Mike Babcock addressed the media on Friday, discussing the team’s do-or-die situation in Game 5 on Saturday, Nazem Kadri’s return, Tomas Plekanec’s play and return to the fourth line, the pressure on the team for this year’s playoff run, and much more.
What’s the belief in the team that you see with the guys?
Babcock: We talked about that here today. The bottom line is… I don’t know how many of you saw this, but last night out there in Maple Leaf Square, they put that on TV. I talked about the national anthem and then last night. To me, if you’re these players — if you’re us — and you’ve seen that, you want to see it again. The only way we can see it again is if we win. We’ve got to win to play.
We’ve got to dig in. We’ve got to compete harder. We’ve got to play better. I thought we did tons of good things last night. We didn’t give up very much. We made mistakes on a couple of 2-on-1s and it didn’t go our way. But dig in and make it go your way. I think you’ve got to enjoy part of the duress at this time of year and embrace it.
Nazem Kadri, having missed three games, can he make an impact right away?
Babcock: Obviously, he’s a good player. It’s unfortunate for him that he missed three games, but the way I look at it, on a team, you’ve got to be able to pick each other up. We weren’t able to do that, but he comes back. He’ll make us deeper. We’re excited to have him back. Plus, he’ll have good energy to him. That’s important going back to Boston.
Last year was a year when no one expected the team to make the playoffs. Do you feel that maybe last year the guys were playing on sort of a house-money, nothing-to-lose attitude, whereas this year they feel some pressure to accomplish something?
Babcock: I think for sure. I think this is real. When you become a team, you feel this every single Spring. You’ve got to learn to embrace it and enjoy it. You’re supposed to… pressure means you have a chance. No pressure means you have on chance. If you go to the Olympic Games and you have no chance for a medal, there is no pressure. Do you want to be that person, or do you want to be under the gun? I want to be under the gun. We want to build our program so big that we’re under the gun and we’re supposed to win.
Like I said, I talked about those fans. We have an unbelievable fan base. They expect us to be good. We want to be good. Let’s be good.
You’ve presumably watched the game again. Auston’s line has gotten zone time in the series and had zone time last night. But what hasn’t kind of worked for them from a results standpoint?
Babcock: I think the biggest thing is, when it’s not going good, you’ve got to simplify your game. The first thing is, when you’re a good player and you’re used to having the puck all the time, how do you get it? You play better defense so you get it faster. The second thing is, you’ve got to compete harder in all of your one-on-one battles. And then to score at playoff time, you’ve got to be at the net. It is real simple. You’ve got to be at the net to generate chances.
Both teams are doing the same thing. Most shifts last night were 50-50. Nothing much happened. They got a couple of breaks on 2-on-1s and scored. But if you go through the whole game, they didn’t get much. But they got enough to win. That’s got to be the same approach [for us].
The other thing about it: When you’re on a good team, I think it’s focus on the guys like Auston and Willy and stuff like that. To me, it’s just anybody who goes to the net can find a way to score. It doesn’t matter who scores. It matters whether you have success at the end of the day. Just do your individual part, make sure you’re loose and driving — you can’t play the game all tight — and get out there and play.
Was there too much last night on the periphery?
Babcock: We went through everything here today and we pointed out that we feel there is some opportunity to get inside more. We had chances. We didn’t score. Maybe one of the best chances was when Hyman had that rebound after the tip on the shoulder rolled down. It was an unbelievable chance. But we didn’t finish on it.
On our 2-on-1s and our breakaway, or our two 2-on-1s, we didn’t finish. They did. When you get your chance at playoff time — you’re only getting a few a night; you’re probably getting 10 — you’ve got to bury them. That’s just the way it is.
It doesn’t sound like there will be any radical line changes or any big change in strategy?
Babcock: The beauty about this is I still have lots of time. That’s why we cancelled practice, so I didn’t have to make any decisions. No, the reality is we’ll go through all of that again and we’ll set ourselves up for success.
When you look at our lines last night — up front, anyway — our best line was Plek’s group and then our fourth line. Those were our two best lines last night. They generated the most for us. When you look at that, you’ve got to keep that in mind, too, as you go into Boston.
It’s like anything. The rest of the day here, as we prepare, relax. Skate in the morning and relax. You’re going to be ready at game time tomorrow. She’s on the line and you have to embrace the duress of the situation and the opportunity. Like I said, we want to play in front of those fans again.
If Tomas Plekanec ends up moving back down the lines with Kadri returning, do you feel he can continue at the level he’s been at the last couple games?
Babcock: I actually asked him that. I asked him that same question. I said, “I don’t know what i’m doing. If I do this… You finally found your game as a Leaf. We need you to be that good.”
I think he’s feeling good about himself. It doesn’t seem to matter on our group of four. You’ve got good wingers to play with. I don’t think Kap and Johnny… I mean, they’re good players.
Sherry Bassin used to say, “There is no pressure. It is a privilege.”
Babcock: That’s what I think I was trying to say, and there is a bunch of different ways to say it, but you want to be good. You want to be under the gun, and you want to be under the gun for every spring for a long period of time — because you have a chance. When you learn how to handle it, you have a chance to win. When you let it get in your way, that’s on us.