Cedric Paquette ready to continue ‘pissing off’ Jonathan Toews

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Cedric Paquette ready to continue ‘pissing off’ Jonathan Toews
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TAMPA – Cedric Paquette’s task against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final is rather well-defined: Get Jonathan Toews off his game, by any means necessary. 

“Just a little slash there, talking to him a little bit, just chirping. All the things you can do to piss him off,” he said on Friday, the eve of Game 2 of the Final in Tampa.

It wasn’t until after Game 1 that he realized chirping Toews could be a multi-lingual exercise. “I didn't know he was talking French. I saw him at the Fresh Kitchen yesterday, he talked to me in French. I was surprised a little bit. I'm gonna talk in French now,” he said, smiling.

“I don’t like to do that too much. But against a guy like that you want to mess him up a little bit.”

Paquette has only played 66 games in the NHL in two seasons with the Lightning, but he’s a major part of the team’s penalty kill and shutdown line with Ryan Callahan. In Game 1, coach Jon Cooper surprised many by throwing him against Toews and Patrick Kane right off the opening faceoff and throughout the game.

One of the most surprised: Cedric Paquette.

Cooper didn’t tell him until near game time that his line would be tasked with shutting down the Blackhawks’ top center.

“I think that was the right call from Coop. I think thinking about it too much, I would have been a little nervous. Thinking about it too much on the ice. You go out there against anybody, you play the same game. Against him, out there, you have to play a smart game,” said Paquette.

“It means a lot to me. [Cooper has] confidence in me. There’s nothing better than having your coach on your side.”

The result? The Blackhawks top players were kept off the scoresheet. Kane had five shot attempts, three of them on goal. Toews had one shot and one miss.

“He’s a very good player for his age. He skates very well, he has a lot of speed," said Toews. "Tampa has four lines that can play with speed and that can play with the puck. Their possession game is very, very strong. So for my line, it’s not only a matter of playing well on offense, but also to play smart in our zone. No matter the line we find ourselves against, we have to play that way, smart.” 

Cooper said he had seen Paquette play well against Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers, and Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens. The thing was that if Paquette, Ryan Callahan and either J.T. Brown or Alex Killorn could neutralize the Toews line, the Lightning’s other lines could thrive. 

“I thought he did an unreal job. Those guys are great players. To keep them off the  score sheet the way they did. … he won draws against them. It was something we needed,” said Cooper of Paquette.

Callahan said he and Paquette recognized the challenge in front of them and met it. "We tried to take away their time and space as much as possible," he said. "It's a challenge to play them. We had to rise to that."

The young Lightning center made his playoff debut last season in Tampa’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens, playing the type of pest game that got him immediately noticed. “We had to get him in minutes because this kid's a really responsible, hard to play against centerman,” said Cooper.

Paquette’s agitating defensive role has its roots in junior, where he was a second-line center for Blainville-Boisbriand in the QMJHL. He was a fourth-round pick for the Lightning in 2012, and played 70 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL last season.

He had 19 points in 64 games with the Lightning in the regular season. But his value to the lineup isn’t necessarily in putting the puck in the net, but finding ways to prevent the best players on the opposing team from doing so.

Again, by any means necessary.

Paquette watched the way a master of the dark arts of agitation, Ryan Kesler of the Anaheim Ducks, played against Toews in the Western Conference Final.

“I saw those games, you want to try to take their tricks against him to piss him off. I think they did a good job,” he said.

How does Paquette know when he’s done a good job in agitating a foe?

“You can see them in their body language," he said. “It’s fun to see. It’s what you try to do, get them off their game."

The Lightning will try to even the series on Saturday after their Game 1 loss, and keeping Toews and Kane in check will be a key to that effort. So far Paquette, likes what he sees.

“If they’re pissed off, you can see them hanging their head or shaking their head. Last game, [Toews] and Kane weren’t happy," he said.

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