Yesterday, the NHL held a media conference call with several big name broadcasters, Don Cherry of CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada”, Mike Emrick from VERSUS and NBC, Pierre McGuire from TSN and NBC and Mike Milbury from NBC and TSN. Each broadcaster started the call with a few words about a series before they took questions. Pierre McGuire spoke of the Caps/Flyers matchup.
PIERRE McGUIRE: Well, I’d like to talk a little bit about the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals. I think this series has a chance to have the most bloodshed of all the series, and the big reason why is because of the targeting that’s going to go on. Whether you talk about going after Alex Ovechkin or even challenging a rookie like Nicklas Backstrom, I think that’s going to be real tough for Backstrom who’s never played in an NHL playoff game.
I think when you look at the Philadelphia Flyers under John Stevens, he brought back a little bit about what made the Flyers good in the 1970s and that’s intimidation. It’s not easy to do now with the way games are being called, but I expect you’re going to see players like Braydon Coburn having an impact on the series Philadelphia is going to win. I think you’re going to see Steve Downie and Scottie Upshaw potentially have an impact if Philadelphia is going to win.
But the thing that Alex Ovechkin does, like any superstar in the NHL, is he attacks the people that are trying to attack him. He will not be intimidated. He’s yet to show that in his three years in the league, so I expect it’s going to come down to a goaltending situation, and who’s going to be the better goalie. And right now neither one of those goalies has won a playoff round in their NHL history.
I think right now Huet has probably got a little bit of an advantage, but I think the MVP of this entire thing is George McPhee, the general manager of the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline. One of the reasons they are in the playoffs is he got Fedorov, he got Matt Cooke who’s been a tremendous energy player for them, and obviously Huet. What they’ve done with Bruce Boudreau is they’ve cultivated talent like Mike Green to put them in a position where they have a chance to succeed.
But when you play against Washington, the most underrated part of their game because everybody focuses on the skill of Kozlov, Fedorov and Ovechkin, they’ve got powers upon powers on defense. Shaone Morrisonn is a big body. They lean on you. They’re not intimidated. This will be a long, physical bloody series and I think the Washington Capitals will win it, but I think they’re going to win it under severe physical duress.
With the storybook season of this year’s Caps — along with the Caps and Flyers being two of the most improved teams this year — a majority of the questions focused on the Caps and Flyers. Here they are:
Q. Pierre, a lot of buzz about Ovechkin as MVP this year. Why beyond statistics do you feel he would be a candidate?
PIERRE McGUIRE: Because he can do it by himself. A lot of guys need other players around him. He can make himself great and make this team win because he is so overwhelmingly dominant because of the physical nature of his game.
The one thing that he does, and Don and Mike coached against him and obviously Mike played against him. Teemu Selanne was great but he needed Andy McDonald with him or another career type of player to do that. Alexander Ovechkin doesn’t need that. You give him a stick and a puck and he doesn’t even need gloves. He’s virtually indestructible. I would call him a cyborg.
When you look at it, he is without a doubt the MVP of the league, and whoever has a vote that doesn’t vote for him should have that vote rescinded. He’s the MVP of the league.
Q. Mike Milbury, you’ve seen a lot of players in your time. Is there anyone that Ovechkin reminds you of, or is he kind of his own man?
MIKE MILBURY: He’s taken it to another level that I haven’t seen. When you see him jumping up against the glass and the enthusiasm that he demonstrates with his teammates, whether it’s him scoring a goal or not doesn’t seem to matter to this guy. There’s no question he’s as electrifying a player as I’ve seen when you put him in that category. Crosby last year was in that similar vein, but I think Ovechkin may have knocked it up a notch. It’s hard to believe that he can, but this is as improbable a run as you’d want to expect from a team that was down and out until Boudreau comes along and turns them into just a fantasy that’s hard to believe. It’s great for Washington and they’ve waited a long time and it looks like they should be good for a lot of years to come.
DON CHERRY: I think George McPhee did a great job. I heard him on the radio, and he said, yes, well, we all knew that Boudreau was a great hockey mind. That’s why he left him in the minors for 17 years I guess it was, and he named him interim. Who’s kidding who? He was there just until he found another coach, and all of a sudden he pulled a little magic out and now he’s staying.
But make no mistake about it, when he first went there, he was just cannon fodder until he found another coach.
MIKE EMRICK: One last thing on Ovechkin, the last time I checked he was tenth in the league in hits, and he’s the scoring champion.
Q. First of all, just a quick point of clarification. Was it Pierre or Mike that gave that great summary on the Caps and Flyers?
PIERRE McGUIRE: I did the Caps-Flyers. It’s McGuire.
Q. That was awesome, and it sounded like the Eagles and Redskins were going to play.
PIERRE McGUIRE: This is one of the most underappreciated match-ups in the league because a lot of people don’t pay attention to Washington and now they are because of Ovechkin, and Philadelphia had a bad last year last year so people kind of forgot about them. But there’s been a lot of bad blood between those teams for a long time because of geographic proximity.
Q. Absolutely, there’s no question that they don’t like each other in any sport they play, let alone hockey. But one quick question to the panel, and that is with regard to all that has been said, is this the kind of team, the Capitals, that is built to be a contender for the Stanley Cup playoffs, or is this a team that’s going to hopefully get experience that they will draw on further down the line?
CHERRY: Well, I’ll jump in. You have to look at when they have a year when they got in that they don’t think they can win the Stanley Cup. That happened to me in my second year with the Bruins. We did so well to get in the Finals. This might be an awful letdown going into the playoffs, and I really don’t think they’re built for the playoffs to tell you the truth. All the other teams have to concentrate on Ovechkin. But we’ll see how it goes.
MCGUIRE: Yeah, I think that there’s going to be a learning curve here. You look at the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, going out in five games to Ottawa. They had to learn how to win, too. They’re all as a group in Pittsburgh talking about we’re not going to let that happen this year. We were kind of throttled by the Ottawa Senators. So they’ll be more prepared for it.
Even though it’s easier to say, Fedorov’s Stanley Cup experience brings a lot to that dressing room, especially for two of the better offensive players, Ovechkin and Semin because he can talk to them in their native language and calm them down. He was a huge influence during the last six or seven games of the season when they had a chance to lose their focus. Fedorov wouldn’t let that happen.
Quite frankly I think they’re still a few years away from being a competitive team for the Cup but this has been a huge stroke of genius by George McPhee.
He had a guy Glen Hanlon who was doing a pretty good job accumulating losses and wanting to make the team better. As you know from all your years in the American Hockey League, Boudreau finally got his chance.
I think the Washington-Philly match-up is intriguing. Neither one of those teams made it last year and the series doesn’t get started until Friday. They’ve got a few days off to celebrate and then clear their heads. I think for both Philadelphia and Washington it’s a great opportunity to learn so much about what kind of team they have, and you don’t really know how good you are until you get to the playoffs. And in this case somebody is going to have a whole bunch of experience under their belt moving onto the second round, and whether they go deeper has been that or not, it’s going to bode well for both franchises and certainly the winner as they start to move ahead and look forward.
Q. Pierre, you mentioned earlier about Philly’s physicality this year. As far as playing a physical game against Washington and in particular Ovechkin, do you give them a shot? Do you think it’ll be good enough to win the series?
PIERRE McGUIRE: I do. They have Jason Smith who’s a proud guy who comes over from Edmonton, he’s got to be a factor, Braydon Coburn is going to have to be a factor, Mike Richards. I’m talking about the physical dimension. I’m not talking about the scoring dimension. Those are three, Richards, Jason Smith and Braydon Coburn, are going to be very important.
Scott Hartnell, we saw on Wednesday night Pittsburgh versus Philly what he tried to do to Sidney Crosby. He got his nose broken and he was a bloody mess but he was still there to the end. They need that kind of championship effort out of all their players to have a chance. I think this will be one of the bloodiest series. Everybody is focusing on San Jose and Calgary Flames and they should because that’s going to be mean spirited, but I think this Philly-Washington is going to be downright ugly.