‘That Guy Can’t Handle His Booze’: A Western Conference Preview

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

In case you missed it, Mike Rupp absolutely crushed our NHL Playoff Preview last year. Once the word got out about his superior analysis, Rupper became a hotshot analyst for the NHL Network. This year, we decided to crank things up a notch, so we invited Ryan Whitney, a.k.a. KHL Obama, to join forces with Rupper.

This is not your typical NHL Playoff Preview. This is two guys sitting around talking hockey. Viewer discretion is advised.

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St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

 

Rupp
Let me tell you about the craziest thing I’ve seen this season. I was waiting outside the locker room at the All-Star Game to meet up with Kris Letang. So I’m just standing around, and I look to my left, and I see this absolute behemoth walking towards me.

I just see these legs. It looks like an NFL fullback is coming at me.

I’m thinking, Who the hell is that?

I look up, and it’s Tarasenko.

I knew they called him Tank, but I’ve never seen a hockey player with that kind of build. His lower body, I can’t even explain it.

Whitney
That kid, it’s a joke. When I was in camp with St. Louis, I kept doing double takes. Tank makes Sid’s legs look like my legs. It’s crazy.

Rupp
Chris Kreider and Sidney Crosby are the only guys who have blown me away with their lower body strength. But Tank was a new level. He walked in and I was actually looking up and down in disbelief. He was probably like, What the heck is this guy doing?

He’s a beast. He’s not going to shy away from traffic in the playoffs. Everybody knows about his release and his skating, but he’s also built to go right through you. To have a superstar built like that? Holy crap.

Whitney
This is the series I’m most excited to watch. Speed, skill, physical play, unbelievable crowds.

Tank Legs Pull

Rupp
I haven’t been overly impressed with the Hawks this year. I love their leaders. They’re all gamers. But they’ve depended so much on that line of Kane, Anisimov, and Panarin.

To me, the whole series will hinge on the production of the Toews, Hossa and Ladd line.

Whitney
Ha-ha. The whole city of Chicago just went, Uh, that’s pretty good. We’ll take that.

Rupp
Well, here’s the thing. I experienced this in New Jersey a bit. When you go into a series with a clear cut No. 1 line, it’s doable to contain them. I think St. Louis can keep Kane contained. I do. Chicago really needs that other line to elevate. Flat out, this team has to score more goals to win this year than they have in the past. Last year’s team relied so heavily on the top four defensemen. Johnny Oduya is gone now, and I think that hurts them.

But it’s not so much that I’m a Hawks hater as I’m just really impressed with St. Louis. Nobody talked about them this year. Depth, depth, depth. On the front end and back end. And Brian Elliott can be great when he’s hot.

Whitney
It’s amazing that one of these two teams will lose in the first round. I played in the Olympics with David Backes, and he’s a gamer. He has that Simmonds mentality of going to the front of the net. He’s gotta be big for St. Louis.

Rupp
Backes has this thing about him — he’s really good at getting under your skin, but then he just goes and plays. He does everything on his terms. He likes to go after the other team’s captain. When I was in Pittsburgh, he went after Sid one shift. I was going apeshit. He’s smart and calculated in doing it. He makes teams crazy.

Backes has fought Toews before, but you know what? I feel like Toews gets even better when you get him fired up. If I’m Backes, I’m not doing that this year. I think this year he goes after Panarin after every whistle. He has to get Chicago thinking about everything but playing hockey.

Whitney
This is one of those series people talk about when they talk about “playoff hockey.” At the end of the day, Chicago has four or five future Hall of Famers playing in their prime right now. I like St. Louis’s depth, but I can’t pick against five Hall of Famers. Chicago in seven.

Rupp
St. Louis in six. We disagree! Finally.

*

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

 

Rupp
The real storyline here is whether or not the guys have the mental discipline to stay in their hotel rooms in Nashville in the spring. That’s a real challenge staying out of the bar. Stay off Broadway, fellas!

Whitney
I’m predicting at least one mysterious “flu-like illness.”

Rupp
I’m almost disappointed this is a first-round matchup, because I think these teams are both really good. Nashville has the potential to make some noise, but they’re going against a team that I loved in the second half of the year.

No 1. power play in the NHL. No. 1 penalty kill in the NHL. No. 1 in goals-against. Come on. Unreal. All that with a team that has the grit of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf? They’re gonna be a real problem in the West.

Whitney
It’s funny because Anaheim is the flip of Pittsburgh. They didn’t fire Bruce Boudreau when the team got off to a terrible start. They put it on the players, and they turned it around completely. Anaheim and Pittsburgh are the two hottest teams, but they took two different approaches.

Keep your eye on that line of Kesler, Cogliano and Silverberg. That line has it all. Anaheim is so deep at every position, and that’s the difference here.

Mike Ribeiro is Nashville’s top center. I’m sorry, but Getzlaf against Ribeiro? Kesler against Ribeiro? Mismatch.

Rupp Nash Pull

Rupp
That’s the thing. I like Nashville’s build a lot, but they go through stretches where scoring is a challenge. In my opinion, Weber and Josi are the best defensive tandem in the NHL, but they’re not really going to change the way Anaheim’s superstars play. Because that’s exactly how they want to play. They want to get physical. It’s an unfortunate matchup for Nashville.

I’m predicting at least one mysterious “flu-like illness.”

Whitney
Flying cross-country in this series is going to be tough on all these guys. Imagine taking a five hour flight back home after getting banged up against Anaheim. That’s a tough flight. Nashville better steal one out west early on.

Rupp
I like that the Ducks have fully embraced their identity by bringing in Chris Stewart. Remember, they gave Chicago all they could handle in the Western Conference finals last year. When that team’s pounding you for seven games … damn. It’ll be a heck of a series. I like Anaheim in seven.

Whitney
Pekka Rinne could be a game changer for Nashville, so who knows, but I like Anaheim in six.

*

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

 

Rupp
One thing I like about this series is the dislike. I don’t think the average fan realizes how much these teams hate each other.

The Martin Jones storyline is intriguing, too. You have a goalie playing against his old squad. That’s always interesting. Before a playoff series, it’s the same routine on every team I’ve played for. You have this prep meeting where you sit in a room with the coaches and the whole team, and you go through each name on the other team’s roster.

They’ll take notes on the dry-erase board, and it’s like, “Alright, Ryan Whitney: What do we got on him?”

And guys will start throwing out any intel they can think of. Some of it is serious stuff, like, “Oh, he flips out when you put a glove in his face after the whistle.” But then it’ll get silly, like, “That guy can’t handle his booze.”

Whitney
Ha-ha-ha-ha. Just ripping on the guy. Yeah, we did that too.

Rupp
It’s the best. Just the desperation of it. You’re looking for any edge you can get.

If anybody has a scouting report on Martin Jones, it’s the Kings. They probably know his tendencies when guys come down one-on-one. It’s the little game within the game that people don’t think about.

I mean, I remember when I went to the Rangers, I knew all the Penguins’ defensive calls when they would retrieve the puck behind the net. You think I kept that a secret? Heck no.

In Pittsburgh, the defenseman would say “wall” or “net” depending on what he was going to do with the puck.

On “wall,” the first defenseman would absorb the hit and dump the puck over to his partner. On “net,” they’d pass it behind the net to one another.

So I had my guys on the Rangers yelling out, “Net!” on the forecheck, confusing the Penguins’ defensemen.

Whitney
Ha-ha-ha-ha. That’s devious. I love it.

Rupp
A big question here is Vlasic. Is he playing?

Whitney
It’s all hush-hush, but it looks like he’ll play.

Rupp
He’s such an important part of that Sharks team. Their strength is providing offensive pressure, and it’s usually from their defensemen jumping in on the rush. It’s fantastic when it’s working. But in the playoffs, you’re going to leave some gaps playing that way.

I do like San Jose. The Doughty vs. Burns matchup will be so much fun to watch. But L.A.’s depth is really going to show over seven games.

Whitney
It’s a bummer for San Jose, because the one year that they might end up doing some real damage, they get L.A. They changed the whole leadership committee, which was a bold move. Thornton is not the captain anymore — and he responded by having his best season in last 10 years. It seems like he’s got a point to prove.

Bottom line: Quick, Doughty, Kopitar, Lucic, Brown — it’s too much. The core has done it before. They know what it takes. I don’t care if it’s cliché. It’s true. San Jose has never done it.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11: (L-R) Rob Scuderi #7, Alec Martinez #27, captain Dustin Brown #23, Jarret Stoll #28, Colin Fraser #24, Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings surround goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings after winning Game Six of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final 6-1 to win the series 4-2 at Staples Center on June 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Rupp
Bottom line for me: In the playoffs, defending well will put you in the best situation to win. L.A. knows how to defend in the playoffs, which is different than defending in the regular season.

Plus, Vinny Lecavalier in a limited role? I love it. He gives you a little of this, a little of that. He’s that little extra piece that a lot of Cup-winning teams have.

Whitney
The Kings are my Stanley Cup pick. Calling that now. Los Angeles in six.

Rupp
Los Angeles in seven.

*

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

 

Whitney
I feel like we’re about to bury the poor Wild here, so can we give a little love to Ryan Suter first? He’s second in the NHL in ice time at age 31 and he’s got 8 goals and 43 assists. He’s been so good for so many years in a row. Without him, I don’t know where Minnesota would be right now.

He just pushes dirt around all day. He loves it.

Rupp
It’s almost like you become numb to what he’s doing. He does it every year. He’s so dependable. I got to know him pretty well playing in Minny. He’s all business, man. Hearing him talk about his dad, who unfortunately passed away last year, you can tell that working-class mentality is embedded in him. In their family, you put on your work boots and go do your job.

He would come back to camp after being home in Wisconsin for the summer, and he would show me pictures of his big tractors and stuff. He just pushes dirt around all day. He loves it. He’s a natural worker.

Whitney
The Stars are so fun to watch this year. Great crowd — underrated crowd. The city will be buzzing for them. I think they’ll crush Minnesota because of their speed, but there’s not a ton of grit to their game. I’ll be interested to see what happens to them in the next round. With Dallas, a lot of the offense is run-and-gun. I definitely want to see how the Stars adapt as the playoffs go on.

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12: Kris Russell #2, Tyler Seguin #91, Jason Spezza #90, Ales Hemsky #83 and the Dallas Stars celebrate a goal against the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center on March 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rupp
Same here. I think Jamie Benn’s game will translate well into the playoffs because he’s capable of grinding, but I agree that Dallas’s offense relies a little too much on the rush. John Klingberg might show some gaps in his game the deeper they go. I love him, but he makes some high-risk plays, and he’s young.

Now, with all that said, if you ask me what team I enjoy watching the most as a fan, it’s Dallas. They’re so, so fast. Plus, they added a guy I really like on the blue line in Johnny Oduya. That was a big loss for Chicago and a big gain for Dallas.

Whitney
Minnesota’s had some tough luck. Parise is injured. Vanek’s had an off year. In the East, maybe they win a round or two. But the West is rough. I say Dallas in five.

Rupp
It kind of stinks for Minnesota fans because I know they’re dying for this series because the North Stars moved from Minnesota to Dallas. But this is a brutal matchup for them. Dallas in five.

*

Bonus Round

 

Whitney
Rupper, this was so much fun. Thanks for having me. Can I ask you a question though?

Rupp
Sure.

Whitney
What was the deal with that famous clip of you chirping Jody Shelley on HBO 24/7? “You’re irrelevant.” I need to know the backstory there.

Rupp
Oh, my gosh. Alright, let me clear this up, because I’ve had like 12-year-old kids coming up to me in the mall shouting this line, and I still feel bad about it.

Shelley is an amazing guy. We were actually teammates, and I loved him.

When I was on the Rangers, the Flyers came to town and they had Tom Sesito called up for the game. Sesito is out there telling people he’s gonna do all kinds of terrible stuff to them. You can hear him from the bench.

At intermission, Torts is like, “Alright, we’re calling their bluff. They think they’re so tough. They’re not. Rupper, go have a talk with them.”

So I go out and try to fight Sesito. I go up to him, but he doesn’t want to fight. He’s acting like an idiot.

So Shelley comes up to me and gives me a whack.

He says, “You looking for a fight?”

I’m like, “I’m trying to fight Sesito.”

“You’re going after a 22-year-old kid.”

So then I said the first thing that popped into my head.

I said, “You’re irrelevant!”

It was a weird word choice, I admit. Usually it’s all, “I’m gonna freaking kill you!” or whatever. I felt bad about it immediately.

I actually went up to the HBO producers after the game and told them not to use it on the show.

Of course, they used it.

Hockey: New York Rangers Mike Rupp (71) in action, fight vs Philadelphia Flyers Jody Shelley (45) at Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia, PA 4/3/2012 CREDIT: Adam Hunger (Photo by Adam Hunger /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X154596 TK1 R1 F23 )

I knew he’d want to fight me the next time we saw each other.

Sure enough, next time we were in Philly, he asks me to go. I knew it was coming. He beat me up pretty good.

When we were going to the box, I was like, “O.K., good. We’re even, man. Let’s drop it.”

Whitney
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. That’s amazing. Enjoy the first round games, buddy.

Rupp
Until next time.

*

You can watch Rupper on NHL Network’s “NHL Tonight,” which will air before and after every Stanley Cup Playoff game.

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