Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Tuesday, discussing his team’s come back in the series, preparing for Game 7, Tomas Plekanec’s role in the series, William Nylander’s big Game 6, and more.
Can you apply your experience in Game 7s as a coach and maybe hope for the best that it works for a victory tomorrow night?
Babcock: I think the first thing is it’s a real opportunity. Embrace being in them. I’ve been on both sides of it. Obviously, it’s a lot more fun when you win and you get to advance. Getting started on time is always important in Game 7. You want to come out loose and driving and ready to jump and get on top of the other team.
Our opportunity here is we’ve crawled our way back to be in this series. I think Boston is a real good team and we’re a real good team. It’s a best of one and I don’t think you can be in a better situation. It is going to be a lot of fun. The other thing about it is – we’ve talked a lot about this – you want to be players, you want to be coaches, and you want to be management that is known for getting it done. In order to do that, you’ve got to get it done. It should be a lot of fun. Let’s embrace it.
Do Game 7s – not to sensationalize it – feel a lot different to players and coaches? What makes them special?
Babcock: When you’re a kid outside playing road hockey, it’s the seventh game and you’re scoring the winning goal in overtime. That’s just the way it was your whole life. No one else in hockey is playing right now. They’re all stopping and watching. But I think just the opportunity is you get to go on. There is obviously a lot on the line that way. We’d like to play in the next round. Boston would like to play in the next round. Something has got to give. We’re excited for the opportunity. We’ll enjoy the rest of today and get ready tomorrow.
For the guys who haven’t been in a Game 7, what’s kind of the message to them?
Babcock: As the series goes on and the playoffs go on, the game is dummied down. What I mean by that is it’s just simplified. Simple plays, and spending as much time in the offensive zone as you possibly can, is what you want to do. Little things like winning faceoffs and taking care of the puck are so important. Execution in the d-zone and being heavy in the offensive zone. What we’re going to ask of each guy is to do their individual part. Know your job and do it. This might be boring to you, but it’s the facts. Do your job and we’ll be fine.
How well as Connor Brown been doing his job?
Babcock: I thought Brown Cow was unbelievable yesterday. He worked and competed. That’s the other thing you’re seeing in the playoffs: Skill is a wonderful thing, but if you put your work ethic first, your skill really comes out. I think that’s where you really see with the Bergeron line – it’s because of that. A guy like Brownie it shows with in the playoffs. With a guy like Hyman, it shows. If you’re competitive, it shows.
Do you sense that the team is playing looser, having won a couple of games?
Babcock: Oh, no. I don’t know if it’s looser or if it’s just called confidence. In the NHL, any time it’s not going your way, you’ve got to dig your way back. I think, because we had a foundation of confidence and we think we’re a good team, we were able to do that. Without that, you’d have just been done. I think that’s positive. In saying that, she’s a brand new slate. Here you go. The puck is going to get dropped. Who is going to execute early and get on top of the other team? I think that is one of the keys in Game 7 for me.
I think our guys… I don’t think, I know – we’re excited. It should be fun.
Does it come down to anything other than execution tomorrow night?
Babcock: Well, a little determination wouldn’t hurt and a little energy. The bottom line is, you’ve got to execute. You’ve got to make the plays. You’ve got to take care of the puck. When you get your opportunity on the power play, you want to make it count. Get your opportunity to bang it in? Bang it in. In front of your net? Be hard. Don’t let them bang pucks in. Pretty simple, actually. You’ve just got to do it.
Do you think back to the end of February, and the decision mades then…. What has it meant to have Plekanec as an option for you?
Babcock: Well, it’s done a lot for us, obviously. Now, if Naz hadn’t been hurt, we might not have done any of this stuff. Naz got hurt… well, not hurt – suspended. Naz got suspended, so then, we’ve gone this way and he’s done a real nice job. But Marner and Marleau have been as good of forwards as you can have in this series. You put Plek in there and they’ve done a nice job for us. They’ve got to do it again.
Now, we aren’t going to get last change. We’ll see what adjustments we make tonight to make that better for us. But he’s been real good. I think our veteran guys… you look at what Patty Marleau has done and Ron Hainsey’s done for us – those were unbelievable acquisitions by Lou this summer to improve our team. What is interesting is if you go through – we’re kind of like the same spot we were in last year in the first round, and yet our team is way better than last year. We’re still just in the first round though. To show that we’ve taken a step, we’d like to win it.
Is Komarov an option for tomorrow?
Babcock: I talked to Leo yesterday and I talked to him today. He’s now in a position where he can go. My big question is – it’s going fast out there and you haven’t played. I’ve got to make a decision and I’m sure I’ll have that done by tomorrow morning.
Do you have a thought on your old colleague Bill Peters on getting hired in Calgary?
Babcock: Well, they hired a real good coach. They’re lucky to have him, I can tell you that. High-end coach and knows what he’s doing. He knows how to talk to people. He gets the most out of people. His teams play right. They’re fortunate to have him.
Have you seen something different from Nylander playing with Kadri these last two games? Have you seen more from him?
Babcock: I thought Willy had his most competitive game last night. I thought Willy got his confidence back. He was forechecking. He was tracking. He was banging people. He was going to the net. That is good for us. It’s hard out there. There is no room. You’ve got to make your own room and compete for your own room. I thought he did that last night.
Last year’s series in Washington, it was pretty even. You guys were in that series right from the start. This series has been such a long series in terms of how the games have been played. What have you liked about what’s improved from your team from Game 1 all the way through to now?
Babcock: Well, we were no good. You look at it – we had a lot of players at the start that were good players for us that weren’t very good. They slapped us around. I thought our Game 2 was way better than the score, but that’s life. But, I mean, none of that really matters now. Here we are. Our guys are feeling good and we have an opportunity.
Are you concerned about Auston Matthews on faceoffs?
Babcock: No, but he lost a faceoff last night and they shot it in our net. That’s always a concern. We can do a better job at faceoffs all around. We have to. How you manage the faceoffs is important, too. Both the players sticks are supposed to go down and you’re supposed to stop for a second for it to go down. Sometimes people get away with that probably weren’t legal, like on that goal. But that’s part of the game. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, right?
How encouraged were you with Zaitsev’s play last night?
Babcock: I’m never in the pool that’s not a Zaitsev fan. That’s just people on the outside. We think he’s ultra-competitive. Some nights, it doesn’t go as good for the D. If they’re all over you, it’s hard to make plays. I thought Z did a real good job. The game before, on the first shift of the game in Boston, the puck was rimmed. It was a dirty rim. The guy was right on top of him. He took it off the wall and popped it in the middle. That just sends a message to the whole team, “Hey, we’re fine here.” So, relax. It’s important for our D to execute. Obviously, he’s a big part of things.