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June 17, 1999

Ken Hitchcock


Q. If Hull is 80% and he wants to play you have got to decide whether or not at 80% you'd rather have him in there or somebody else is that (inaudible)--

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think the line is "more can help." I think you look at him and say, can he help your team win the hockey game, and Hull's situation is that is something that over the next three or four hours we are going to have to weigh. He is not 100%, but he is a heck of a lot better than he was and the whole thing is when do we pull the trigger on this thing and put him in, how long do we wait? How critical does it get? I think that is what where we are at right now. I think he is going to take the pre-game skate and then the call is going to end up being between Brett and myself. I know he wants to play, but I have to make sure that he is going to be a contributor and not just a body that is out there that is going to go down the first shift. Hogue is different. Hogue is like Matvichuk. He is a player and will continue to be a player for the rest of the Playoffs, hopefully, and an impact player like we know he was.

Q. You will have the veto?

KEN HITCHCOCK: I will have the veto now on Hull.

Q. You will dress Hogue?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Hogue is a player. Hogue is a legitimate player.

Q. Hull looked pretty good, in terms of participating in drills and pushing -- doing all the things that are important to play. Is there more that he should be doing that you are not quite sure about?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, I think it is an easy game when you are on the move all the time. The game of hockey, especially the way these two teams go at each other, is not a game that is played on the move. There is a lot of stop-and-go. I think our risk is here that when does it come a point where you are just willing to take the chance and if he is out after the game and he can't play anymore, you are willing to take that chance for the win. I think that is what we are viewing. Our view is more: Do we hold off and how much better does he get. If he has a chance to get better then he is not going to play tonight. If he is as good as he is going to get and this is where we are at, then he might as well play. That is what we are going to have to weigh here over the next -- when we talk to the trainers and talk again to Brett, those are going to have to be the things that are weighed into that thing. If he is 80% or 75% and he has a chance to get to 90 in another 24 or 36 hours, then I think smart decisions would be that he would sit out and play in Game 6 and 7 where he was a more effective. But if he is at 75 or 80% right now and that is the best he is going to get, then we might as well go for.

Q. What about moving Pat up to the first line, what does he bring there and do you expect that to be the line no matter what happens with Brett?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, Brett's situation is going to be on the most expensive fourth line in history of hockey with Hogue, Skrudland and Hull, most talkative expensive line in hockey. (Laughter)

Q. He said, by the way, it is not easy being green?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, his ego is damaged right now but he will get over it tonight. I think from the standpoint of Verbeek, we just feel that Patty is playing well right now. He is getting close to scoring goals. He has had some great chances. We feel that in Modano's situation that if we can give him an impact player that would help Mike Verbeek is probably one of the best choices we have because of how well he is playing and how hard he is playing and we think that that can help Mike maybe get some more room and space and we have got a lot of options now. If Hogue continues to be the player or can get somewhere close to the player he was before he got hurt, then we have that option of throwing Benny up there too. We have got a lot of options. I just don't know that we are going to go out and play -- we will play 12 forwards tonight and the minutes played will probably be the same, but I don't know that we are going to play four definitive lines. I don't know that we want to do that right now.

Q. How hard was it for Pat to drop down to a third or fourth line position and has it made him a better player? Can you determine by that because he --

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, he has been the guy that -- his minutes played have been pretty consistent all year, but he has been bounced around a lot because we have used him kind of as a catalyst, to be honest with you, we have used him as player. When we needed other people to get going or other people to get physically involved, we would put Verbeek in that situation; he would draw either the anger from the other team or he would draw the anger from our own people. It was good for us. He has been a good player. I think that is where we have to get Mike and Jere at -- I think for us, you know, there are X factors in this game and in this series. There is three games left. One of the X factors we feel that we have going for us if we can get a one-two punch coming at people shift-in/shift-out then that is going to really hopefully put Buffalo on their heals and so that is our focus, is that we have got a good one-two punch, if we can help Modano here, then let us bring it.

Q. Were you surprised at (inaudible) --

KEN HITCHCOCK: When you look at the facts, no, but I think the thing that surprises you is the mental part of this thing is not the injury, but -- if this was a contracted player, if this was a player that had a future that was locked in and guaranteed, then I think there is no doubt that he would be on crutches and rehabing. But this is a player that has no contract at the end of the season he has got nothing except his good will and his play. He is willing to back that up and that is the thing I admire more than anything is the fact that he is willing to risk that, also knowing that he is also pushing the start of his season next year whereever it is, and maybe there is a chance it is here. Hopefully it is, but he is pushing it back one month and willing to risk that to play in the Stanley Cup. I think that should be admired.

Q. This has been such a tight series, so many one-goal games, guys at this time of year might be exhausted. But can you talk about the fact that you have eight guys on your team that have been here before and won, if you are looking for an edge -- (inaudible) --

KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't know that we are looking for an edge in this series. I think that Buffalo has brought people in like Cunneyworth who are experienced players, who have settled their group down a little bit. They have got some experienced people too, you know, they have got people like Hasek and Cunneyworth and these type of people who have been at the world level and the national hockey level who are very experienced. I think where it has helped us is getting here. I think that there was some very precarious situations in the St. Louis series and in the Colorado series that were emotionally draining on people that are our veterans rallied around some of the individuals who were struggling and really brought the team back into focus. I don't think that it has an impact right now, but it certainly had an impact leading up to now. I can especially look at a couple of points, especially in the St. Louis series, that it was such a delicate series and such a hard-fought series that these guys really pushed it up over the top, especially some of our impact players who in the St. Louis series were early, these guys really helped them bring their game around towards the end.

Q. With the nature of the game so far, the one-goal games and the momentum swings, are you so emersed in that that you appreciate the classic nature of this series so far? Is it any fun or --

KEN HITCHCOCK: I think this is a wild word but it feels comfortable. It feels like the game is 0-0 with ten minutes left, it is a comfortable feeling because we feel that that is the way we have played all Playoffs. I think what we are starting to recognize though right now is the fact that our season has been a classic season as far as the right edge of things all year and that is why we are confident we are going to win because we feel that we have been on this right edge for so long, it just feels natural. It feels normal. Maybe it isn't going to happen, who knows. But the feeling in our team is that we are excited. We are really looking forward to it, but we are also prepared to play in these things because it just seems like for months now we have been doing the same thing and -- I think the classic -- this series has been great and it is going to end up being talked about for a very long time, but for us, it is our whole Playoff run here. Every game has been like this. The only game that has had any level of comfortable feeling was the Game 7 against Colorado and that was a Game 7, but the rest of the Playoffs games have been exactly like this series has been. It has just been the norm. I think if there was a 2-goal lead, we won't probably know what to do with it.

Q. Do you feel now after you took a lot of criticism throughout the year, the press -- (inaudible) -- here it comes down to two, three games and two, three of those games were --

KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't know if I feel vindication. I think those are things you talk about at the end of the year. I think I feel confident the way we handled this team is the right way. We viewed it as kind of this pedal to the medal philosophy or all the way off philosophy and when we took it off, we didn't even come to the rink. We stayed away and the freshness was there, but when we were asking the team to work then we were very, very demanding to get it to work. Sometimes that can press buttons the wrong way, but that is the price that you pay to get to this level. But we also recognize that the pedal had to come off on a regular basis or we would have burnt this group out. But this group is anything but burnt out and, you know, the way they acted today, this morning, there is a genuine excitement to play this game tonight and I think that we are really looking forward to it. I am sure Buffalo is too, but we are anything but burnt out now.

Q. Back to Hull, the groin always improves with time, so your situation here, you mean, it seems like your decision is an easy one, you know you are going to play 6 and 7, why use him tonight in Game 5 under those circumstances?

KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, first of all, you are assuming that it is just a groin.

Q. Yeah, you are right. I shouldn't assume anything.

KEN HITCHCOCK: You are right. You just answered the question. You shouldn't assume anything.

Q. Is there more than that?

KEN HITCHCOCK: He might have a shoulder, I don't know. All I know is when he is coming back and he will go back in the warmup tonight. We will make the decision from there and a week from now we will fill in the blanks.

End of FastScripts…

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