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Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Hawks talk about bonding on the road

By ESPNChicago.com

Antti Niemi
Antti Niemi has been establishing himself as an elite goaltender.

Here is the transcription of the Blackhawks’ interviews at O’Hare airport upon their return from San Jose:

Q. Not to downplay what's gone on for the previous six and a half months, but are you and your teammates finding another level here as the playoffs go on? Do you feel you're playing better, too?

Jonathan Toews: I guess you could say that. We're slowly getting better and better. It's not like it's just happened all at once. You saw a slow, steady improvement over the season. I think you're seeing it right now as the playoffs have come along. We spent a lot of time with each other on the road. We're having fun playing hockey, whether it's hanging out in the hotel or going for dinner.
Done a lot of bonding as a team and it's showing on the ice. We're having fun. We understand what makes us successful as a team, that one guy can't get off his game or else we're not going to win that way. We're slowly getting better. But we're still working to that next level.

Q. You personally, though, do you feel you're playing as well?

Jonathan Toews: I've been asked a lot of questions like that just because I've been in on a lot of goals, whether it's a power-play or five-on-five.
Again, just things seem to have really clicked around the net. I don't think I've changed that much from the regular season.
Obviously, you raise your play at both ends of the rink. You try and play the right way. But just when you feel really confident, things click, pucks will go in. That's the way it's been right now.
But, you know, you got to understand as a player that you stick with what works and you work hard for that success. Just haven't taken shortcuts. Haven't changed my game. It's continued to go that way. So hopefully I'll keep scoring goals and contributing that way because it's a lot of fun when it's working that way.

Q. Do you feel the whole town pinning their championship hopes on you? Do you feel that vibe?

Jonathan Toews: I mean, we'll find out. We've been on the road for a little while. It works out great for us now.
We know we want to play better at home and enjoy playing in front of our own crowd and playing well.
But, you know, there's been a lot of pressure on us all year. Everyone talks about our team and how special we are, what we're capable of doing. We understand that. We know there's pressure.
But we focused on the right things, that's what we need to do as a team to be successful. We're going to continue to focus on that.

Q. Can you explain why this team plays so well on the road?

Jonathan Toews: I don't know. I mean, we've been good on the road. Just haven't been good enough at home. I think that's where the comparison comes in.
You know, we're happy about what we've accomplished so far in this series. But we're motivated about what more we can do at home. Really hope we take advantage of these next couple games here.

Q. You got off to a fast start on the road. Is that what you have to do at home?

Jonathan Toews: I wouldn't say we've had fast starts. I mean, we definitely survived some storms. You know, obviously San Jose is one of those teams that likes to come out hard in their own building. To come out the first period with a 1-0 lead yesterday, that's big for us.
We know as these games go along, we can keep using our speed and energy. All four lines have been balancing the load pretty well. So we stay fresh as a team when we do that. As games go along, I think we get slowly better and better. That's the type of thing we want to do at home a little more.

Q. How do you do that at home? Check into a hotel and play Mario Brothers all night long?

Jonathan Toews: It could be one solution (laughter).
We've said a lot of good things going into the locker room going into the game. We go in there just focusing one shift, one period at a time. We're just breaking it down and not looking at it as a 60-minute game. Because sometimes it's a little bit of an overwhelming job if you're trying to dominate 60 minutes.
You know, go in and get a great start, and then you just kind of build off that. Definitely what we want to do in a couple days.

Q. You played a lot of the season without David Bolland. The fact he came back and raised his level, what has that meant to you?

Jonathan Toews: He's been awesome. I mean, over the course of the year, we learned to play without some of our best players, whether it was Bolland or Hossa or Bryan. You know, you learn to play without guys like that, I think it makes you better as a team. When you get those guys back in your lineup, he's been awesome for us in the playoffs.
You can go look across our lineup right now, some guys that don't get as much recognition, guys that are stepping up their game and are huge.
We all realize how important these guys are within our locker room, but they don't necessarily get the glory. That's what you need to win games this time of year.

Q. The Bulls said they bonded better on the road. They didn't have the distractions like at home. Have you found the same thing?

Jonathan Toews: I guess so. I mean, there's a lot of expectations from family and friends, people want to be a part of this whole thing. When you're on the road, it's just you and the guys. In that way, it's a little bit easier.
But no one's looking at that as an excuse. Like I said before, we can be happy about the last two games we played on the road because that's big. It's a huge disadvantage to play in someone else's building, especially in San Jose, with the noise in that building.
But I think we can all forget about that and really get excited about what we can do and how good we can play in our own building.

Q. What specifically has worked so far against San Jose in the first two games to build the lead?

Jonathan Toews: Just playing great against their top players. Again, we try hard to make it difficult on their goaltender. I think there's still quite a bit more we can do there.
But, again, it's still about out-competing them. Whether it's in the penalty kill or power-play, we've got to be better and better against their best players.
Dave Bolland

Q. How is the hand?

Dave Bolland: It's fine. Nothing wrong with that.

Q. What have you done specifically on your line to slow Thornton's line and get in his head?

Dave Bolland: I don't know. I think we've been great defensively, back-checking to get back in our own zone; I think throwing the body with Versteeg and Ladd. Been great in throwing the body around. Doing a great job at it.

Q. Can you sense things getting a little bit more physical?

Dave Bolland: Yeah. Compared to the first game, the first game, was a lot harder, more finesse. Second game was chippier. This next one could come on as chippier. See how it goes.

Q. Jonathan talked about how some guys are relished more within the locker room than outside. You're one of those guys. Does it matter to you how you're viewed or does your play speak for itself?

Dave Bolland: I think my play speaks for itself. For me, in the dressing room, whatever, but for me, the ice. Instead of talking in the room, normally show it on the ice instead of that.
For me, when I'm on that ice, always doing my best. Against Thornton's line, shutting them down, that's what I'm doing. That's my job.

Q. Dale Hunter in his career found he could beat a lot of different ways, by being passed and scoring. How much of his play is reflected in yours?

Dave Bolland: Him being my coach four years ago was great. Him and Mark (Hunter) taught me a lot, just little things to get to the NHL. Just from watching little videos of him, he used to be the same way.
It's a privilege playing against the top lines. So playing against Thornton, it's good, it's fun. We have a good time with it.

Q. Did you have that in your game before you got to London?

Dave Bolland: No, not really. When I came to the NHL, mostly last year, started putting me in those positions, I think I moved forward with it, that's what I was meant to do, I don't know. Compared from London to now, it's a different story.
As a role now, this is my role for right now in the playoffs.

Q. Do you get energized when you know you're in somebody's head?

Dave Bolland: I don't know if it gives me more energy. It could. When I know I'm in someone's head, that's good. I don't know what I do to get in his head, but it's fun. It's good. There is a bit of an energy that comes to me when it does happen because it's a privilege, right, to be out there guys, play against Heatley, Thornton and Marleau. Probably the top players in the NHL and in the world, it is a privilege.

Q. You have gotten in the heads of Sedins and Luongo.

Dave Bolland: I don't know what it is about myself. If it's just me back-checking. I don't know what it is.

Q. But other guys, too? Byfuglien is a big psych-out artist.

Dave Bolland: It's true. Buff, when he's in front of that net, I don't think anybody can move that guy. See some guys on the Sharks were trying to get in there and Buff just stood his ground, just placed his feet there.

Q. Is it possible you might be a little fresher after having missed so much of the season and does that make you appreciate this a little bit more?

Dave Bolland: Yeah, it was tough having back surgery, going through everything, missing most of the season. It was a tough decision. It wasn't something that I wanted to do.
To do that, it was good to get that all done with and be back during the playoffs. It's the time that counts right now. This is the main part that counts.

Q. When did you start to feel comfortable?

Dave Bolland: It took a while. It took a while. I've never been off, in my whole career, for three months, three and a half months. To do that and to come back, just to find out my speed, get my strength back and everything, it was tough.
It's something, knock on wood, I don't want to do again. But it was tough for me to come back to get back into the swing of things.

Q. Is there a simple formula for replicating the success you had on the road?

Dave Bolland: Yeah, we've been great on the road. Won seven or eight straight, whatever it is. Something we got to bring back home, the play we have all season. Our home record was great. I think if we bring it back, just like we played in the regular season, we'll do well.

Q. When Thornton slashed you right at the end, that little fisticuffs, was there any advanced verbal warning?

Dave Bolland: Just out of nowhere. I think he was just kind of frustrated with us back-checking, just always being around him. I don't think he likes it. Just frustration might have taken out. He didn't like it.

Q. That's okay with you to accept a little pain in exchange for a penalty?

Dave Bolland: Why not if it helps the team, right?

Patrick Kane

Q. Are you feeling the vibe from everybody in this town, putting their championship hopes on you guys?

Patrick Kane: Yeah, I think ever since the outset, the beginning of the year, it's been like that. You can really feel it now.
I think especially coming back into town today, whether it's text messages or whatever it may be, just everyone is getting excited.
We haven't accomplished anything yet obviously. But we put ourselves in good shape with a good road trip out there, two big wins.
We'll see what happens. But right now we're feeling pretty good. Can't get too high on this game because San Jose is a great team, never know what can happen.

Q. You've had a number of linemates this season. Having Buff on your line, for what he does at this time of year, how has that impacted and opened up things for you?

Patrick Kane: Seems like a playoff performer. That's the way he's played the last two years. I think you put that into the sense where he can fit in with us pretty well. A good change by the coaches early in the Vancouver series to make that change. Seems like it's worked well ever since.
Sometimes you change up the lines, keep things healthy, so you're not getting bored playing with the same guys. These two guys are fun to play with. I think Toews is playing as good as he ever has. Buff is playing awesome. He seems to be causing havoc every game, tipping pucks in, doing his job, doing what you want him to do.
Like you said, the biggest thing he's doing is creating room for us. When he's on the ice, they have to think about him instead of just myself and Toews. Nice to have that presence out there.

Q. Nice to see Buff and Bolland being psyche-out artists and getting into the heads of the stars you're playing?

Patrick Kane: Yeah, I mean, Bolland, that's what he's been doing pretty much the whole playoffs. Saw it against the Sedins and you saw it in the last game against Thornton. He's a tough kid to play against, competes real hard. I think the biggest thing with him, he's got so much offensive ability, but he plays really well both ways.
It helps as far as matchups are concerned. Seems like he's doing his job getting under the guys' skins, and Byf as well.

Q. How much do you want to play a game at home like you do on the road?

Patrick Kane: We're 7-1 on the road. I think you look at our home record, we're 3-3, which is not good at all, especially in the playoffs.
It's going to be fun to play. Obviously, we know how we want to play at home. Keep it simple, not give too big of a show. Obviously, keep them in the game right off the hop. Especially sometimes I think at home, whether it's the national anthem or just playing in front of a big crowd, you want to put on a show for them. That's not necessarily what we have to do. I think the biggest thing is playing a simple game like we have on the road.

Q. Because Toews has been so consistent for so long, do you take for granted he's always going to have these games? Can you almost forget how special it's been?

Patrick Kane: I think at playoff time, you always see the best performers show up. It seems like he's one of those players, whether you saw it in the Olympics or now in the playoffs, too, he's really playing at the top of his game.
But, you know, he's real easy to play with right now. He's holding onto the puck, making plays, supporting you on the ice, scoring a lot of points, too.
I think sometimes throughout the season, sometimes the points don't come as easy as you'd like. You still think you're playing well. But when everything just clicks, as an offensive guy, you're in the groove, you have confidence. I'm sure that's what he's going through right now.

Q. Do your butterflies increase or decrease knowing you're two wins away from the Cup finals?

Patrick Kane: To be honest with you, I haven't really had butterflies as far as playing the game. As far as the excitement level, I think it really gets exciting this time of year knowing you have a couple more wins to get to the Cup final and six more wins to actually win the golden prize.
It's a long season. It's a long ways away. You can't think too far ahead. We're worried about Game 3 right now. We want to play good at home and give the fans something to cheer on home ice. After that, we'll see what happens. You can't think too far ahead.
But it definitely does get exciting knowing how close you are.

Q. You and Jonathan have been part of this building process. Does it surprise you your first game in San Jose drew more ratings than the Cubs, Sox, and NBA combined?

Patrick Kane: As far as in Chicago?

Q. Yes.

Patrick Kane: Yeah, I mean, it's exciting. I think the town is really behind our team. You could see that over the last couple years as far as how many sellouts we've had, the support you get around town, how even recognizable you are around town here.
I guess that's always a pretty cool stat. You like hearing those stats. It was fun to see when I was playing in the Olympics, U.S. versus Canada, there was a big number, whether it was the third most-watched show, I think it was on NBC, in history. You hear those different things and it makes it exciting for you knowing you're trying to help grow the game. This helps a lot.

Q. Patrick, Jonathan mentioned when you guys are on the road, spend a lot of time together, you bond, you are able to bring that to the ice. Is there a way to reproduce that at home?

Patrick Kane: I think so. But, you know, on the road, it's a little bit different. I think there's really no distractions. Everyone's with each other. You're all hanging out with your teammates. It's been really good for us as far as that's concerned, especially the way our team is. We really bond together really well. We're a young team. Everyone hangs out with each other.
As far as home ice, we've been pretty good on home ice the whole year. It's just, you know, 3-3, obviously you want to be a little bit better than that. You look at it, I think we can do some different things, probably just, you know, worry about hockey first instead of all the other things that are around here. That's probably the biggest thing, you know, still hanging out with your teammates, still doing the same things, but worry about hockey first.

Joel Quenneville

Q. Has Antti kind of reached a level that maybe you hadn't seen before at this stage, at this level? How much do you think that's doing for him?

Quenneville: I think he's played very well. I think he's played well right from the stretch when he got the chance to play consecutive games at the end of the year. He seems to be progressing, handling all situations. We like the consistency. We like how big he is in the net. Rebound control has been excellent. He just welcomes the next challenge. Didn't get fazed by the situation at all. Just moves ahead.

Q. Have you ever had as a player, as a coach, a couple of great psych-out artists like Buff and Bolland getting in the heads of some of the stars?

Quenneville: I think they're both really important players to our team. I think Buff had a real impact in the Vancouver series. In this series, as far as physically, he's tough to play against. When he gets in front of net, he's a big-body guy, that creates a lot of space. Tough to see around for the goalie, tough to defend if you're defending him.
You know, he creates a nice distraction for us. At the same time, he's playing with a couple guys that are pretty good around the net with him as well. It's worked out that that line has been contributing offensively and they're fine defensively as well.
Bolland has had the responsibility in the last series with the Sedins. He did a nice job against them. I think it's still early to forecast how it's going to play out here. At the same time, I think he welcomes that challenge, matchup assignments, matchup minutes. I think he's done a pretty good job here so far.

Q. You played a lot against Dale Hunter. Do you see a little bit of Dale in him?
Quenneville:
Yeah, Hunter, played against him; I was around him a little bit, too, as well. I have an appreciation for the competitor that he is, the ultimate warrior. Bolland has awareness around the puck, keeping himself in the play. He really is one of those players, offensively, defensively, that you might underestimate him, but he's pretty tricky with his hands, his anticipation as well. He keeps himself in the right areas all over the ice.
You know, I think Hunter the race might go way up when you compare the two. Give Hunter the lead in that department, but we appreciate what Bolland brings.

Q. Trying to get a road atmosphere for your team, put them up in a hotel, take them on a tour of Joliet State Prison?

Quenneville: Nice to be home. That was a long road trip. Obviously very productive. We'll see, we're looking forward to getting home tonight, sleep in our own beds the next couple of days. But we'll see. I know we're excited about playing in the United Center come Friday. I am sure the enthusiasm, the building is going to be rocking. We're looking forward to that. I think it's important that we reestablish how we can take advantage of our home ice advantage.

Q. A lot of guys have talked about the camaraderie. Is there a way of replicating that at home?

Quenneville: We'll do everything we can. I know getting this one day off here, not really a day off, traveling all day, but certainly getting back together tomorrow, kind of like the same in between games when we've been in San Jose.
You know, it's tough to put your finger right on it, exactly what the difference is. But certainly being away for so long, it will be nice to be home playing in front of our own fans.

Q. Patrick said they might have figured out how to win at home because of the success they had on the road, keeping things simple. Is that going to be the message the next couple of days?

Quenneville: I think the importance of the next game, we need to win the game, is stress. I think the simplicity in our game really complements what we're doing to be effective. It's playing a more simple game. Don't have to try to create too much. I think we sometimes try to make one extra play and I think that can lead to the other team scoring the timely goal. That can be the difference.
But we did some good things on the road. I think we should always keep that in the back of our minds going into games, that's a recipe for being successful.

Q. Despite how successful it was, is there such a thing as too much male bonding?

Quenneville: I never heard of that one (smiling).
But, anyways, I think these guys are probably fed up with the video games. I'm sure it's pretty competitive in there as far as who was the king of the hand-held games.
But certainly, you know, they're an extended family. They spent a lot of time together on this trip. I'm sure nobody was complaining. At the same time, I think winning makes it all worthwhile.

Q. Can you talk generally about goaltending, the fact that Niemi is still playing, Leighton? What is it about the position that allows someone to come out of nowhere and be as successful as they have? Is it just because there's so much great depth at the position or is it something else?

Quenneville: I think you might have saw a lot of new goalies come in and get established as the No. 1 guy, pushing for more ice time. Eventually their teams got in. It's just a matter of getting a chance to play. I think everybody questions how they're going to be without any playoff experience.
I don't think it's too much different in your approach as a team. As goaltenders you shouldn't deviate too much from a regular-season game. You get in the net, you got to do what you do to be successful, you move on. You look at the next play, next situation, try to stop.
I don't think you try to put too much pressure on yourselves. These guys have all adapted along the way here. In Antti's case, he doesn't change his approach or demeanor at all no matter what the situation is. We expect him to continue on. That's the way he's been.