After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the mood and mindset of his team after a blowout Game 4 loss in Tampa Bay and the benefits of returning to home ice for Game 5.
How is the mood of the group one day after the Game 4 loss?
Keefe: The mood is great. The guys are excited.
Did you get a chance to look at the film and identify what needs to be worked on from last night?
Keefe: For sure there is. There is in every game. Certainly, last night, there were things we know we can execute on better in different spots. We are getting to a point in the series now where both teams know what to expect. It is about going out and executing.
Has there been an emphasis on rest with some of the travel that is going on here?
Keefe: For sure. A day like today is very much a recovery day. We got in quite late last night. Again, you are at the point in the series now where it has taken a lot out of the guys.
A recovery day is important. Each game now going forward is of extreme importance and is going to require even more focus, energy, and all of those kinds of things.
How important is it to have the last change in the matchups?
Keefe: I think it is important for sure. There are some things there that will help us for sure. Now, the depth they have both on defense and on forward mitigates some of that because they have their depth lines — or their second, third, fourth lines — that have given them really good minutes and have been a handful for us at different times in the series.
When they are on the road, they tend to move their D around a lot. Those kinds of things are at play. The biggest thing for us, really, is being on home ice and coming home to our crowd tomorrow. We will be excited to play in a big hockey game, and obviously, it’s one where we need a good response.
How do you get to a point where special teams are less of a factor in the game?
Keefe: Special teams are always going to be a factor. In our games in the series — and it seems across the league — there have been a lot of power plays and penalty kills. Even if there is not, each one becomes that much more important to take advantage of, whether it is getting the kill or scoring.
Last night, we took some penalties that we didn’t like. For the most part, most of them came when it was already 4-0 and pretty much out of hand. It is important to do what you can. You have to adjust to the officiating.
We know exactly what to expect at this point in terms of how things have been called. We just have to continue to not give them reasons to call penalties on us.
How do you make sure that the magnitude of this moment, knowing what has happened in the past, does not affect this opportunity in front of you tomorrow?
Keefe: I think it is simply focusing on what we can control, which is to be excited about a chance to compete tomorrow. That is the vibe I am getting from our team. To me, no matter how you lose the game last night, you lose the game. In playoffs, you have to wash that and get ready for the next one.
We have responded well when we have lost previously. We lost in tough fashion on home ice and went out on the road at a time where you could say it is a big game at that point in time. You need a response. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to lose two on the road when you have already lost one on home ice.
That was a huge win for us at a key time. You go into the game, and you are wanting to rise to the occasion. All of a sudden, before you know it, you are up 3-0, and you are feeling pretty good about what you have done there.
I think there is enough there for our team — focusing on this season in the here and now — to have a tremendous amount of belief in our team. Most importantly, they are just excited about a chance to compete against a very good and challenging opponent. We think our guys will respond tomorrow.
You were talking about the positivity going forward. Where does that come from right now?
Keefe: We have been a really good team all year. Any time that we have been challenged, whether it is in the regular season or even in this playoff series, we have responded very well.
This series itself and the opponent itself was a challenge coming in. We had a tremendous Game 1 and established ourselves in the series. All the way through it, our team has responded well. Because of that, we have great belief.
It doesn’t change the opponent and the challenge that we have ahead, but we certainly are not fazed by last night. We believe in our group and are excited to play the remainder of the series here starting tomorrow.
The phrase “starting on time” gets thrown around all the time. As the series has gone on, though, it seems like the team that does score first doesn’t lose it. Do you emphasize that even more knowing that?
Keefe: I don’t know if we can emphasize it any more than we have through the four games now. Obviously, it is important. At the same time, you want to stay focused.
It is one thing for us to go down 1-0. It is another to let it snowball. You can come back from 1-0. Neither team has been able to do that at this point. I don’t know what you could attribute it to.
It is a bit of an anomaly, I would say, but if you look around the league, it seems like that is how a lot of the games have gone in terms of how they are bouncing back and forth. It has been a funny year that way in terms of goal scoring.
Just focusing on tomorrow for us, we do, of course, want to get out to a great start and build out from there. Regardless, no matter what is going on in the game, we have to stay focused and not get distracted shift to shift.
Have you made up your mind on any lineup changes for tomorrow?
Keefe: I haven’t made any decisions here on the lineup. We have some time today and into tomorrow. We will use that and make our decisions then.
With the way the series has been called, does it make it difficult to go back to Wayne Simmonds and/or Kyle Clifford on the fourth line?
Keefe: I don’t think it’s necessarily the way that it has been called. I know Simmer got into some penalties there a little bit, but generally speaking, it is not the physicality that has been called. It is the hooks, the trips, the high sticks, the slashing — those kinds of things — that have been called at this point.
I don’t think that really comes into play. We have to make some decisions based on what we think is the best group to help us win the game.
How is Rasmus Sandin progressing? Is he close to being an option?
Keefe: He is close. I would say he is healthy. He is available at this point. Obviously, his workload in practice and those kinds of things are not up to the level required to drop into this series. But he is certainly an option for us in the event that we require additional depth.