There are 10 games left in the regular season and we want to make sure the team stays sharp as the playoffs inch closer. Last year, we were 8-3-2 in our final 13 games, which I considered a mediocre record. We want to make sure that does not happen again. We played all non-playoff teams at the end of last season and everyone was looking at our schedule and thinking, “Oh, they have it easy.” The thing is that the teams that are out of the playoffs play very hard.
Our first-round opponent last year was the Rangers and they had to play very hard all the way through the end of the regular season to get into the playoffs. Every game was do or die for them, and we were not ready the first two games of the playoffs last year. It took us two games to get into playoff mode. We don’t want that to happen again even though we have clinched the division and will probably be at least second in the conference. We want to make sure we are playing playoff hockey and ready for the playoffs when they start.
We know rest is important this time of year, but when it is time to practice we will push the guys and they will practice hard. I told the guys that we would have a long practice today. We went for nearly 80 minutes. They knew it was coming and they were prepared for it, but it was just another way to let them know that we cannot let up during the rest of the regular season.
I did not want to mention how we finished last season until we had about five games left, but after we lost in Carolina it seemed like an appropriate time to bring it up. So we talked about it before the Tampa game. I thought Tampa played very hard, but we were able to absorb their best. I thought Jose Theodore played great and we got the win and continued on. We draw on those cheap lessons that we have learned and we have been very successful this year in learning from them and being better because of them.
I think we are 7-1-2 in our last 10 games, but we need to continue on. Every team we are playing right now is a desperate team. We have Pittsburgh on Wednesday and they are trying to fight off New Jersey for the division. Carolina has been the seventh-best team in the NHL since Christmas. They play hard and scare me every time we play. Calgary comes here on Sunday and they are fighting for their playoffs lives. That is a city that is not used to missing the playoffs, so we know they will be battling. We play Boston and Atlanta twice to end the season. Both of those teams are fighting to get into the playoffs and both could be a possible first-round opponent.
Our guys also know how many players we have here and they all want to play. When John Erskine
played in Tampa he was arguably our best defenseman. Tyler Sloan played in Florida and was one of our best defensemen. John Carlson
still has the ability to go down to Hershey, but he is playing hard every night because he does not want to go down. All of these situations create a little bit of pressure cookers for the guys and that is a good thing.