Predictions are being made, teams are taking to the ice and a few notable names in the Stanley Cup race took the time Monday afternoon to speak with the media. Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, New York Rangers forward Brad Richards, Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom participated in a conference call moderated by NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire.
The Bruins will be facing off against the Capitals, Rangers take on the Senators and the Red Wings will match up with the Predators. For the players, it’s no longer about past successes or failures.
“You’re starting from scratch again, trying to get up that mountain again. You can’t get too far ahead. Just focus on that first round,” commented Lidstrom.
Lidstrom is no rookie when it comes to the playoffs. Despite being the favorable choice to win a series in the past; the Wings head to Nashville as the underdogs, a change that the 41 year old veteran isn’t too worried about.
“We don’t mind being the underdog, we’re looking forward to the challenge”.
Being the underdog going into a series is one thing, going into a series after a rocky regular season against a team is another concern. The Rangers lost 3 out of the 4 regular season match ups with the Senators, but the Rangers are obviously looking for a different outcome,
“We plan on making it different for them when we start on Thursday” commented Richards.
No matter how you slice the ice, the teams that have made the cut will head into the first round with the same knowledge. It isn’t going to be easy.
While the five men on the ice during a shift are important, it’s the sixth man between the pipes that holds an undeniable amount of pressure at any given moment. Teammates and fans alike will rely on the talent and excellence of their goalie. Canucks Kesler has obvious faith in Roberto Luongo, the goalie that brought them to a Game 7 last season. Lidstrom sounded secure in Jimmy Howard after his overall successful performance for the Wings this season, and of course Bruins faithful will rely on the ability of Tim Thomas and his often “impossible” saves — saves that can be credited to bringing the Cup to Boston close to a year ago.
The health of a team is a major factor in the overall long term playoff success. Bergeron credits the healthy roster for the teams cup win last season, while Lidstrom gives a healthy roster a 100% importance rating.
“I’d rank it the most important thing to go deep into the playoffs, I think health is the most important thing to go all the way.”
The teams in Cup contention certainly have a few members on the injury reports. For the Capitals it’s goaltender Neuvirth, the Canucks are missing a twin in Daniel Sedin (although according to reports and Kesler himself, Sedin practiced with the team today), and Bruins have played the majority of the season without their offensive powerhouse Horton.
The race for the Cup begins on Wednesday, the fans are ready and from the sounds of it so are the players that they religiously cheer for. In Vancouver, the fans are looking for a triumph after the devastating game 7 loss last season. For the Canucks players themselves, the experience only lends fuel to the fire that has won them the Presidents Trophy and hopefully the Stanley Cup this season.
“We know what it takes, we’re amped up and we’re ready to go,” said a determined Kesler.
By now, NHL fans know that Boston eliminated Vancouver’s flame and sent the city into a tailspin last year after a tough series. Bruins assistant captain Bergeron has the most recent familiarity with winning hockey’s holy grail.
“It was a battle, it was a grind, we’re ready to start that all over again. Back to square one… I think it’s pretty much the same as last year”.
For Bruins nation, the hope is that yet again the Cup will be hoisted the highest it’s ever been, over the Captain Zdeno Chara. Although, Boston and Vancouver are the most recent teams to battle in the finals, this years first round match ups are all looking to shed the blood, sweat, tears and determination that it takes to win. Some players have already won it, and others are looking for the taste of glory that can only come from the most prestigious trophy in sports.
Sharpen your skates ladies and gentlemen, the quest for the Cup is upon us.