ST. LOUIS – Over the course of eight NHL seasons, Ville Nieminen got the chance to experience two Stanley Cup Finals.
In 2001, the left wing was a member of the Cup champion Colorado Avalanche who needed to win Game 6 – like the Boston Bruins. Three years later with the Calgary Flames, Nieminen’s team led 3-2 before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
Sporting News spoke with the former NHLer and current Lahti Pelicans (Liiga) head coach and Finnish broadcaster prior to Game 6.
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SN: What was the atmosphere like in the locker room leading up to the game in 2001 and how does it connect to the Blues in Game 6?
Ville Nieminen: In 2001, the situation was not the same [because it was a Game 7] but at the same time, the Blues know that. They have to do it now. They’ve been coming since January 3, being last in the league and they have nothing [to do] but to win until today.
Now they have something to lose and I don’t know how they are going to handle that. But at the same time… they have only one game they are playing and that’s their strength. So they have to rely on their mental philosophy for that one gameplan and change nothing.
It’s going to help them that they saw that third game at home, how everything went wrong; but they have closed out the series-clinching games 3-0 at home so those are the good experiences. But the biggest factor right now is that they having nothing but to win but right now. Are you eager and have the will to win or the fear to lose? Do you play for a win or not to lose?
SN: Game 3 vs. Game 4 were different atmospheres at Enterprise Center. Tonight should be like Game 3. How do they not get enveloped in that?
VN: There’s lot of different type of players that in Game 3, the atmosphere and the mental side, the hockey romantic [i.e. the crowd, the loudness, the winning in front of the hometown fans] was so strong that it went wrong for the players. Players cannot be romanticizing the hockey. Only the people in the stands can.
Players have to be all business and when you are all business it’s going to really help in the playoffs. You need more hockey romanticizing in the regular season but not in the playoffs because the atmosphere is already so high and so strong. I feel like they the players made the mistake in Game 3 that they went to that [to romanticizing].
So Game 4 all business; Game 5 all business. Plus, when they play that hitting game, hitting game needs to be played all business without feeling because . . . if you are on the physical side and hitting it’s all business; if you add to that too much emotion to your hitting game you’re going to the penalty box.
SN: Jay Bouwmeester has played a long time in the NHL without seeing a final, let alone a Cup. In 2001, it was Ray Bourque who was looking to finally win. What was it like witnessing Bourque in Game 6?
VN: In Colorado, we were in a situation like the Bruins are in right now and Ray had a three-minute pep talk before our game. Our team got pumped up and it relieved the pressure and at the same time, we were really pumped and focused. He said that they are trying to win this game in the first period so we need to be really good in the first period and then it’s going to be little-by-little, shift-by-shift, it’s going to our advantage. So that’s how we survived in the Meadowlands Game 6 [against New Jersey Devils].
SN: It had to help that you had players like Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg who won the Cup in 1996? The Blues do not have that experience.
VN: Yes. Everybody is trying to win it for themselves but if there are some other things on top of that, if there is a storied player like Ray Bourque it is very influential for the team. That’s going to set your own will because you want the guy who hasn’t been able to be in this situation before and now it’s his chance and his last year, it’s going to generate the energy, generate the focus, accelerates everything. How you have to be at my best. I wanted to win for myself but I wanted to be at my best for that guy and in 2004 they had Dave Andreychuk and they had the same story.
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SN: Expectations for tonight?
VN: I don’t know. Both teams need mental toolbox and what comes from there. Blues, all basics, shift-by-shift, period-by-period. Live the moment, play the moment. Everything else is going to take care of itself when it’s all said and done. You don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to lift [the Cup], who I’m going to wave to, what kind of party [it will be], am I going to drink first from the bowl? Everything else is going to be taken care of.
You have to live in the moment. Enjoy the moment and play shift-by-shift and period-by-period. That’s their mental toolbox.
And then Bruins’ toolbox is to get inside, get inside first, win the self-battle, ruin the party and take whatever it takes as long as it takes. And those are the keys. And then if you think about a tactic, Bruins need to win battles, Bruins need to box in. It’s going to be pucks out versus pucks in and defensive awareness and where the puck possession is going to start.
It depends on how the Bruins are going to use all their stop plays, all the neutral zone free pucks. What their forwards going to do with the puck for their D so they can get their line rush going. If they can’t get their line rush game going then they have to battle all the time and they are not going to win.