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May 21, 2004

Ken Hitchcock

TAMPA, FLORIDA: Practice Day

Q. Can the emotion and the energy that you had in the third period in overtime, can that spill over to this game even though in this series --
KEN HITCHCOCK: That's what we are banking on. We are banking on the momentum from the second period -- or from the third period in the overtime is something we can use. I think the better thing for us is we have struggled in this series with two days off, we have lost the momentum that we have built with two days off and I think that's what we are hoping, is that our players feel, talking to them today, a lot more energized, a lot less time to think about it.
We are not going to have a lot of time to think about it. We have got to get back on the bicycle right away tomorrow. For whatever reason our team is better and has been better when we play every second day even during the season. So that's what we are banking on, the momentum from the third period, the overtime, and not much time to think about it.
Q. Which team would have more pressure tomorrow night, the home team or you guys?
KEN HITCHCOCK: You know what I found is that having been on both sides of it, I find that there's pressure on both teams at the start and there's more pressure on the home team if the game is close at the end.
You know, having experienced both sides of it seems that if there's any pressure it's on the home team if the game is tied or there's a goal difference, seems to be that atmosphere you can feel the apprehension in the stands. You can feel the anxiety in the stands and sometimes that can be a negative.
Q. Players know that Game 7s make or break a lot of careers, at least in man's minds at least; how do you not let the magnitude of that come into play?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, for whatever reason I have been involved in a lot of these. I haven't coached that long in the NHL, but I have been in a lot of these games and I, as a coach have made mistakes the first game I coached in 1997. I think I have learned from those mistakes and next go-round I thought I did a better job and that's the major thing for me, is to do the right thing to help the players have a very strong focus. I think sometimes we build too much of the emotion into it without realizing that it's already there, it's already in place. And sometimes we add fuel to that fire and we throw the players right over the top where their play is very hard but at times very, very bizarre, so I have learned from that. I have learned to try to channel things in the right direction hopefully and do a good job on our behalf.
Our coaching staff, we have a job to do just like the players do, and we really have to trust that the players are going to provide their own emotion and intensity from within the room. The surge coming from within the room will be left up to them. But it's our job to really work hard to prepare them to play the right way.
Q. The things that you learned, is it more pre-game stuff in terms of getting the teams ready or is it like --
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, it is understanding space. The game is tomorrow. It's not today. And there's space. When you are in an emotional series like this when there's a really, really well-played high energy series, you have an obligation to give the players space. There's a time to rest mentally and physically and then there's a time to get it on, you know, learning to know when and the difference is important, I think.
Q. A couple of guys said today that you guys got to a level last night third period overtime that you hadn't been at yet. Do you agree with that?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Well, it was a very high level. It was a level that you know, some days in your coaching career you hope you see sometimes. You know, you can't see it very often, but it was at a level of skill and desperation that's about as high as you can go. I am sure Tampa felt the same way when we kept coming at them. But we have been able, for whatever reason, we have been able to get at that level quite a bit this year. We were able to get it a couple of times in the New Jersey series. We got it twice in the Toronto series. And we had it again last night. I thought we really had it in Game 2 so we have been able to get up to that level which is pretty unique for a team to get up there that many times in Playoffs.
Q. Once you have been there is that a daunting task to get back?
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, because it's a very painful area, rewarding but it's very painful.
Q. A lot of instances where a team is so close to eliminating the team and that other team comes back then they force a Game 7. Have you put doubt in their minds --
KEN HITCHCOCK: I can't speak for them. I have no idea.
My only feeling is when you are a team that has young players, that stuff is irrelevant. I think older players feel it a lot more. They feel the disappointment. They feel the discouragement, young players just keep wanting to playing hockey. I don't feel it will have any impact at all.
Q. Do you think that Vince Lecavalier has sort of stepped up his play as the series has gone along and become a more dominant player as the series has gone on?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I don't know if he's stepped up. He's a dominant player because he's the full package. He can beat you physically and with his skill. Very difficult player to play against because as much as he is wearing on you physically, he's wearing on you mentally because he's -- I don't know if you -- I don't know if there's 15 players left in the League that can score from distance. He's one of them. He can also score in close because he can muscle the puck to the net. He's a player, as a coach and as a team playing against him, you are always on edge when you play against players like him. Like some people can beat you with their speed and finesse, but he can beat you with both areas of his game so that's very unnerving at times. He's the full package.
Q. Have you guys stepped it up physically against him? It seemed that Malakhov in particular last night was battling him pretty hard?
KEN HITCHCOCK: We have had a difficult task because we did a good job checking him so then Richards steps up. So then we go and check Richards and we leave Lecavalier alone a little bit, then he steps up. It's a very difficult task when you are having to check two lines. Quite frankly it was much easier when they all played together.
KEN HITCHCOCK: That's not going to happen. So it's a very difficult challenge when you have got two lines that can score because it really puts a team at disadvantage. We changed tactics yesterday and we got -- I don't want to say we got burned early on it but we got beat on it. We did change tactics with how we were playing people and you know, we negotiated one line but then the other line did their jobs, so --
Q. What could you attribute Gagne's success to; was it a matter of having space that he hasn't had before with J.R. on that line?
KEN HITCHCOCK: The finishing touch for Simon Gagne is scoring. He's always a good player in every game. He does so many things that a coach loves, but in -- the end if he going to be an impact player, no different than Jerome Iginla or Patrick Marleau, at the end of the day you have got to score. So he scored yesterday, but he didn't play any better than he has in some of the games in this series because he's played really well - really well. But he scored. And so that gave him you know, the accolades that go with doing those things, but he's played as well as he's played last night. He's played some games that well in this series already.
Q. Did putting J.R. on his line create space for him?
KEN HITCHCOCK: No, the reason we put J.R. there was our feeling was that with all the chances that Keith and his line mates were getting, if we had someone that could finish off those chances, it might afford us some more goals and it happened to work out last night.
Q. As the Playoffs go on a lot of years the play seems to get duller and more defensive and the scoring goes down. But this series has been the opposite. You guys are scoring, I think, over six goals a game between the two of you which is like a goal and a half higher than the overall average in the Playoffs. It's been, I think, everybody would agree, it's been pretty entertaining too; what do you attribute that to?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I just feel that it's -- Tampa has caused that; not us. I think Tampa -- you have to make a decision when you play them. They play with risk and they play with energy and you have to, in my opinion, if you are going to give yourselves a fighting chance, you have to match that. When you do those things, there's a risk involved and the risk is that you might give up odd-man rushes, you might get beat but you are going to have to do those things in order to win the hockey game because if you sit back you are going to get beat and what is happening is that every time we sit back and we get conservative that's when they come right after us and get us on our heals and we can't get back off.
Q. Do you hold the edge in tomorrow's game with guys that are a lot older or more experienced in that they won't be so uptight in that first ten minutes?
KEN HITCHCOCK: I would rather us be excited than experienced tomorrow because quite frankly, we need a lot better start than we had in Game 5. We did not have a good start in Game 5 at all and we need a better start. So I'd rather see us more excited and more error prone than conservative and kind of getting ready for it.
I feel like, you know, the biggest mistakes you can make is try to win this game too early. For us, we know that we have been a very good team in every game. In the second half of every game, of every game except for Game 1, so for five games now we have been an excellent hockey club in the second half of the games but we're going to need a 60-minute effort tomorrow, we know that. We can't have the start that we had in Game 5 because I don't believe we can recover from that.
Q. What you just said there, doesn't that a bit fly in the face of sort of the conventional thinking that has surrounded the Playoffs over the last, maybe ten years, that it's always sort of been, you know, play conservative, sit back, you know, wait for them to make a mistake then maybe go the other way; like it seems you are saying you have got to go out and play with that sense of chaos that you always sort of talk about? It seems to be a shift in thinking a little bit maybe.
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yeah, but it's not us that's created that it; Tampa. Tampa's style of play has created that. They play that way, so you have a choice. We tried to slow it down. That's why we got hammered quite frankly in this building in the two games we got killed because we tried to slow it down and drop the tempo down and see if we could get the game down to a bull low (sic) and they won't stop so we had to learn to go with them. Look, we weren't even close during the regular season and we're a lot closer now. We are right there. But we had to change and Tampa has forced us to change. I think they forced a lot of teams to change. They play a very interesting game that's different; that's a combination of tenacity and skill, but it's also a game that's there's a lot of errors in that game so if you are going to beat them, you have to make them pay for those errors. In a lot of games in this series, we have made them pay for those errors and hopefully we can do it tomorrow. First of all, if we don't match their energy out of the gate, we have no chance.
Q. What have you done differently from last night to today that you would have not done in the late 90s?
Q. Define space.
KEN HITCHCOCK: Just understanding that the game is played -- that there's an impact time to meet with the players and there's a time to give them their own space to be together. You can't have control of them. You have to allow them to develop their own energy from within. And that's just experience. That's listening to people and understanding that the game is played on Saturday. It is not played on Friday and there is a time to allow it to come down to build it up again.
Q. Is that part of the reason why you do not put them all in hotels when you are at home (inaudible) --
KEN HITCHCOCK: Yes. I just believe that in order to get maximum effort out of people you have to allow them to come down before you can build them up again. So we tried to stay at a very high level in the Edmonton series on the off days and every where and it did not work. So we changed.
Q. Are the players having dinner?
KEN HITCHCOCK: We were late because of weather. There has been some bad weather out east so they are late for the dinner and their food was cold and they wanted to eat a lot more than they wanted to talk to you folks, quite frankly.

End of FastScripts...

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