Roddy says before every game - before the last series, before game five and game six. It doesn’t matter if it’s game one of the season, game 24, or game seven of a series. The way we play should be consistent across the board. It doesn’t matter what game it is or who we play. That’s what's going to make us successful is playing our game. It’s playoff hockey and it’s in our DNA now.
On if anything is different for him now that he’s playing in the NHL postseason: It’s no different than any position I’ve been in. There are more people in the buildings now, so it’s a bigger audience. More cameras in your face, so to speak. In the American League going through the Calder Cup playoffs, you had to have the same mentality. Take it one game at a time, one day at a time. There’s going to be ups and downs. We got up 2-0 there really quick, and just as quick it goes back to 2-2. We played four straight overtime games. The puck takes a weird bounce those last two, and we could be having a completely different conversation right now. You have to stay as even keel as possible. Ride the highs, get out of the lows as quick as you can because they’re going to be there. It’s just trying to avoid them as best you can and keep them as small as you can.
On Tampa getting Kucherov back: He’s a high-end player. He’s one of the best players in the league and in the world at his position. It’ll be a challenge to stop him and stay ahead of him. We look at the video, but the biggest thing is to try to react to him and be as patient as possible. He’s going to throw different things at you, that power play has a lot of weapons on it. It’s trying to react and be ready for anything. You don’t want to overthink it too much, though, and start anticipating or guessing what’s going to happen, because he’s got you beat. Things happen so fast. If you’re a split-second behind, the puck’s in the net. Just try to keep a clear head the best you can and react as quickly as possible.
On how he handles his mentality during the course of a game and a postseason: It’s the same way you handle everything else. You take it one game at a time. During the game, you take it one period at a time and one shot at a time. You try to look at it like that. For me, focusing on that next puck, trying to make that next save. Then you move onto the next one after that. And the next one after that. During TV timeouts, take a deep break, get some Gatorade, get some water, clear your head again, focus on the next puck. You get an intermission, do whatever you have to do, clear your head again, go back out and rinse and repeat. You’re just doing the same thing over and over again. I feel like I’ve found something that works for me and it’s brought me success