This week, Ken Daneyko takes a closer look at the final four teams in the 2017 NHL Playoffs.
MSGNetworks.com: Let’s first focus on the Penguins. Despite being decimated by injuries, they advance to the Eastern Conference Final. A lot of the players on this team were drafted or acquired by Devils general manager Ray Shero. Is that something that Devils fans can look to and take heart?
Ken Daneyko: Looking at how the Penguins were built, Ray was certainly a part of that. That’s why you have hope, trust, and faith that he has the Devils going in the right direction. He knows how to build a team and he’s trying to accomplish that here in New Jersey.
He has said — and I agree with this — sustainable success means you have a chance every year. You can be a playoff team, a good team that can excel and that is the goal. You hope the same things that are happening with Pittsburgh, happen to the Devils soon.
As for the Penguins’ series win, going into Game 7 against the Caps, everything pointed to a Washington win. The Capitals finally found some mojo in Games 5 and 6 and you’re thinking this is the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team we’re used to seeing. You thought that Pittsburgh was reeling and then again in Game 7, the Pens find a way to win.
They played a stifling defensive game and didn’t give Washington a whole lot of chances. They played a picture-perfect road game in Game 7 and got goals from their role players. That’s why they’ve had so much success — you need your stars to be stars and they certainly have that with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
But the supporting cast came through and that’s why they advanced. With the four teams left in the playoffs, that’s what you’re seeing — the meat-and-potatoes guys have to contribute in some way.
MSGNetworks.com: Looking at the other side of that series and the Capitals. It’s just unbelievable how much heartbreak they’ve experienced in the playoffs throughout their history. They were the best team again in the regular season. Where do they go from here?
Ken Daneyko: Well, the Caps have a lot of unrestricted free agents, so no question, they are going to be different next year. They’re still a great team with a lot of great players, even though they’ve had some unfortunate playoff losses in the past. But you always have to believe. They may go a different route with a few different players, but they still have a great core.
Guys like Alex Ovechkin take the brunt of the criticism because of who he is. He takes too much of it for my liking. They have to have the right supporting cast around him. He’s a winger and he’s not a guy who’s going to dictate the game. He’ll score you a lot of big goals, but as a winger, you don’t have as much control on a game as a center or a defenseman or a goalie.
There are some who are saying “move Ovechkin!” Number one, that’s probably impossible. Number two, he’s still one of the best players around. The Capitals are a good team and I feel for them. They just haven’t figured out that last step out.
MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to the other East finalist, the Ottawa Senators. They pulled off the six-game upset over the Rangers, led by Erik Karlsson who’s arguably the best defensemen in the league. He put on a show in the series.
Ken Daneyko: He really did. You can see why he’s won a couple of Norris Trophies and he’s raised his play to another level. What’s impressed me is that I always thought he was great offensively, but could be a liability at times defensively. Well, he’s become a great defenseman in his own zone as well and it makes him the total package. He’s a treat to watch and there might not be a bigger game-changer around than Erik Karlsson. That makes the Senators dangerous.
He’s a special player and one of the biggest reasons why Ottawa has made it this far, but they have a good team, too. There’s a lot more to the Senators than Erik Karlsson and they’ve shown that. When you play as a team and believe in yourself, you can do good things. I know a lot of people didn’t give them much of a chance in these playoffs, but that’s what’s great about the postseason. You don’t need to be a Top-3 team in the regular season to win the Cup. If your team gets in and comes together at the right time, you can beat anybody.
MSGNetworks.com: Looking at the Western Conference Final, you have two teams that casual fans might not be familiar with in Nashville and Anaheim. Both teams are loaded defensively. Do you expect it to be somewhat of a tight-checking, low-scoring series?
Ken Daneyko: Well, both teams also have a lot of offense up front, too. I would expect that with the way both goalies have played — Pekka Rinne for Nashville and John Gibson for Anaheim — and with both sets of defensemen, you’d expect somewhat of a defensive series. The Predators might have the best defensive unit left in the playoffs, but the Ducks aren’t that far behind with the depth that they have.
You look at the forwards and one of the big reasons why Nashville is here is because of the play of their No. 1 line — Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson — something they haven’t had in the last three or four years. That group has been getting it done. Anaheim, down the middle, is as good as it gets with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. They’re both going to be a handful for the Predators. It’s going be interesting to see how the Johansen line performs against the two big Duck centers. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I think that this series is really intriguing.
MSGNetworks.com: Lastly, you’ve been in this position in being a part of one of the final four teams left in the playoffs. Some people say it’s actually more painful to lose in the Conference Final than it is the Cup Final because you’re so close. For a player, what is your mindset being so close to the Stanley Cup Final, but also mindful that you might not get here again?
Ken Daneyko: What you try to do is to try to keep your emotional balance. Don’t get too emotionally low after a loss or get too high after a big win. You need to be able to raise your intensity level for the next game. The key is trying to stay even-keeled.
There’s no doubt, the butterflies are a little bigger and you’re excited that you’re one of the final four teams. For teams like Ottawa and Nashville, no one expected them to be here, but I’m sure the players in those locker rooms did. You try and perform to the best of your ability, both as a team and as an individual. You don’t want to get overwhelmed by the pressure of the situation. The stakes are always raised each round and the competition gets tougher. But you have to find a way to keep your cool.