“We would have had no chance if it wasn’t for the talent level and character level of the young guys. We would have had no chance. I really don’t care what level they play at, we’re playing players who are 20 and 21 years old who are first year players, anywhere between 13 and 20 minutes every night. They are helping us win. I think that’s a real feather in the cap for, first of all the people that scouted them and secondly the players themselves.
“I know when you call up a first year player out of the AHL, and he’s barely able to survive and is just there to get by and help you until your injured players come back, but these are first year players that play in every situation. We’ve got Carter playing on the five-on-three, and Richards killing every penalty. We’ve got Richards killing every penalty, and Carter taking all of the key faceoffs on the right side of the ice and winning them. We have Umberger out there as one of the top-four penalty killers. You’ve got Niittymaki who plays great when Esche went down. It’s pretty special, and it’s because of their talent more than anything.
“What helped them more than anything was winning a championship. I think that you can play in the AHL and get into the playoffs and that stuff, but when you have to go through what they went through to win the championship, I think that’s where players mature and grow. They’ve always said that one playoff game is like 10 league games. I think you saw that. When the game was on the line and it was a 2-1 hockey game (last night), you saw a lot of players’ levels go up. I think it’s because they’ve been in those games before and it feels familiar. They know what they have to do. All of those young guys did all of the right things when the game was on the line in the third period when it was on the line.
“Where we’re at today, we’re still a pretty good hockey club if we get healthy. We’re very good. But, where are we going to be two years from now? I mean, holy smokes, when their offensive production catches up to their level of determination and grittiness, we’re going to have a special group of players around here. You’ve got six, seven or eight guys here who are going to be in the prime of their careers and are going to be fun to watch.
“I think having watched them play in the playoffs last year, you had a lot of confidence in them. But, this is also the National Hockey League. This is a men’s league. You’re always wondering if they can keep up physically and they’ve been able to do it. They are strong physically. Carter is a big guy. So is Umberger. Richards is a tough guy. Pitkanen gained 15 pounds, and there are games against the best players in the world and he’s a dominant defenseman, an absolutely dominant defenseman. Freddy and Dennis are thrown into the mix here on the back end who have to play as a pair, who between them don’t have 40 games between them in the NHL and they do well. Sure, it’s surprising, but I think it’s also the fact that the players refuse to lower the bar. We know if we don’t lower the bar, that guys will be able to come back and the bar is still going to be up there."