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April 19, 2006

Rod Brind'Amour

Saku Koivu

DAVID KEON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm David Keon of the National Hockey League's public relations department. I'd like to welcome you to the second of eight conference calls being conducted this afternoon as we prepare for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This call we are featuring Series B between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Montréal Canadiens. These two teams will open their series on Saturday at the RBC Center in Raleigh at 7 p.m. E.T. on CBC and RDS. With us we have Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour, finishing the season with 31 goals, 39 assists for 70 points in 78 games played. And from the Canadiens, we have captain Saku Koivu, who scored 17 goals and 45 assists for 62 points in 72 games. Thanks to both Rod and Saku for taking the time to join us today in answering your questions. We'll open it up for questions, operator.

Q. Rod, maybe just talk about the success of your team this season and more specifically the job that your GM has done being very proactive, acquiring Doug Weight when he did, acquiring Mark Recchi, the moves he's made throughout this season?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: I think you made a good point. He deserves a lot of credit for our team. I think more than anything, it was this summer, the moves he made, more than even the moves he's made here at the end.

Really our team got in the position we are from our start to the year. We brought in guys under the radar without a lot of attention. Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen. We have Mike Commodore, a lot of guys we added just really contributed immensely to our team.

I look at the moves that the GM made back this summer as to why we're in this position.

Q. Saku, you were the eighth seed a couple years ago when you played the Bruins. You're now the seventh seed going up against Carolina. Is this team a similar team to that team two years ago?

SAKU KOIVU: I think we are. I think two years ago we got some young guys that stepped up and really played well for us throughout the year and made our team a lot better. We're seeing a similar circumstance right now having Chris Higgins, Michael Ryder, Mike Komisarek. We have a lot of young guys that are bringing the energy we need. I think the same thing that happened two years ago, we really had a strong finish. We finished eighth and were able to carry on that momentum through the playoffs. That's what we're hoping for right now.

Q. Talk about the strong finish you had. A little disappointing last night. But what do you have to do to turn things around?

SAKU KOIVU: I think for the last 15, 20 games since the Olympic break, we've done a lot of good things. We improved a lot on our defensive game. Early on in the year we had some problems not being so consistent, always having 15- or 20-minute breaks where the other teams took it to us. That's where we lost the game.

I think the biggest thing, especially against a team like Carolina that we've had some problems throughout the whole season, is to really be consistent with our defensive game and not try to overdo things, really be patient, hopefully wait for them to make a mistake and capitalize on those.

Q. Rod, you guys beat Montréal four times this year. One game was fairly close, the others a bit of a blowout. Any problem with overconfidence going into this series?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: No. I mean, the regular season is the regular season. I think we've got enough guys here that know the hard part is getting into the playoffs. Whether you finish first or eighth, nowadays in the NHL it doesn't really matter. I don't think any one team has an advantage over anybody else.

We definitely aren't going to be overconfident. Of all the teams heading into the playoffs, we're probably one that is a bit more shaky than others. We definitely know we have our work cut out for us, as do all the teams in the playoffs.

Q. You talk about being a little shaky. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: Just the way we finished wasn't the way we would have wanted to. Not even talking about last night's game, but the last month or so, we haven't played the brand of hockey we need to. We're conscious of that. Unfortunately, the position we were in, being so far ahead in our division I think might have put us off on our intensity a little bit.

It's a new season now. That's what I'm saying. It doesn't really matter what's gone on in the past; everyone is starting fresh right now.

Q. Rod, now that you're heading into the playoffs, what is probably the most surprising thing about your team this year that you excelled in, that maybe you weren't expecting to?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: Nothing, to be honest with you. I think we surprised a lot of people by the sounds of it. Heading into the season, once we assembled in training camp, I kind of got to look at what we had. I was really, really happy with our team. I felt we could have a great season and hopefully do great in the playoffs.

We've added some good veteran guys, which you definitely like to have at playoff time, guys that have been there before. I think, like I said, now there's 16 teams in the playoffs, and we're as capable as anybody. It's a good feeling.

Q. Saku, tell me what Chris Higgins has meant to your team and your year?

SAKU KOIVU: I think early on in the year he didn't get as much ice time or power-play time. I think as his teammates we really appreciate his consistent play and doing the little things. A lot of times as a rookie you hit that point at one point in the season that you really feel tired and it's tough to get going. He was the opposite. He was getting a better opportunity at the end of this season to play on the power-play. Again, since the Olympic break, I think he's had 14, 15 goals.

If you want to be successful down the line, you really need your young guys to step up. He's been tremendous for us and really playing well.

Q. You are both veterans. Can you remember a year where you go into the playoffs where seeds one through 16 seems to have a shot at this, there doesn't seem to be those two or three elite teams that everybody seems to be picking?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: Yeah, I mean, I think that's kind of what I mentioned. I think even the last playoffs to me kind of was the same. I think the NHL has gotten so competitive top through bottom, which is great. Like I said, I think the hardest thing about playing 82 games is getting in. Once you get in there, I think everybody's got an equal chance.

SAKU KOIVU: I feel the same way. I mean, I think the regular season shows us you have to battle, for us the 81st game, 82nd game, we secured a playoff spot. It's very competitive.

Like he just said there, the last final was Tampa Bay and Calgary. I don't think there was too many people that really believed that those teams could go that far. I think there's a lot of teams that really have a good shot of making it.

Q. Rod, could you draw any sorts of parallels between this team and the last team that made the run to the final? Is this a completely different feel here? How would it compare with that team?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: It is kind of completely different. We have a lot of same guys, but we're coached differently, it's a different system. I think that was a couple years ago. The whole way the game is played is different. There's obviously the new rules, this and that.

It's definitely a different squad. It feels different this year because we're fortunate to secure a playoff spot a while ago. We had a much better record. Last time we kind of squeaked into the playoffs and then made our run. It's been a little bit of a different feel this year.

Q. Saku, considering how hard you guys had to fight to get into the playoffs over the last month or so, and teams like Carolina, Ottawa, some of the teams near the top of the standings didn't have to do that, could that have a negative impact on you or positive?

SAKU KOIVU: Well, I think obviously teams like Ottawa and Carolina have an advantage over us right now. But I think, like Rod said, the regular season is the regular season, then it's a new season when you start the playoffs.

What we are hoping is that we've had to battle till the end and really maintain our focus here. I think the momentum is going for us right now, and hopefully we can bring it to the playoffs.

But obviously those teams that have known that for a while, that they are in the playoffs, they had some time to practice and maybe rest some of the guys. It's going to be a tough battle for us. We really have to play well to be able to go there.

Q. Rod, how do you explain your team has been so successful against the Canadiens this season?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: You know, I can't even explain it. I don't know that we've been so successful. I think we've had a couple games that were tight. A goal here, a goal there, kind of breaks the game open. Like I say, when you play 82 games, you can't remember when you played. We might have had them on a back-to-back, might have had a rest.

It doesn't really matter. I can't even tell you any one reason. I didn't even know we've beaten them four times because, like I said, you play so many different teams all along through the year, I don't really have an answer for that.

I do know they're one of the better teams going into the playoffs, and that's what matters. We definitely know we got a heck of a series coming up.

Q. Saku, on a personal level, does a loss in the playoffs in 2002 against Carolina ring something special to you? Can you use it as a source of motivation this year or is it too far away?

SAKU KOIVU: I think it's too far away. Every playoff series is a different series. Every year is a different year. But obviously we do remember that series and what happened in that one. We were up 2-1, we were up 3-0 in the fourth game. You know, they came back and tied the game and won in overtime. From there on, there was only one team in the series, and it was their team.

Maybe we can hopefully learn from some of the mistakes and some of the things we did in that series and make it a different one this time.

Q. Saku, there seems to be a lot of talk about Montréal's goaltending, which is surprising given how well Huet has played this year. Can you talk about how you feel playing in front of Huet and why there's some wonder who will be in goal to start the series?

SAKU KOIVU: Well, we don't know who is going to be there starting goaltending for us in the series. Huey, I think he surprised a lot of people, I think he surprised us as teammates, as well. He came, he had a tough knee injury November when he came to our team. Nobody really knew what to expect and what's going to happen with him. But he worked extremely hard. He got his chance. He took advantage with that.

I mean, he's been tremendous for us. We never even thought that he could be near as good as he's been. He's a big part of the reason we're in the playoffs right now. For us to be as successful, we need him, and we need Aebischer to really be playing the way they've been in the last month, month and a half.

I think for us it's a good situation. We have two great goaltenders that we can put both in there and not have a problem.

Q. Saku, we haven't seen you since March 16th. How has the team improved? Is it Cristobal or is there more to it?

SAKU KOIVU: I think obviously the biggest reason is our goaltending has really improved. Most of the nights it's giving us a chance to stay in the games and win the games.

I think really the biggest thing is the problem we had earlier in the year not being consistent enough, always being in the games, but having the 10- or 15-minute letdown where the other teams got the goals they needed. I think we've been a lot better defensively, a lot more consistent, and really giving us a chance to win and really being close on every game.

Q. Rod, you mentioned earlier that the team is coached differently this year. What can you tell us about your coach?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: I can tell you the one thing I always talk about with Laviolette, he's always an approachable guy. He made it real nice to come to the rink. Very family oriented. He brings his kids, we're allowed to bring ours. It's a really good feeling around our locker room. We're a big family. I think that was the biggest thing that I noticed about him right away.

He's obviously implemented a different kind of style. It's not as defensive as the coaches we've had in the past year. Really, I mean, a coach is only as good as his players. I think we've adapted to him. We made it easy for him to coach us this year. It's just been enjoyable.

Q. Saku, you talked a little earlier about the path you are on, the momentum. What are some of the facets of your team's game that you really think have been strong for your team coming down the stretch into the playoffs?

SAKU KOIVU: Well, I think our defensive game has improved a lot. Like I said, its about being more consistent. Also, you know, Gainey and the new coaching staff has made us a lot more accountable. Maybe before not every guy or not every line was doing the same thing, not being in the same system. Now it just feels that the whole team is a lot more confident going into the games and we know really what to expect from ourselves. It's a funny thing, but when you do well, you get some points, you gain confidence, everything just seems to be a lot easier, and things will work for you.

Q. Rod, being in St. Louis, I was able to see Doug Weight, what kind of leader he was, really being outspoken in the locker room. What kind of leadership role has he taken in Carolina since he got there?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR: I know when he first got here, he was a little uncertain how to fit in. He didn't want to rock the boat. We were doing pretty well before he got here. It was kind of a tough situation for him to come into.

Luckily we've had a lot of time for him to kind of figure out his niche or whatever. He is being a lot more vocal. I think what you're saying, how he was there, he's starting to or has started to kind of just feel like himself again. He definitely picked up his play. I think it all kind of intertwines at the same thing. He's more comfortable being here. His role is being a lot similar to what it was when he was in St. Louis.

DAVID KEON: Thank you very much, guys, for your time.

End of FastScripts...

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