BOSTON, MA --
|Byron Bitz (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Almost every child has the dream – standing in a stadium, the crowd roaring, as the championship trophy is passed around a winning team.
Although that dream tends to go the same place as hopes of becoming an astronaut or rock star for most of us, the players on the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs actually have a distinct possibility of achieving their ultimate sports fantasy.
“It’s different now,” said Bruins forward Byron Bitz earlier this week. “It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, so everything is really magnified.”
Suddenly, hoisting that homemade, tinfoil cup above their six-year-old heads seems like it was good practice for the real moment.
“I’ve seen it on TV, but obviously, when you’re in the situation, it’s different,” said the rookie, who is looking forward to experiencing his first Stanley Cup playoff game. “The intensity of the playoffs, and every game, every shift is big.”
Oh, but when you were six, it seemed so simple. You easily won every fight against your imaginary opponent, stopped every goal, and even scored a hat trick. Fortunately, now that things are much more real and won’t be as easy, the younger Bruins players have some veteran players to help them out.
“Sometimes you talk to them…and a lot of guys are keen on asking, so they’ll just ask you what’s going on and maybe what to do,” said Steve Montador, who reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 with the Calgary Flames. “Sometimes it’s not just old guys going to young guys….I think a number of guys seem to be well-aware these days.”
Bitz, for one, attributes that willingness to ask and to learn to the Bruins veterans’ openness to answering questions.
“There’s not a guy in here I wouldn’t feel comfortable going up to and asking anything,” he said. “If you want to ask them a question, they’ll sit down with you, and they’ll do the best to answer it.”
“It’s good to play with some intensity, but you can’t lose control...that’s when you start making dumb plays and taking penalties. - Mark Stuart
However, veteran defenseman Shane Hnidy thought it was the other way around.
“We’ve got a great group of young guys who realize you need that extra step, that extra gear, this time of year,” he said. “The team just has to keep building on what we started throughout the season and continue on.”
Mostly, that involves keeping emotions in check, especially in a series where there’s a lot of, to use the phrase that’s being tossed around the locker room this morning, “bad blood.”
“It’s good to play with some intensity, but you can’t lose control,” said defenseman Mark Stuart, who’s playing in his second playoff series. “That’s when you start making dumb plays and taking penalties.”
So, however entertaining last Thursday’s Habs/Bruins game was, it simply can’t happen again.
“If you can keep your emotions in check, you’re going to play a lot smarter,” said P.J. Axelsson, who admitted that, although this is his seventh time in the playoffs, it’s still hard to control his emotions sometimes.
“You’re adrenaline is pumping, so that makes it tougher,” he said. “You still get mad out there.”
And while there might be a few – okay, a lot – more cameras in the locker room and there’s a new design on the ice that reads “Stanley Cup Playoffs,” the Bruins are trying to approach tonight like it’s the 83rd game of their season. Nothing special.
“There’s a routine you’ve been working on since day one of your career, but also the season in particular,” Montador said, “and I think it’s important to stick to what you do to get prepared for every game.
“You obviously understand it’s playoffs, and it’s a different season, but it’s also just business as usual as much as possible.”