As impressive as the Toronto Maple Leafs were in their playoff series against the Boston Bruins, Mikhail Grabovski had a different experience. The forward had just two assists and was a minus-10 for the Leafs – a performance that came after a 9-goal, 7-assist one in 48 games this season.
I spoke with Grabovski about the Leafs’ playoff run; whether Game 7 was his worst loss of his career; his season under coach Randy Carlyle; his Datsyukian goal attempt; his incident with Max Pacioretty; and what the future holds.
Q. Let’s start with a couple of thoughts about the season.
GRABOVSKI: “The season turned to be positive overall. I wouldn’t say it was the best one for me or very successful, but it was certainly interesting, I gained a lot of experience.”
Yet it ended in a big disappointment. If you were asked to describe what happened in a few words, what would you say?
“I would say… You know, it is so difficult to describe it, very difficult to talk about it. It left a very bad feeling. But it was still an experience. It showed that as a team we are not yet ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. At the same time, we are almost there.”
Did you learn something new about the team during the playoffs?
“Yes, I would certainly say we learned a lot about ourselves. To me personally, I learned that the game is completely different in the playoffs. It is on a different level. The pressure you are under is also very different. We learned that we should be aiming higher, that it is so much more interesting to play in the playoffs, that there is that motivation. We as a team learned that we can certainly lay at that level. And I think the main thing we lacked is experience being in the playoffs as a team.”
Experience to close out a game?
“Exactly. We didn’t have enough experience to finish off the last game when we were up two goals. Maybe we can add to that we lacked some experience playing at home in the playoffs. Because when we lost that game at home in overtime, Boston really pushed us to our own net and held us there, and we didn’t couldn’t sustain that. But this is all experience that we came out with this season.”
Would you call the loss in Game 7 the worst in your career?
“I wouldn’t. I think the worst was when we [Team Belarus] lost to Latvia in the qualifier [for the Olympic games]. This loss to Boston was an experience that is valuable to everyone, something we will learn from a great deal.”
You mentioned earlier that the Leafs are close to the level of being a contender, or how far?
“How far? I think as far as the Bruins were from winning the Cup when I played against them for Montreal [in 2008] (Ed. The Bruins won the Cup three years later). I think our team will grow and add more year after year. And if we keep the core, the roster we had this season, I think it is fair to say Toronto will be a real contender.”
Coach Carlyle was using you inconsistently this season, sometimes as a shutdown center, sometimes not. Was it difficult for you to adjust to the changes and inconsistencies?
“It was an experience I gained that will certainly help me in the future, in the playoffs. And the playoffs showed that the season was the one I can count as a good one, even though I was not as productive, I enjoyed my game. I hope I am going to show progress in every role that the coach will use me in. Although I would really like to play more offence. I think this is my main strength with everything else, like the games against the Bruins, is an addition.”
How different were the coaching styles of Wilson and Carlyle?
“Yes, I think so. Wilson is more of a European type coach, if you can say that. Carlyle is a pure Canadian coach.”
Could you elaborate?
“Carlyle’ style is about power hockey, fast hockey, no mistakes in the neutral zone. A more rational type of hockey.”
What were you told during the exit interview before the team went on the summer break?
“I was told that I had a good season. What more could have been said? Everyone was very upset after that loss. But at the same time everyone is very determined, everyone is already thinking about the next season. I was told to get ready for the next season.”
What was the best moment of the season for you?
“The playoffs for sure. Even though for me personally it was without goals, without the positive plus/minus rating, the layoff games were the one of the highlights of my professional career.”
Could you talk about the trick you tried in the game against the Bruins, trying to bat the puck into the goal?
“Actually, I was trying to do something else, and I couldn’t get it done. I threw the puck in the air too far. My dad kept telling me to try to throw the puck behind the goaltender from behind the net. But I threw it too high too hard. Next time I will try to do it differently. I hope I will score then. My dad gave it to me after this attempt. He said ‘That’s not how I showed it! You were supposed to throw it behind the goaltender, not above him.’ I think it is a positive that I had this thought in my head. I think it showed that I am really enjoying hockey, that it brings me great satisfaction. I really enjoyed playoff hockey.”
I thought you took it out of Datsyuk’s playbook.
“I think playing with Pavel for CSKA in the KHL this season influenced me a lot. Just talking to him and watching him play will inspire you and give you ideas.”
What was it like playing in the KHL this season?
“In my opinion the time I spent there was great. It was a very good experience. I got to play with guys like Alex Radulov, Yakov Rylov, Sergei Shirokov and it was a pleasure. Pavel Datsyuk, of course. And if the season hadn’t started in the NHL, I think we would have competed for the highest honors with that team. The team chemistry was great, which had a lot to do with Sergei Fedorov, who is the general manager there. Fedorov helped me a lot to settle down. I liked the city [Moscow] as well. It’s a pity that it ended in January because it would have been nice to finish the season. But I don’t regret anything. Experience comes from everywhere. Besides, you can’t overlook the relationships with other people that developed and stayed. Thanks to the club for letting me play during the lockout, and to make some money, of course.”
What about the incident with Max Pacioretty?
“The incident? It wasn’t that much. He was choking me and I bit him. Don’t stick your hands where you shouldn’t. To be honest with you he was choking me pretty hard, to the point where I really couldn’t breathe. And I couldn’t pull his hand away at all. I tried to hit him with my other hand, but I couldn’t because he was choking me. There was nothing left to do but bite him.”
You like to set goals and make plans for an upcoming season. Have you done so for the next?
“It is too early to say at this time. After the loss such as the one we experienced, all you want to do is to get away and get some rest. It was a tough season, and you just want to recover, calm down and make decisions with a cool head. At this time I don’t want to think about that, I just want to spend time with my family, get some rest, and forget about hockey for a bit, although you’re still drawn to hockey because of the playoffs. You watch the playoffs to try and learn something. You inadvertently follow how the team you lost to is doing. And if Boston wins the Cup it will feel good, because you played against this team, the eventual winner.”
Give us your predictions for the playoffs.
“That would be really tough to do, because it is so difficult at this stage to single one team out. But I think Chicago and Los Angeles look really good. Los Angeles beat St. Louis, a very good team. The Blues were 2-0 up in the series, and Los Angeles still won. I think Los Angeles will be the contender [from the West]. Although you can never count Detroit out. And in the East, I think it’s Boston and Pittsburgh.”
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
No one is ever going to be totally happy with the ways in which the NHL's referees or officials make their decisions. We can all agree on that.
If there's a game in which neither team is whistled for a penalty, both will likely complain that the refs missed calls on the other. If there's a game in which both teams receive 10 power plays, both will complain that the referees were overly harsh in doling out discipline. No one is ever especially happy with calls that go in between those two extremes, either, because unless you win, you aren't happy. And sometimes, even when you do win, you aren't happy.
It's tough to know what, exactly, brought all this to a head in these playoffs. Alex Ovechkin complaining about a league-wide conspiracy in Game 6 after the end of Game 7; Jonathan Toews stamping his feet when his team got clobbered on home ice by its archrival; Sidney Crosby saying the league needs to institute video review for puck-over-the-glass calls; Jonathan Quick abusing officials because the Kings gave the Sharks a two-man advantage in overtime.
Doesn't it strike anyone as being a bit much?
No one likes to lose in October, let alone in the second round of the playoffs, and you might even say that the refs have made a bit of a spectacle of themselves in the last few games. The best thing a ref can do, the old saying goes, is not be noticeable, and things have admittedly gotten a bit out of hand in some instances.
But nonetheless, can you imagine the eye-rolling or outright mockery in Chicago if Henrik Zetterberg had said the same things Toews did after they got creamed in Game 1? Or the uproar if Ryan Callahan of the lionized New York Rangers had complained about a conspiracy to push the series longer? Or the furor if Joe Thornton had done what Quick did after the Sharks gave up a similar late-game 5-on-3 advantage that allowed the Kings to tie Game 1?
What it boils down to is being a sore loser.
It's extremely rare for guys celebrating a 3-1 win to say, "Well, we thought the refs were being a little too generous with us but we'll take it," but boy do the tissues come out when things bounce the other way. Media members covering the final month of the postseason might want to bring their galoshes to the rink as a precautionary measure.
It's times like these you wish the league came down as hard on players complaining about the officials as they do for coaches; Toews and Ovechkin can make a stink but John Tortorella has to pay a $30,000 fine after what he said about the Winter Classic, or $20,000 for saying the Penguins are an "arrogant organization" after Brooks Orpik ran Derek Stepan without punishment.
Why are coaches held to a different standard? Aren't they essentially doing the same thing: Bringing what the league would argue is undue scrutiny to its officials who it would argue are just doing their jobs to what it would argue is the best of their abilities?
Again, it must be said that no ref goes into these games looking to screw the Blackhawks or Kings or anyone else, and the finger-pointing only serves as a means of distracting from the fact that these teams put themselves in the situations in question.
It would be nice if the league would crack down on these guys so this kind of pointless whining stops before it gets any worse. It's one thing to do it in a game, I understand, and that's why you can almost forgive Jonathan Quick for his misdeeds; but when it's spilling over into postgame scrums, there's no need for it.
A quick fine of a few thousand dollars here and there might get them to blame an inability to put more than a goal on the board in 60 or more minutes of hockey on something other than officiating.
It's embarrassing that these otherwise extremely respected players, Toews in particular being routinely painted as this stoic figure who approaches everything in this sport The Right Way, have to resort to this type of petulant whining because their teams didn't win.
Maybe it's to be expected, but if we're going to say these guys are held to a certain standard, then it's time for all involved to start acting like it.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Bruce Boudreau kind of put it out there that the Ducks would have been a little better off with a longer training camp but it's like, c'mon man you finished second in the West despite all the percentages saying you had no business being there. Get ready for a huge step back. "Better start next year?" You went 13-2-1 in your first 16 games. How much better can you do with that roster?
Boston Bruins: The Rangers might want to learn to defend this Bergeron/Marchand play because they're sure not doing themselves any favors by standing around with their hands in their pockets every time the Bruins run it.
Buffalo Sabres: Can you believe no one who had anything to do with a 12th-place team that allowed more goals than it scored was nominated for an award? I sure can't!
Calgary Flames: So the Flames have to re-sign TJ Brodie, one of their best defensemen, this summer. It's going to be very exciting to see how Jay Feaster messes this one up, for sure.
Carolina Hurricanes: "It's not Eric Staal's fault for getting his knee blown out," is the thrust of this Luke DeCock column. His next one will be, "Grass is pretty green if you think about it."
Chicago Blackhawks: This was just about the only thing the Blackhawks did right on Saturday afternoon but wow this shot was something special.
Colorado Avalanche: The company that owns the Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Rapids also just bought the Outdoor Channel, which makes me wistful for the days that I could watch deer hunting before and after every NHL game.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Johansen was good for the Blue Jackets in the second half (5-5-10 in 28 during March and February after 0-2-2 in 12 in January and February), but then only had one point in five games in the AHL playoffs. Is this kid a bust or what? I've never heard of sample size, by the way.
Dallas Stars: Glen Gulutzan is already guest-coaching the Saskatoon Blades in the Memorial Cup, which doesn't seem all that fair to me.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Drew Miller might be the Red Wings' secret weapon. After missing a month, he came back, got a bunch of PK time, and helped hold Chicago 0 for 2 on the power play.
Edmonton Oilers: Will the Oilers make Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff compliance buyouts? Probably not and maybe, respectively.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers getting a new scoreboard last week with taxpayer money means that since the arena opened, the team has received some $138.4 million. The amount Broward County has gotten back on that investment? Just $331,206.
Los Angeles Kings: Tyler Toffoli will never score an easier goal in the playoffs in his entire career.
Minnesota Wild: Hey, so, uh… who's gonna be the Wild's goaltender next year? Is there even a really good answer?
Montreal Canadiens: Hmm, the Canadiens have to get bigger you think? What makes you say that?
Nashville Predators: Roman Josi's new contract is a top priority for the Preds, and they're going to really get to work on it now that Worlds are over, and he was named MVP of the tournament.
New Jersey Devils: No one in the free agent forward crop took more shots than David Clarkson's 180. The next-closest guy was Pascal Dupuis at 140. Boy is he gonna look good on the Maple Leafs' top line next year.
New York Islanders: The Isles have two very good prospects — Anders Lee and Scott Mayfield — coming out of college this year, and those dudes basically are the best prospects beginning their pro careers in the organization.
New York Rangers: This Ryan Callahan goal sure was wonderful.
Ottawa Senators: Gotta agree with this: Erik Karlsson has looked awful through three games of this series. I know what he's coming back from but the longer this goes on the more you gotta wonder if he should've come back from it at all this season. Hint: He should not have.
Philadelphia Flyers: The best thing I read this week was Ed Snider taking a shot at Marc-Andre Fleury for "falling apart" in the playoffs. It made me so happy. (But then again he sure made it sound like Steve Mason is going to get a good shot to start in Philly next year, which also made me happy.)
Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 283 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. And how big is this Rob Klinkhammer contract extension? It got three whole sentences in an AP release.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins' power play went 0 for 6 last night after beginning the playoffs 10 for 31 so clearly it's time to panic in Pittsburgh. Everything has gone off the rails. Might as well just forfeit the rest of the series.
San Jose Sharks: I mean I'm not an NHL coach but I think on the penalty kill in overtime you gotta tell someone to cover Logan Couture or something like this will probably happen more often than not.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues consider Vladimir Tarasenko to be pretty important to the team going forward which, y'know, yeah.
Tampa Bay Lightning: "Will Martin St. Louis be a Hall of Famer?" That's an interesting question. You'd have to think so, right? Six point-a-game seasons, a few more that were close, led the league in scoring twice, won a Stanley Cup. Only 88 points away from 1,000 despite missing two seasons to lockouts and not becoming a regular NHLer until he was 24. I'd say yes, but then I'm not an idiot like the morons who vote on the Hall of Fame.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Famous Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield returned from his mission during Game 7 wearing a Maple Leafs shirt under his space suit, marking the second time in just a few hours that someone rocking that logo crashed back to earth.
Vancouver Canucks: Looks like Keith Ballard is going to be bought out. Yeah, I see that.
Washington Capitals: How funny would it be if the Capitals re-signed Mike Ribeiro long-term? Scale of one to 10? Like a million I think.
Winnipeg Jets: Leave it to the Winnipeg media to try to tie Paul MacLean and Randy Carlyle being ex-Jets into a reason they'd be good assistants for Canada in Sochi. Speaking as an American, I put my full confidence behind Carlyle's candidacy. How 'bout Ondrej Pavelec for player-coach for the Czechs while we're at it?
Play of the Weekend
Real nice play from Valtteri Filppula. Real nice.
Gold Star Award
Torey Krug has two goals in his first two NHL playoff games, and also an assist. He also broke up a partial break before he scored yesterday's goal, on which he kicked the puck through his own legs to himself.
Minus of the Weekend
What the hell happened to the Blackhawks on Saturday? Did they think it was a 7 p.m. start?
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "kushh" is living up to the name.
Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler, Keith Ballard
Josh Harding, Mikko Koivu, Kyle Brodziak, 1st in 2013*
*Canucks keep %10 of Luo and Ballard's contracts (533k and 420k every year)[/quote]
It's the $950,000 cap savings that will really entice Minnesota.
Now I know what it's like to be a crack head. I took one hit of real estate and it blew my head off.
Both teams have different approaches to losing, and it shows in the results.
Ahh, the off-season. You get one of two things: analysis of what went wrong or fun human interest stories.
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