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May 30, 2000

Ken Hitchcock


Q. Why is it a concern starting the series on the road?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Why is it a concern starting the series on the road? I think the concern is that I read some comments today about a feeling-out process. We can't afford to do. That we have to start the fight and end the fight because we are on the road. They have home-ice advantage. This is a new experience for us. We haven't had this for three years now and we can't afford to wait into anything. We have got to go out and just push it right through in the first game and establish a lot of things for ourselves because we are going to have to win some road games to win this series. And our players recognize that if we sit back and feel things out and decide that we will see where they are at then play Game 2, with a different mentality, we are going to be in too big a hole. So we might as well start it and end it get going tonight.

Q. (inaudible) problem....

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think our problem is that sometimes we view this thing as a best of 7. That is the downside of experience is that when you -- you know how long a series is or has the potential to be, sometimes there is a pacing that goes on with older players and they know when -- they know when to pick it up. They have the ability to do that. They have that experience and knowledge, but it can be a negative at times too because sometimes they pick their spots. This is a different scenario for us. We have no choice. We have to start it tonight and push it through if we are going to have any impact or effect in this series.

Q. It seems at least in the Devils' dressing room there is an air of tension in your dressing room or at least yesterday a relaxed kind of easy-going atmosphere. Is that by design or is that based on experience?

COACH HITCHCOCK: No, I don't -- I think that has been with us all year. We had a lot of tension in our dressing room last year, a lot, and the tension was with the burden that comes with expectations. We had a lot of players who it was a first-time situation, there was a lot of baggage: Can they win, can you ever win with this guy; can this guy ever win a Cup. We carried that and it was a lot of pressure on myself as a coach and Bob, as a general manager, and all of the buildup to everything we carried that and we talked about that last night between Bob and myself that the pressure of competition is one thing and that is something that all of us can handle. But when we are not carrying any of the baggage that goes around with it of expectations and so there is a lightness in our room. We know what time the game is. It is at eight o'clock tonight. It is not at 11:30 in the morning and our team knows how to rev it up. We know how good we are going to have to be in this series. We know we are going to have to be even better than we were against Colorado. Our experience against them in the two games that we played really helped us because we were completely maxed out just to be competitive. But we also know that we know how not to waste anything right now. We have learned that lesson.

Q. Jamie's progress; also, if he doesn't play, what areas does he really affect the team? What do you lose?

COACH HITCHCOCK: We lose a 20-minute hockey player which is really important at this time of year. He skated again today, but lightly. He had a very aggressive intense workout yesterday for about 6 hours. I am going to talk to the trainers today. I don't think he is going to play tonight; doesn't look like it, but he's a real possibility for the second game. We are scrambling a little bit right now. We miss his offense and we miss his grit. He is able to kill penalties. He plays on the powerplay so he plays in every situation and we have been unable to replace him with one player. We have had to use two and in some cases three. That is quite frankly why Jon Sim is in because we feel like if we get down a goal or two that do we have the offensive push with our wingers to get back into a hockey game and Sim can do those things. This is a tall order for Jon too because this isn't like regular season.

Q. Is it time we started thinking of Mike Modano in terms of like the really great players in the League, like one of the three, four best? Can you talk about the evolution of Brett Hull with him?

COACH HITCHCOCK: From our standpoint Modano has prided himself in -- when I listened to people talk about him yesterday and I read the articles in the paper today about him, they talk about the chemistry with Brett Hull but they talk about things in offensive categories. To me, Modano is a Selke type of player. He is a two-way player. He checks the other teams top line. He is maybe -- he scores some nice goals, but he's not prolific as a goal scorer. What he is prolific at is he is a tremendous competitor in the competitive areas. He has really increased his awareness of intensity on the ice and he deserves the accolades that go with being a tremendous two-way player. But he still in the view of people, like if I took Hull away from him today, I'd screw up half the stories because he doesn't need Brett Hull to be an effective player. His level of competition, he is at his best when he knows that he has got somebody he has got to play against and shut down and be better than at the end of the night. Where he gets out of sync is when he just gets drifting through playing a hockey game and he's not focused with a specific challenge. For me, those type of players are tremendous two-way hockey players. I think Fedorov became that type of hockey player. I think if you look at the way even Adam Oates in the last couple of years he has become that type of hockey player. He is so valuable as a two-way hockey player that I don't know why people keep thinking of him as just an offensive player that has learned to play a little defense.

Q. Like Forsberg has been over here, Mike never has been in that category should we start thinking of him. . . (inaudible)

COACH HITCHCOCK: They are different players. Forsberg is one of those players that is really gifted from the red line in. Whereas, Modano is complete for the 200 feet. That is the best way to describe it. Forsberg is a tremendously gifted player from the red line in, you know, to your goal line. Mo is maybe not as gifted in that way. But Mo is better from the red line back. So is he an elite player in the League? Yes. But he has impact in areas where he doesn't need points to have impact in the game, not at all.

Q. I was going to ask about the contributions of Blake Sloan and Manny Fernandez as your backup this year; how he's helped your team?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Fernandez is one of those players that timing was everything. Manny was kind of dying a little bit in Kalamazoo and had flattened out as a performer. He went and took the ball there in Houston; had a great season, and he's really fit into our team. He's been a great addition as a goaltender first of all, but as a team player he has been a better addition. Sloan is a player that has been effective for us in every category, especially with the speed and tenacity. He is unfortunately the product of Langenbrunner out. If Langenbrunner was in, Sloan would be in. But because of Jamie out, we need to tilt a couple of players in a different direction there.

Q. I apologize for the presumptuousness of this, but in the wake of the Colorado series there was a lot of talk there about the breaks going your way and Pierre basically said he didn't want to hear that stuff; that he thought the best team didn't win and that maybe even a coach's head will roll over this. Do you have any reaction to that in the wake of all of it?

COACH HITCHCOCK: You know what, this is the best way -- we learned this lesson and this is the lesson that we learned against Edmonton and it was the hardest lesson I have ever learned as a head coach. We kept saying to ourselves we are playing better, we need to catch a few breaks. We need to get this happening where they go on the inside of the post instead of the outside of the post and at the end of the day it didn't work. The reason it didn't work is we continually convinced ourselves that we were playing well. But the bottom line is winning. The bottom line is find a way to out work the other team's goalie, find a way to get the job done and it becomes very black and white and we have all learned really hard lessons about that. They have been very difficult to handle. I know the criticism that we had in the Edmonton series and Edmonton played really well, but we kept convincing ourselves that we were doing okay when we were outshooting them and we kept blaming Joseph for our victory but you know what? he didn't score the goals for Edmonton at the right time. Other people did. At the end of the day it was because we weren't willing to go the extra nine yards that we needed to go to convince ourselves to win and we couldn't push it through. And we couldn't push it through because we had already convinced ourselves that we are playing about as well as we can play and it was wrong, really wrong.

Q. (inaudible) Colorado situation?

COACH HITCHCOCK: In my opinion it was all timing. That was such a great series and it was such a two great teams going at it. What we had going for us was sense of timing. We seemed to be able to have the big save at the right time and the big goal at the right time. And that was the only difference. In the games that we played well in towards the end, we started to catch breaks because we started to play well. But our goaltender gave us a chance to stay in that series in the first four games. There is no question that he did. But he knew that we were still hurting from the series in San Jose because that was an awful, awful physical pounding, awful.

Q. Do you expect a similar pounding in this one and how long do you think is it going to take because you guys check team-wide and they do as well. How long do you think it is going to take for them to -- there to be some real "bad blood", figurative "bad blood" on the ice tonight?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Three shift, four shifts (Laughter.). Look, they got a guy that takes people out and we are not allowing that. He takes one of ours; we got to take two of his. I mean, it is that simple. It is that simple. We can't have that and like I said, it is different for us now. The reason it is different is that we are on the road; we got to win in this building. We have got to win probably even more than one game for sure to just win this series. There is no point in sitting back and absorbing against this team because we saw what they did to Philly in the last three games. Philadelphia absorbed, they just kept absorbing. At the end of the day they couldn't get anything going offensive, defensively anywhere, they never had the puck. There is no point if you are going to lose, you might as well go and take it to 'em and get after it because we did the same thing against Colorado. We started that series absorbing and we were on our heals for a lot and we can't afford to do that. So we might as well get going and get after it and see where it goes to. We got lots of players.

Q. Against that kind of backdrop what do you say to guys that haven't been here before and how do you prepare them for that kind of atmosphere?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, I think being naive is a real reward at this time of year to be honest with you, I have learned that lesson that people like Sim and Morrow and to them this is just another hockey game that has a little more people at it and whole bunch of cameras at it and everything, but they haven't learned those lessons that are hard that you carry with you of disappointment or of the pressures that go with it. They just want to play. They are so excited to play and -- I think what we have learned with these young players is we just -- it goes back to, you know, especially with Rick and myself, we have been involved in junior hockey for so long, you know as long as their energy stays up you can live with them the mistakes because they are going to do more good things than bad at the end of the day. What we don't want to do with these young guys is freeze them up and start being overtechnical with them or start criticizing some of the mistakes because they are going to make them. It is just part of the business. But as long as we see the energy from these young guys, especially with Lyashenko and Morrow playing so many minutes, great, let's just play. And at the end of the day, as long as they don't carry anything with them, that is fine.

Q. Being on the road - back to Modano - are matchups more important in this series? Their top line obviously has been very productive, flying around out there. Is it more important for the matchups to get Modano on that line?

COACH HITCHCOCK: Well, we learned a little bit of a lesson in the Colorado series in that we started with the definitive matchup and our players got really frustrated mostly with myself the way I was matching up and so at the end of the series in the last two games we just rolled it. If it worked out, it worked out. That is why we move Lehtinen away from Modano to try to stabilize four lines here, to be honest with you, if we do any matching it will on the back end only and we are just going -- we are coming in here to roll.

Q. Against a veteran with the kind of experience that Brodeur has, how important is it is early on to try to maybe put some doubt in his mind in the series?

COACH HITCHCOCK: I think the doubt comes from the fact -- I think a lot of teams that you talk about this guy, he is such a tremendous competitor and goaltender that I think people get so worked up about him handling the puck -- we had a stat one of the games I think it was three or four, he handled it 68 times and he made like six mistakes which is really a small number. I think our -- Our key is to not get worked up because this guy is handling the puck all the time. We got to treat him as a defenseman in that we have got to position ourselves to get the puck back, but we can't get discouraged because he has got it all the time because he goes further away from the net than anybody in the National Hockey League to take it. Our thing is to not get worked up because he happens to have the puck. I see a lot of times when you hear comments, we can't give Brodeur the puck, we can't keep giving him the puck. I think our altitude has to be different. If he's going to play it, then we will have to treat him accordingly and go from there. I don't mean that by running him. I mean by working hard to get it back so that he isn't becoming a major factor but we can't get discouraged because he is going to handling it because he is going to get it 40, 50 times tonight.

End of FastScripts…

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