‘Eff You, This Is Mine’: A Second-Round Preview

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Ryan Whitney, Retired / NHL - The Players' Tribune
Mike Rupp, Retired / NHL - The Players' Tribune

In case you missed Round 1, this is not your typical NHL Playoff Preview. This is two guys sitting around talking about hockey, and occasionally about random nonsense. Viewer discretion is advised.

Rupp
Welcome back, Whitter. Got time for a quick story from the glory days?

Whitney
Let’s hear it.

Rupp
It’s the day before Game 1 of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals. I’m a rookie on the New Jersey Devils. We’re playing the Anaheim Ducks. So in the morning, we come in for our big team meeting, and there’s nothing on the dry-erase board. Usually there’s all kinds of stuff written in blue marker — your defensive assignments, the other team’s tendencies, how you’re going to attack them. But we walk in, and there’s nothing written down. There’s just a little piece of paper taped to the board.

Everyone sits down and looks at one another like, The heck is going on?

Pat Burns was our coach. So he goes through the normal meeting, and as he’s wrapping up, he points to the board and says, “I want all of you to read this before you leave this room. If this doesn’t piss you off …”

Then he walks out.

So everybody walks up to the board. Pat had drawn big red arrows all over the paper, circling this one quote from Dan Bylsma, who played for Anaheim at the time.

We had just played Ottawa in a Game 7, so Anaheim had been waiting around to see who they were going to play in the finals. A reporter had asked Bylsma which team he would rather face. And his answer was right there, circled with 30 red arrows.

He said something like, I’d rather play New Jersey, because nothing would feel better than shaking Scott Stevens’s hand after we beat them for a Stanley Cup.

Guys went freaking nuts.

Whitney
Hahahaha. Oh, no.

Rupp
For the people at home who might not know the context here: Scott Stevens’s nickname in the locker room was “Dad.” Everyone called him Dad. Even if you were a vet, you called him Dad.

Who knows what Bylsma even meant by the quote. It didn’t matter. We had our motivation. It felt like someone had insulted our real dads.

Whitney
That extra motivation really does matter. I can’t even imagine what guys are looking at now, with Twitter and blogs.

Rupp
These playoff series are so grueling. These teams all need something to bring everyone together. My point is this: We could sit here and go through position-by-position breakdowns. Who has the edge at goalie? I’ve done it all week long in different interviews. But the truth is, that stuff is always in flux. Certain goalies get hot, certain teams get pissed, certain motivation gets them over the top. Just look at St. Louis finally slaying Chicago. Just look at what Logan Couture said about the Kings players after San Jose stunned L.A.

Whitney
So if you didn’t learn this in the round 1 preview, let’s just say it again: This isn’t your typical breakdown. This is me and Rupper sitting around the campfire. Let’s do it.

*

Burns Top Pull

Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks

 

Whitney
Shea Weber vs. Brent Burns. Oh, my God. Are you kidding me? This is a battle of two monsters. I can’t wait. As a former defenseman, this is going to be so fun to watch. They’re both dominant in different ways. Weber is the strongest guy in the NHL. He’s got the hardest shot in the world. And above all else, he’s a prick to play against every single night. That’s what you want in a defenseman.

Burns is a little more dynamic. It’s been interesting to watch his progression going from defense to forward and back to defense, because he’s almost like a hybrid now. You’ll see him jump in the play and be camped down below the goal line grinding away, and then they’ll lose the puck and Burns will be the first guy back on D. His speed is a little underrated. After watching the L.A. series, I think Brent Burns is one of the top-five defensemen in the NHL right now. 

Rupp
What I love about these two teams is that their top defensive pairings are perfect compliments. Everyone is going to talk about Weber vs. Burns. But look out for their partners, Roman Josi and Paul Martin.

Josi … Oh, my gosh. This guy can take the puck from behind his net and carry it the length of the ice every single time. There’s only four of five defensemen in the NHL who can do that.

And Martin is the master of frustrating the heck out of you. There’s actually some elements of Weber’s game in the way Martin plays. Not the physicality, but the way he constantly gets his stick in your shooting lane. We call this “stick on puck.” Martin’s numbers will never blow you away, but I played with him in New Jersey and Pittsburgh, and he was such a great one-on-one defender. Anywhere you moved the puck — forehand, backhand, toe drag, whatever — his stick was right there. He’s always either altering your shot or getting a piece or it.

It’s actually funny, because he doesn’t even look like he’s trying half the time. In New Jersey, had a few nicknames for him. We called him Larry Bird because when he would grow the playoff ’stache, he would look a lot like the kid from French Lick out there.

We also called him “the Paulroom Dancer” because when he got the puck, he would do this move where he’d just swivel his hips and shake off a defender, I guess like a ballroom dancer. He wouldn’t even take a stride — just a quick turn of the hips. So guys would be yelling, “Paulroom!” from the bench.

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 17: Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators makes the save against Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 17, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Whitney
I feel good for the Sharks because they were constantly getting shit on by people for so many years. Nobody was talking about them this year and they went out and were incredible against L.A. in round 1. They’ve gone from Thornton and Marleau as their leaders to Pavelski and Burns. And somehow Thornton looks like the Thornton of 10 years ago. I don’t know if it’s the pressure finally being off him or what, but he’s a monster again. Both of these teams seem like they have an edge right now.

Rupp
Yep, exactly. For some random reason, my son is a Predators fan. He loves Shea Weber. So I actually took him to Game 6 in Nashville and we sat right by the glass. I know some people will roll their eyes at this, but I swear it’s a real thing — sometimes you can just see the edge in players’ eyes when you’re on the glass. On TV, guys have visors on and the camera’s usually far away, so you can’t really see that body language.

During that Game 6, you could see the look in their eyes. Paul Gaustad got his helmet ripped off in front of the net, and he got up and started skating around like a bat out of hell. He came right up to the glass and lit up an Anaheim player, and I could see his face so clearly. There was this crazy look in his eye like, Eff you, this is mine. That’s the mentality you need to win a brutal seven-game series.

Whitney
Yep, absolutely. That’s a dangerous team to play against right now. It’s going to be an awesome series, but my gut is saying that San Jose has a little more scoring depth — they can get goals from eight or nine guys. Of course, I knocked Nashville’s scoring depth last round and then Rinne was unbeatable.

Rupp
This is a toss-up. I’ll say San Jose in seven.

Whitney
Same here. San Jose in seven. But who knows.

*

Apr 22, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) leaves the ice in game five against the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the American Airlines Center. The Wild defeat the Stars 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues

 

Whitney
Rupper, we were talking about this the other day. As weird as it sounds, if you would’ve asked Dallas’s players if they wanted to play St. Louis or Chicago before that Game 7, I think most would’ve said Chicago. Dallas doesn’t want to see St. Louis’s size. That’s a bad matchup for the Stars’ run-and-gun style of play.

Dallas has these great skating defensemen — Klingberg, Goligoski, Oduya — and they’re very good at moving the puck, but they are undersized. When there are big bodies like Steen, Backes and Tarasenko clogging up the lanes, I think they’re going to find it very tough to wheel-and-deal.

I’m thinking five games here.

Rupp
Me too. And like I said before, if you ask me which NHL team I love watching most, it’s Dallas. They’re so fast and skilled. Don’t take this as a sign of disrespect, Stars fans. Jamie Benn? Phenomenal player. It’s weird because most guys who are that big look a little chaotic at times, but Benn’s game is so silky smooth. He’s so good at using his body the right way to shield off defenders. He’s one guy who will be good against St. Louis.

So let me just say that I love the whole scene down there and I think Dallas is building a solid core. But, in my opinion, the only way the Blues lose this series is if they get in penalty trouble. Very often.

Dallas had a hard time with Minnesota because the Wild are a very organized and structured team. Well, the Blues are an even more disciplined and structured team — maybe the tightest structured in the league. Plus they’re huge. Plus they can score. Dallas won’t be able to get to their game. What will they fall back on? They don’t score ugly goals, they score highlight-reel goals.

Mar 6, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) passes in the second period against the Minnesota Wild forward Chris Porter (7) at Xcel Energy Center. The St. Louis Blues beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Whitney
I went to St. Louis’s training camp two years in a row on a trial. That is such a great group of guys. They are as close-knit as I’ve seen any NHL locker room. They have really grown together as a core — Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Backes, Steen. The organization had patience, which is rare these days, and they finally slayed the dragon when they beat Chicago. I couldn’t be happier for them. Kudos to those two teams for one of the best first-round series of all time.

Rupp
It’s funny, the NHL has always been a copycat league. When Detroit won their Cup, everyone said it was a puck-possession league. Then L.A. won, and it was a size league. Then Chicago won, and it was a speed league.

What’s the real answer? I don’t know. It ebbs and flows. What I do know is, we used to have this drill in New Jersey called “pork chop.” It was a punishment drill if we were having a bad week. The coach would chip the puck into the corner, and you would just battle it out one-on-one for 30 seconds. They wanted you to hit, scrap, beat each other up. We called it pork chop because it was like throwing  a piece of meat in the corner for two hungry dogs.

We used to hate it. But that’s the kind of team we were. We were a pork chop team. In the playoffs, we had to be hungry dogs to win. Do hungry dogs win every series? I don’t know, but when they’re as big as St. Louis’s dogs, I think they win.

Whitney
You’re making me hungry, Rupper. St. Louis in six.

Rupp
St. Louis in five.

*

Tavares Takeover Pull

New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

 

Rupp
This is easy for us to say now, because Game 1 already happened, but it can be difficult for teams to manage a ton of days off between series. When you’re sitting around waiting to play, it can be a strange feeling. You want to rest and heal up, but you still have to keep the competitive juices flowing and have purpose-driven practices. When you’re rolling from one series to the next, you’re just in it. The Islanders are in it right now. Might take Tampa another game to get the juices going.

Whitney
The 2008 playoffs. We swept Ottawa. All the other series were tied up 2–2. We knew we were going to have like eight days before the next series. So what did we do? Did we have milk and cookies? Hell no. We went out and got buckled. We partied all night.

We won the next series in five games. So let’s call it good team bonding.

Rupp
The Islanders looked great in Game 1, but this will be a long series, and I think John Tavares will have to continue to play at a Conn Smythe level in order for them to win. They’re so reliant on the top line to score goals and the fourth line to provide the spark. That worries me.

Whitney
Tavares reminds me of Mark Messier. Is that a weird comparison?

Rupp
No, I see what you’re saying.

Whitney
His skill set is so unique. He came into the league and people questioned his skating, and he turned it into a strength. Watch that overtime goal against Florida. His hands are so unbelievably strong. He makes things look easy that aren’t easy.

Every single time Tavares is on the ice, he creates chances. He takes over games the way Messier used to. Guys love having him as their leader.

Rupp
Tavares is just incredible. But what I like about Tampa is they basically have a top-nine that is interchangeable. All those guys can score and create chances. I was really impressed with them in the first round.

In this series, I think John Cooper will shorten his bench and basically run three lines. You’re going to see heavier doses of Kucherov and Johnson matched up against the Islanders’ second and third lines. That’s a mismatch. As the series goes on, I think the depth and talent of Tampa will be decisive. Now, with that said, let me remind everyone again how much I love the Islanders’ fourth line. It’s the best fourth line in hockey, and they make a huge difference at home.

Whitney
If you’re coaching the Islanders, do you have them try to run the crease?

USATSI_9272036

Rupp
You know what, this stuff is really tricky. I did something dumb when I was with the Rangers. We were playing the Devils in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. They were beating us in Game 4. The feeling in room wasn’t great. There was just a dead vibe in between periods. We needed something to get us going. We were down 3–0 in the third, and I went out for a shift with like 10 minutes left.

I didn’t have anything planned. Steve Bernier lined up against me for the face-off. I gave him some shots, but he wasn’t falling for it. I ended up running over Peter Harold behind their net. So I’m all pissed off as the refs were trying to take me to the box, and I saw Marty Brodeur standing there. I played with him for years. In that moment, something just snapped.

I gave Marty a shot in the chest. He flew back into the crossbar, and it started a melee.

We got inside the locker room after the game, and all the guys came up to me like, “That was awesome!” I was feeling great. Here we go. We got the juices flowing, right?

I gave Marty a shot in the chest. He flew back into the crossbar, and it started a melee.

Well, on the flip side, it had the same effect on the Devils. They had some young guys in the room, and I think it ended up bringing them together to see Marty take a shot like that. Just like seeing Bylsma’s quote about “Dad” fired us all up in ’03. I wish I could take it back. That stuff doesn’t always work out like you think it will.

Whitney
Totally worth it for the memory. Islanders in six. I’m cheating since they’re up 1–0.

Rupp
Tampa in six.

*

USATSI_9109004

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Rupp
Jeez.

Whitney
Yeah, wow. This is the most intriguing playoff matchup in a long time. Crosby vs. Ovechkin. The best two players of their generation squaring off. It feels like a final battle. But if you look at their history, it’s not pretty for Ovi.

Sid beat Ovi in the 2005 World Juniors. Then again in the 2009 playoffs the year Pittsburgh won the Cup. Then again at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Crosby always seems to come out on top. Obviously a lot of that has to do with how good Canada is, but he’ll go into this series with a lot of confidence.

Rupp
I don’t always like saying that “this line will cross out that line” or that “it’s a wash there,” but if you look at this series on paper, there are a lot of washes. The one guy that sticks out to me is Phil Kessel. He gets a lot of heat. I’m willing to give him heat sometimes, too. But if we’re gonna be real, the guy’s playoff numbers are pretty good. He elevates his game. Kessel has been pretty damn good in the playoffs. Everyone should just accept it.

This series might tip depending on whether or not Kessel continues to score because Mike Sullivan has the ability to put Malkin, Crosby and Kessel on three separate lines at certain moments. That’s a matchup nightmare for Washington if they’re able to perform while split up like that. The question is if, especially Kessel.

Whitney
You know what’s really tough for Washington that not a lot of people are talking about? Brooks Orpik being concussed. Brooks is a friend of mine, and I spoke with him and I’m just happy he’s doing O.K. But he’s a big presence for them on the ice. It’s really a blow for them if he can’t play against his old Pittsburgh team.

Kessel has been pretty damn good in the playoffs. Everyone should just accept it.

Rupp
Well, speaking of concussions, what the heck is going on with Marc-Andre Fleury? First he’s skating before round 1, then he’s out, then he’s listed with concussion-like symptoms, but he’s back skating again. Look, I’m not a doctor, but that’s just mind-boggling to me. It feels like they’re trying to keep people guessing, and that’s just weird. I don’t like it. Even their own players are probably like, O.K., what’s going on here? It creates uncertainty.

Whitney
You think Washington has a chance here, right Rupper?

Rupp
Well, let’s put it this way. They can’t do what the Rangers did. They can’t come down and have a lot of one-and-dones in the offensive zone. The Rangers would take one shot and then, boom, the Penguins were back down in their end for 30, 40 seconds.

If Washington wins this series, it’s going to be because they can sustain pressure in Pittsburgh’s end. That’s where the Penguins can be vulnerable. If you see Washington going one-and-done, then it’s probably lights out. But if you see red shirts in Pittsburgh’s zone for 30, 40 seconds, there’s going to be defensive breakdowns, and Ovi will have his stick cocked back ready to make them pay.

Whitney
Two guys to watch out for are Kris Letang and John Carlson. I really think Carlson has taken that next step. These are two of the best defensemen in the East, and I’m curious to see who comes out on top. Carlson’s personality is a little more even-keeled, whereas you can get under Letang’s skin a little bit.

Rupp
Carlson is great, but Letang is the best defenseman in this series. However, there is a way to get him off his game. If I’m Barry Trotz in that preseries meeting, I am telling my guys to be chirping Letang after every whistle. Get in his face every chance you get and see if he will get into a scrap. If you can get him pissed off and in the box for five minutes, that’s a big win.

Apr 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) takes the ice against the New York Rangers in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Whitney
You know Mike Richards is lying awake at night thinking about how he can piss off Letang and Crosby.

Rupp

He’s going to be in the crease after every whistle, doing what he does. Also, for the people who still think of the Capitals as a top-heavy team — Jason Chimera quietly scored 20 goals this year. Justin Williams had 22. T.J. Oshie had 26. They had six guys with 20-plus goals.

Whitney
Look, I love that the Capitals have added guys like Justin Williams. I love their physicality. Even their skill guys, like Oshie and Ovi, take the body. This is going to be an amazing series. But Pittsburgh went 14–2 to finish the season and then rolled the Rangers. I can’t pick against that.

Rupp
Here’s my case: The theme of the playoffs so far has been teams getting out of the rut of their past. I have a sneaky feeling that this is Ovechkin’s year. I think the guys in that locker room know that this is his window.

I’ll take it back to ’03, when Dan Bylsma gave us that bulletin board material before the Game 1 of the finals. I remember lining up for the first face-off, and of course, I was so nervous. I had this routine where I would always look over my left shoulder and point my stick at our defenseman. It was just a habit to get me psyched up, like, “Hey, it’s coming to you off the draw.”

So I look back before the draw and I see Scott Stevens. Dude, the look in his eyes … He had this fire that I’ll never forget it. He was possessed. He was looking at the ref like, Just drop the effing puck.

It gave me this sense of relief. I thought, Scott Stevens is on my team. We are going to win the Stanley Cup. And we did.

If Ovi has that look in his eyes, Washington has a chance here. I’ll take Caps in seven.

Whitney
You got me so fired up for this series that I’m ready to come out of retirement, Rupper. But I can’t pick against the run that Pittsburgh is on. I’ll go Penguins in seven.

Rupp
This was fun. I hope we provided some bulletin board material.

Whitney
I’m looking forward to being wrong and getting chirped mercilessly by fans on Twitter. Always fun. See ya, bud.

whitneysig

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