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May 31, 2000

Ken Hitchcock


Q. Thoughts Eddie talking after the game about using the cold medication as possibly an excuse for the performance last night?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, Eddie, it wasn't an excuse; it was the truth. But sometimes when Belfour says something, everybody thinks it's an excuse..... We knew we were in a situation in the afternoon with him that was a little precarious for us, but we felt like we could get through with it. He wasn't great for the last day and a half, but thought maybe he was starting to come around a little bit. And I think just looking back at things that even the first shot-on-goal it kind of hit him in the foot, and he was unaware of where it was. It was an indication of ourselves and the way he handled some of the longer shots that we were in a little bit of a dicey situation. But he's a warrior, and he has fought through with us. He will be good tomorrow.

Q. He talked about he thought it was the decongestion that was a problem. Is he still taking the medication, or will he get off it by tomorrow?

KEN HITCHCOCK: He has got a different situation going right now. Coldwise they are doing some different things with him. But I just -- I think the combination of the excitement of what was going on and the energy that was out there just kind of off-centered him a little bit. We talked to him in the afternoon, or I talked to him in the afternoon, and he felt like he needed something to help him get through it, and he felt like he had some breathing problems and his energy was dropping and he needed somewhere to clear so he had some breathing space. It obviously affected him a little bit.

Q. How can your team slow down the Devils's top line Sykora, Arnott and Elias?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I don't know that you can sit there and say that it was one situation that that line beat us with. To me, the turning point in the game was the situation with Modano and Hull where Hull misses the goal. They come right back and score that. That is a great play behind the net. It really tilted everything the other way. They beat us in a number of different areas. They beat us down low, off the rush. But it was a lot about what we were doing. It was less about what they were doing. We were constantly giving them the puck in areas that we normally don't give it. I thought we had a little bit of panic on our side, and I thought we had some poor decisions. I think that we anticipated some things last night in the game that happened or that didn't happen that we expected to happen, and we released the puck into areas that we felt from watching tape of previous games were open and they were shut down. They did a great job in taking the time to understand how we were moving the puck, and we made a lot of turnovers and gave them some counterattack opportunities that normally we don't give. I think that, quite frankly, they are the best counterattack team in the National Hockey League, and that is one of the critical areas that we have to be aware of. We have to be much better in that area so that we are not giving them those easy opportunities. I think whenever you have a line like that, it is like Hull and Modano, and whether it is Morrow or Lehtinen, if you give those guys those counterattack opportunities, they are going to bury you. We gave a good offensive line; far too many opportunities to come back at us quickly like that. If you look at the goal that they scored, it was a neutral zone turnover. It was a turnover that ended up being a quick 3 on 2 that ended up being a great play from behind the net, but it was a neutral zone turnover that caused the problem.

Q. I am not a doctor, and I don't know exactly the kind of decongestion he was taking, but I read the medication on the over-the-counter; it says you are not supposed to drive on some of these decongestants that you take. If you are not supposed to drive, how would you throw a guy in goal stopping 100-mile-an-hour pucks? And if you knew you were in a dicey situation after one shot, why did you leave him in?

KEN HITCHCOCK: It had nothing to do with the medication. We just -- we have a thing with Eddie where we kind of communicate with him earlier in the day, because really from noon on he's not a guy you really want to talk to. (Laughter.) We always ask him the question: How are you feeling? And he gives you the answer "Good," then we walk away. That is the end of conversation. But there was a ten-minute conversation about how he was feeling, and so we kind of felt like things were not great, and he did not look good coming to the rink in the morning. So we wanted to talk to him and see how he felt. Look, he is the horse that has gotten us this far, and we are going to ride him all the way through. It was a situation that, quite frankly, I am sure Eddie probably would have liked to -- probably tried to run through it clean, but he felt terrible and he wanted to try to get into a situation where he had a little bit of clear breathing area.

Q. You and Belfour, as a team and as goalie, hardly ever had two back-to-back games. No. 2, Modano and Hull don't get on the score sheet. They have been so productive in your victories. How important is it to get them going tomorrow tonight?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think they get going in a different area than a lot of teams do. They are a lot like a checking line that can counterattack. They were constantly on the backcheck, because we constantly turned the puck over and didn't give them any opportunities to get their checking game going. If you look at Hull and Modano, and use Lehtinen as left winger, say that is -- they are one of the best forchecking lines at getting, creating opportunities off the forecheck. We never had the puck in their end to create those opportunities. We never had the puck turned over to create those opportunities. We were the team turning the puck over all the time. When you see us at the end of the night give it away 16, 17 times in their neutral zone like we did, that is not good and that is not good at any time. But that is not good against this team. That is the problem is they were constantly on the backcheck. And if you look at zone time, there were some periods where we were spending 3 and 4 minutes more in our own zone, which is completely different than any series we have played in. It has been the opposite in a lot of the other series.

Q. You made a statement last night about how this is the fastest team you have seen in the Playoffs so far. What are you going to do to try and combat their speed, if anything?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, I think that when I said that after the game I kept thinking that they were coming at us, coming at us, but then when I looked at the tape this morning, the reason they were coming at us is because the mistakes that we were making that gave them that opportunity. We were giving them odd-man rushes because of us turning the puck over. I think you negate speed by being better with the puck. You can stand in position defensively all you want, but if you are not good with the puck and you are not strong in those areas and determined to get the job done, then you are going to constantly be looking at speed coming at you. That is the area that has got to be better for us. We have got to make them spend more time in their zone than we did in ours. I think that is a critical area for us against any team, but especially a team that has the quickness up front that they do.

Q. What is the condition of Hatcher, and he didn't skate -- I didn't see him out there. Did I miss him? Was it the right knee that he has the hyperextension?

KEN HITCHCOCK: No, I think it is his elbow. He skated at 7:00 A.M. You missed him..... He is fine.

Q. Is he going to play?

KEN HITCHCOCK: This year, yeah.

Q. People were talking about the cold medication being an excuse or whatever, but what about the travel? I mean, New Jersey got to play from a series where their road trip was a bus trip down the turnpike. You guys not only had a hard series, but you played a day later than them, then had to fly all the way here to play the opening game. Do you think that took a lot out of your team last night?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, look, you start talking about that stuff, and then you get accused of whining and sniffling at everything. All I will tell you right now is that we know we are two days behind them energywise, but it is our job somehow to catch up these two days. We know that that was the biggest factor in the game yesterday that we were behind. We were behind in energy. We were behind in executions. We were behind in enthusiasm and awareness on the ice, and that is not like our team. But we have an obligation to ourselves and the organization to find that energy back again. We have got to do it. Whatever we do has to include kind of writing off yesterday and start something anew because they are ahead of us. They are ahead of us in jump. They are ahead of us in a lot of areas and we have got to be able to find it. We know the emotion that we went through. They went through the same thing. But we also know that that is how critical things are at this stage that energy and enthusiasm are the two biggest factors in winning championships. And they got it on their side right now and we have got to find a way to get it back. We have got to catch up.

Q. How do you attempt to compensate or in fact can you when your best players play badly as was the case last night?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Talking like the way Belfour played or whatever or --

Q. Belfour, some of your top forwards were minus 3. Zubov had a rough game back in the blue line. Can you compensate for it?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think we have been through so much as an organization. We have been through so much as an organization - the players, myself, for three years, that we learned to be able to write these things off and sometimes it isn't going to be your night. We have gotten drilled pretty good; hammered pretty good in Edmonton; hammered a couple of times in Colorado. We got beat last year -- pretty badly at home against Colorado. We got hammered pretty good in some games, but it is your ability to write it off and start fresh that I think is critical. From our standpoint we have got to come up with fresh energy and if I wear on these guys or I am ragging on these guys all the time or I am overcoaching these guys, I am taking away their energy. Like I said before, that is what this whole thing is going to be about because we got to find it. It is not in our favor right now and we have got to find a way to get it back.

Q. You talked about all the technical stuff, but how do you assess the mood of your team after last night?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think the mood is a little bit all over the plays right now. But remembering that we play tomorrow night at eight o'clock, I think the mood right now, from our standpoint, is that we have some people who we are trying to reenergize right now; get some health back in our group right now. That is No. 1. No. 2 is that we are trying to get a definitive game plan that we can make adjustments. I think the key is to make adjustments for us. This is what, to me, playing in a best of 7 is about. It is about making adjustments. The ball - they have kind of thrown it over to our side of the court now. We have got to make the adjustment to change our game to counteract to what they are doing. We are very good at that. We have been very good at it for years. That is our obligation right now. Now, we have got to make the changes because they came with a great game plan. It worked and we have got to change ours a little bit.

Q. If Eddie Belfour is on decongestants, was Zubov taking sleeping pills? That is the worst game I have seen him play in a long time. Will Langenbrunner play?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Lags will not play tomorrow. He skated yesterday and he came up sore today. So we are still a couple of days out with Jamie. Zubov was the victim to me a little bit of trying to do too much once it got down a little bit, but if there is anybody that can shake it off, it is Zuby.

Q. Do you think it hurt the confidence level of your team to see a guy like Belfour who had played so well have a shaky outing like that?

KEN HITCHCOCK: You know what, I think that -- I think our team will have a different attitude bit. I think what we learned last night when Ed Belfour is average or even below average, we are not a very good team and I think that we need Eddie to be a great player, but it also shows me how valuable this guy has been to our group. I mean, we have made the same mistakes in games and he saved our bacon. Last night for the first time maybe he didn't do those things. But you know what, he will be back on course there and I think our players feel pretty strongly that it is our responsibility to pick up the pace here. Like I said before, it is our responsibility to go and find another gear. Doesn't matter how we get it done and that is what this Playoffs is about, finding that next gear and it is our job to find it.

Q. Will you want the mindset tomorrow to be something like "We have done this before; that was no big deal?"

KEN HITCHCOCK: Cripes, I hope we haven't done this before, get drilled like that. Our situation is that we are pretty experienced at writing things off. We are going to have to be very experienced because we got drilled pretty hard and we got drilled by a very, very good hockey club on top of their game. They have gained a lot from their situation in Philly. Sometimes when you -- we have all been -- as coaches we have all been in series where you mount comebacks and you come back and sometimes you reach a pinnacle and you drop off. They are building on what they did against Philadelphia at the end. We have got to catch up.

Q. Your team usually plays kind of a mean game that they didn't play last night. Is that a concern to you? Not that it is a bad thing.

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think that we never had the opportunity because, to be honest with you we played the game on 140 feet of ice. We never really -- when we had it in their zone we had good production, but we never had it in there enough to do anything with it. I think that we are best when we have got our heavy forecheck going and we never got the puck past the blue line very much because we were turning it over in critical areas. So it is hard to be physical when the kind of the shock of having this thing come back down your throat all the time. That is what happened. They had so many opportunities - and I can't emphasize this enough - off of poor puck play by ourselves and, quite frankly, it is exactly what happened in the Philadelphia series. Towards the end they were counterattacking on Philly pretty hard. They have got a real great mindset in there and we have to make adjustments to counteract that. That is going to be the key to this series for me is to not allow them to counterattack as much as they did yesterday.

Q. You played them the week before they made the coaching change. Do you see anything different in the way they are playing for Larry just as far as either adherence to the system or commitment or all those things that coaches like to talk about?

KEN HITCHCOCK: The way they are playing right now is the same way they played for Jacques, same way, same system - same way, same patience, same level of determination. This is -- Larry has done a great job, but this is the same way they played for Jacques.

Q. Did you and Eddie talk about him just staying back at the hotel and resting today or do you make that decision together? Does he make it on his own?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, we kind of have eye contact and when I looked at him today, I kind of just stayed away and he's out on the ice working his butt off. He will pretty much work everything off. He should be done by about 6:30.

Q. Is it good losing a game that way because that is kind of a wakeup call?

KEN HITCHCOCK: No. I hate getting drilled like this. But it's part of the game. I think that the thing you have to take in accord here is who is responsible. They played a great game. But we played a poor game. We played a very poor game with the puck. That is what we have to change and our players recognize that.

End of FastScripts…

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