The regular season is done, as the Canes beat the Devils 6-3 Thursday night in game 82.
It was a historic season for the Hurricanes, who set a franchise record for wins and points while also winning the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against for the first time in franchise history.
Thursday night, it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi who led the way with the first three-point game of his career in his return to the ice after a two-week absence. Joining Kotkaniemi in the scoring was Ethan Bear, Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen, Steven Lorentz and Jordan Martinook.
Following the win, head coach Rod Brind’Amour, Martinook, Lorentz and Kotkaniemi spoke with members of the media.
Here is what they had to say:
On this game going as well as it could have: Yup. In those type of games you are certainly not wanting to have an injury. So, I think we avoided that. It’s nice to get the win, too. It’s nice for the people who came to watch the game.
On the Jennings Trophy: It’s definitely a team award. Obviously you’ve got to have good goalies to have a good team. It’s a good little capper to the season. Good commitment from the group. We talked about this morning that this year to this point has been really special for a lot of reasons. That’s another one. Now after I finish talking to you guys, we’re on to the next page.
On if there’s a sense of satisfaction with all they’ve accomplished in the regular season, even if they have to put it aside: For sure. I wish you got rewarded more for the 82 games. If you really think about it, that’s a grind. To do it the way our group did it is pretty special. Unfortunately, how much do you really want to enjoy it? We want to get to that next phase, and that starts next week. To put a little capper on it, I think it’s been a real special year. We didn’t really have any down time. We had a few games where it didn’t go our way, but there were no stretches where it was bad. We just didn’t get some wins. The guys have been real special that way this year.
On what he’s been most proud of: That. Just the consistent effort that they bring every day. It’s hard to play at this top level. The league is so good. To be able to look back and go ‘man, that’s a pretty darn good record, and we did it the right way’. It’s been a special regular season. Having said that, as soon as I walk out of here nobody is going to care starting tomorrow. So let’s enjoy this. Let’s be happy we had a good season and enjoy that, and when I see you guys the next day we can park it.
On if his approach changes this year with all the experience: There’s one way to do things. I don’t think we’re going to change anything. I think you learn from your past, and for sure these guys who have been here before that’s what’s driven them all year. So does it transfer into the playoffs and how we play? I don’t know. I know that it’s the fuel that is certainly there. Does it make the difference? We’ll find out.
On the veterans they brought in and on this being why they brought them in: For sure. Anybody you bring into your organization is to win the whole thing. So you envision the player and how does he fit in to help us this time of year. That should translate to the regular season, which it has. You guys know these guys. You’ve watched them. They come. They work. They’re good guys. It’s a fun group to be around, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
On the next few days: We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see who we play, but a little bit of rest for sure. We’ve had some good rest in the terms of we haven’t practiced, but mentally to take a day here and refocus. Then we’ll reconvene and get ready for the next phase.
On the depth players giving him some tough lineup decisions: Definitely. We’ve had tough decisions all year when we were healthy. Hopefully we’ll have those again.
On his first impressions of Seth Jarvis and on what he thinks about him now: Our first impressions were, I don’t want to say wow factor, but it was ‘this kid is not a kid.’ There was something more there than I guess what we thought. We didn’t pencil him in, and then when we first see him compete with our guys at this level you’re like ‘wait a minute, there’s something there. Let’s not push him aside here. Let’s make sure we give him a chance.’ We did, and he earned his spot here. I think that’s been a pretty smart decision.
On this game going as well as it could have: Yeah, healthy. I think everybody’s healthy. End the regular season on a high note, that’s six in a row or five in a row. It doesn’t really matter now. It all lies ahead. I don’t know who it is yet and it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be about us getting ready to start the next journey.
On Kotkaniemi’s return to the ice: That’s a nice way to get back in when you have two in your first three shifts or something. He was good. He didn’t miss a beat. It was good to click with those two. KK was great. Necas was skating. It was a great night.
On putting the success of this season into perspective: I think if you want to put it in perspective, I got here four years ago and the goal was to be relevant again. Just to see year after year the change of expectations and what is wanted and expected out of this group is probably the biggest thing that I could put into words for year. The first year we made the playoffs, and it was like the sky was falling. The next year it was ‘ok, now we’re not going to be seventh or eighth, we’re going to be second or third.’ Now it’s we demand to be the best. Moving forward, we’ve put ourselves in a good position with home ice. Now we’ve got to prove what kind of team we are.
On how he has evolved during that time: I became a father. I guess that’s probably one thing. I was kind of like the joker. I still joke around and have fun, but now it’s like [Seth Jarvis] coming up and even [Pyotr Kochetkov], once you have a kid it’s kind of like you’re a father figure a little bit. I think I’m a better leader being here. There’s lots of good guys to follow and learn from.
On Jarvis’ rookie season: When you first see him, you know he’s a special player. When he’s got the puck, some of the stuff he does is pretty remarkable for your first year in the NHL. I remember my first year. You’re just trying to stay in it. He’s flourished. I think him and [Sebastian Aho] have been incredible together. You can just see the confidence grow and grow with Jarvis. He’s a fun guy to be around. It’s easy with him.
On Raanta back in the net and his season as a whole: I was there in Arizona when he was playing incredible too, and I know what he had in him. To see what he did this year, and obviously he battled a bit of injuries here and there. It’s nice knowing you’ve got two, Freddie was unbelievable, and Raanta when he was in there was solid. I guess we won the Jennings, so to have those two and the testament of our team defense. Those two holding down the fort back there has been nice to have. And obviously [Kochetkov] the last three has been great as well.
On heading into the playoffs playing well: I still think there has to be more. Once Monday hits, it goes from here to here. The jump is pretty substantial. I think we’re playing well, but obviously everybody can give a little more. That’s what you need for the playoffs, and I have all the trust in the world that everyone in this room is going to juice up even more. We’ll be ready to rock.
On how his approach to the playoffs has changed with his experience: You get a new energy. I don’t know how to describe it. Once you know what’s coming and once you’ve played in playoff hockey games, it’s indescribable. I tell people when they ask me about it that it’s nuts. To have those competitive juices come through you and the fans here, the fans everywhere but especially our fans, it just energizes you. It’s hard to put into words what it means. But it’s a special time of year, and I love it. I’m very excited.
On if he’ll lobby for some more top-line minutes: I’m not sure about that. I just go where I’m told. Obviously when you’re playing with two unbelievably skilled guys like Jarvis and [Aho], you’ve just got to go to the net and good things happen. I just came into tonight with the mentality that I wasn’t going to change my game, and I was gonna go do the work and let those guys’ skill take over. I’m fortunate enough that we had a bunch of chances, and Jarvis found me at the back in the third period there. That one felt good. It’s been a little while since I’ve been on the scoresheet. But I think this time of year going into the playoffs, I think we’re taking a step in the right direction. We’ve got another step to take come playoff time. It’s only natural come game one that guys have that little bit extra edge and extra juice to take our game to the next level. We’re obviously very excited, and it’s a very exciting time to be a fan, a player, a coach. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
On trending in the right direction: It’s a long season. There’s been some highs and lows. Obviously we got off to a great start, and then along the way things are going to happen. It’s nice that we’re going into the playoffs winning some games and playing some good hockey. That’s what it takes. As proud as we are of our regular season and what we’ve accomplished, that kind of goes out the window come game one. Everything we’ve done and worked for the entire season, this is the show now. This is where guys make their bread. This is where guys step up. Who wants to be the hero? It’s not individuals that play the game, but there’s guys who are going to step up. Come playoff time, there’s always guys up and down the lineup that get a big goal here or there or a big shift that can turn the momentum. I think whatever 20 guys are in the lineup are going to bring their best every night, and every guy is going to be itching to play and get the crowd engaged.
On his first experience with a normal 82-game season: I mean, hockey is hockey. We can’t control what happened with last year’s shortened season. And playoffs are playoffs. Come game one last year, I still remember and will never forget coming out to ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ with the fans for the playoffs. It was the coolest thing I can remember. It was special to be able to feel that energy in the building and say ‘wow, this is the NHL playoffs. This is the first step in going towards that Stanley Cup.’ It kind of helps that I got that experience last year and know what to expect. But it’s the best time of the year and everybody’s got to raise their game. We’re all looking forward to the challenge, and we’re all excited.
On if his approach changes now that he knows what to expect: Yes and no. I know my game. I’m confident in my game. Whenever I’m called upon I’m just going to go in and try to do that and create energy and make those plays. Everybody knows what they’ve got to bring to the table, and it does help having a few games last season to know that with that intensity you can’t really take a shift off. Like I said, it’s the best time of the year. When the emotions are flying like that it’s almost hard to not have your legs for a game because there’s so much energy in the building and the juices are flowing.
On his good night in his return: Yeah, we’ll get lucky. Some key bounces there. Getting a couple points early sure helps with the confidence and getting back. So yeah, it was a good game.
On how he felt physically: Yeah, it was actually easier than I thought to get back in the pace. I think those couple games helped before in Colorado. I think it was good.
On the playoffs coming up: Yeah, it’s getting closer. I can’t wait. I’ve seen the videos of what the playoffs are like here, so I can’t wait until Monday or Tuesday.
On his impression of what the playoffs are like here: It was pretty incredible to see all of the towels and stuff in the stands. The boys always get so excited to see those. I think it’s just awesome. I just want to get the crowd going early in the playoffs. That’s a big thing.
On Raanta, Andersen and the Jennings Trophy: It was good to see him in there tonight. He did a great job. We know he’s ready to go with the playoffs next week. It’s good to have goalies ready. The trophy for them says a lot about them. Two great goalies, or actually three now, and they’ve been doing a great job all year.