This week, Ken Daneyko looks back at an epic Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final, previews the Stanley Cup Final and reflects on scoring a goal in the Cup Final himself.
MSGNetworks.com: There’s only one place to start and its Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Penguins and Senators, the first double-overtime Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final since the one you played in 1994. The Penguins get it done in dramatic fashion and will be moving on. It’s probably one of the best playoff games we’ve ever seen.
Ken Daneyko: It really was and that’s what Game 7s are all about. You just hope for a good, hard-fought game and both teams didn’t disappoint. The Penguins and Senators both played their hearts out and unfortunately, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. Even when you don’t have a horse in the race as a neutral fan, it’s tough to see somebody lose because I know how gut-wrenching that is from my experience in ’94.
That’s what it’s all about – it’s great drama and the Ottawa Senators have nothing to be ashamed about because they showed so much resiliency. They fought back twice from a goal down in Game 7. Unfortunately for them, the defending Stanley Cup champions, with the pedigree they have, know how to win. The Penguins were one shot better and that’s what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs great.
MSGNetworks.com: It was exhausting for us at home watching the game, I can only imagine how it is for the players to play in a game like that after a long postseason. How do keep your mind on playing in a contest like that and block out all the bumps and bruises you’ve endured during your playoff run?
Ken Daneyko: For all of us that have played, winning the Cup is something you dream about. These guys will do whatever it takes on a nightly basis to fulfill that dream – injured or not, banged up or not. It’s a grind and it’s four grueling rounds to get there. Sometimes to win the Stanley Cup, it’s survival of the fittest. The team that has some depth is going to be successful like the Penguins have been. The heart and soul that every player shows at this time of year has been terrific.
I think it’s more gut wrenching and nervous for fans of the teams playing. I felt more nervous watching that game! When you’re a player, you’re just entrenched in it. You don’t have time to think, you just react and you hope for the best. When it’s out of your control, it seems to be even more nerve-wracking than it is as a player until it’s over.
MSGNetworks.com: The Pens’ win last night sets up a very interesting Stanley Cup Final. You have the defense of Nashville going up against the firepower of the Penguins forwards. How do you see the series going?
Ken Daneyko: I think this series has a lot of subplots and intriguing matchups. I think it’s going to be a terrific Stanley Cup Final and it’s great to see the Predators, a team that’s never been here, in the Final. That in itself brings some intrigue into this series. In order for them to be champions, they have to beat the best – the defending champs.
Certainly, the matchup you’re looking at is the real strong Predators defense against high-flying Penguins offense. That Predators defense can also score as well and be very offensive minded. Nashville is going to try to neutralize the Penguins’ speed in this series. The Predators are missing a key piece in their No. 1 center Ryan Johansen, but they’ve have had a lot of role guys like Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and Vern Fiddler step up and score big goals. They’re going to need more of that against the Penguins.
It’s not going to be an easy task for Nashville, because of the Penguins’ past experience and ability to find a way to win. Experience can carry you a long way even when your backs are against the wall. Of course, they’re also led by two big superstars that no other team has. When you have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, it doesn’t matter what else you have, you have a chance.
That doesn’t mean the rest of their guys haven’t played superbly. Last night, it was one of their role guys coming through in Chris Kunitz. He hadn’t scored in 30-plus games and what does he do? He gets two goals in Game 7, including the game-winner.
There are a lot of interesting reasons to watch – the up-and-coming Predators, two great goalies in Matt Murray and Pekka Rinne, who’s been outstanding in these playoffs. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The Predators are going to have to be almost perfect in order to slow down Pittsburgh.
MSGNetworks.com: Now that we’re in the Final, let’s talk about a specific personal experience for you – you weren’t known as a big-time scorer in your career, but you scored a goal in Game 1 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final against the Stars. Take us through that moment.
Ken Daneyko: I remember that we ended up winning that game pretty easily, but at the time, the goal I scored gave us the lead. If you saw me jump after I scored, I felt like I jumped 15 feet in the air – it might have been really been 15 inches!
Obviously, I was pretty excited. I always likened myself to an offensive lineman in football, you don’t score many touchdowns. You do the things you do to help the team win. When you do get a big goal in the Stanley Cup Final, your emotions go off the charts.
We talked about unlikely sources scoring big goals in the playoffs at the right time, that one was a big one for me. A goal like that gets your bench going. You expect guys like Crosby and Malkin to come up with the big plays, but when your role guys come up with them, it gives the bench a lift. You need your top guys to get going, but they need the support of the other guys chipping in along the way. My goal was something I’ll never forget and I remember it like it was yesterday.
MSGNetworks.com: Last thing, now that we’ve seen three rounds of playoff hockey, take us into the mentality of a player who’s just four wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup.
Ken Daneyko: I think you try and reset mentally. Nashville has had a little more time before the series begins and the Penguins are getting a couple of days here. Pittsburgh has the experience and they know what to expect. All eyes are on you and the media rush you get is off the charts.
You have to balance that on top everything else – tickets, family, friends. You want your mind focused on one thing – Game 1. You do whatever it takes to win individually and as a team. You have to keep those outside distractions at bay and to the best of your ability. The job isn’t done yet and no one remembers second. The Devils had a great team in 2001, but we didn’t win. It was disappointing and we lost in seven games to the Colorado Avalanche. It’s a very similar scenario and situation for the Penguins. They can win back-to-back Cups, which isn’t easy to do anymore.
All it really comes down to is playing your heart out and playing smart. Your coaches get you prepared and now it’s up to you execute to the best of your ability. Let the chips fall where they may and leave it all on the ice.