Flyers' Laviolette will know what to say before do-or-die Game 6
VILLE LEINO has heard them all before. Some of them have been in Finnish, when he played six seasons in the Finland's Elite League. Generally, the messages have been the same; the same clichés and nuggets repeated over and over again.
VILLE LEINO has heard them all before.
Some of them have been in Finnish, when he played six seasons in the Finland's Elite League. Generally, the messages have been the same; the same clichés and nuggets repeated over and over again.
Last season, Leino was thrust into the Detroit Red Wings' lineup in the Stanley Cup finals. Exactly 1 year ago, he was in the same position as the Blackhawks, with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to close out Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Game 6 in Pittsburgh.
He sat in Detroit's cramped locker room in the bowels of Mellon Arena, deep in thought, letting coach Mike Babcock's message sink into his conscious and unconscious thoughts.
Tonight, while Flyers coach Peter Laviolette offers one final thought to his players seconds before they walk down the tunnel to the ice, below 20,000-plus thunderous fans, Leino expects the message to be different.
They have all been a bit different. They hit a different chord than anything he has heard.
"He has great speeches," Leino said. "They're not just speeches. He really motivates people. It's not just talk. You can feel how he really feels - you can feel the truth in the talk, and he's really caring.
"I think he's speaking all the right things to the right [people]. To us, it's just perfect to our team. I think that's what he's best at."
When the Flyers erased Boston's 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 edge in Game 7, assistant coach Craig Berube called Laviolette the best motivational speaker he's ever heard. Laviolette's response was that Berube is "full of crap."
For the fifth time this postseason, the Flyers face elimination. One slip and they are finished - and the Blackhawks will skate off the ice with the Stanley Cup, the prize all 30 teams coveted 8 months ago.
Laviolette likely won't stray from his basic message against the Bruins, which was, "Can we beat the Boston Bruins tonight?"
The Flyers may not face a three-game deficit, but Game 6 is an elimination game to decide a championship.
"Usually, whatever is in my gut or in my heart, I usually say it," Laviolette said. "Sometimes they like to hear it. And sometimes they don't. But I don't think about [speeches].
"They've lived it. Our guys . . . have answered the bell every time. So I don't think it needs to be pointed out any more by me. They are actually the ones out there on the ice that have to perform in those situations."
Like Leino, Laviolette has been in this situation before, too. His Carolina Hurricanes had a chance to close out Chris Pronger and the Oilers in 2006 in Game 6 in Edmonton. They lost, 4-0, then won Game 7.
"It was nauseating," Laviolette recalled. "I went back to the hotel room in Edmonton and I almost threw up. To be close, to have an opportunity . . . you keep fighting. You keep fighting for it. One thing this team really has proven is that they're capable of fighting."
Pronger said Laviolette's essential message has been the same.
"I think Peter has done an excellent job keeping the guys on point," he said. "That we've got to worry about one game, not look at what can be the prize, whether it's a close-out game or trying to move on to the next series.
"We have to focus on Game 6 and not worry about what's going to happen down the pipe."
Pronger said just having the Stanley Cup in the Wachovia Center, ready to be polished if the Blackhawks are ahead in the game, is motivation enough.
"I think it's a motivating factor," Pronger said. "You're on home ice. They have a chance to clinch. You don't want to see that in your building and you want to get to a Game 7. You want to have an opportunity to win it - that's the biggest thing. We're not here to just get to a Game 7.
"At the end of the day, we're here to win a Stanley Cup. We need to get two wins to do it. But you have to get one before you get two."
This year, Leino is in the reverse role. Instead of trying to conquer the Cup on the road, his team is trying to defend its turf to skate another day.
"It's probably the same thing to both teams," Leino explained. "They probably just want to grab it, and we don't want to give it away. I think it's mentally the same thing for both teams. You just want to be winning and raising the Cup."
Leino's team lost Game 6. And Game 7. Pittsburgh's path, ironically, is the Flyers' blueprint for success. It has been done. The Flyers already have made history this season. Now they'd just like to repeat it.
"I do look for those type of things, historical precedence," Laviolette said. "I think part of your coaching is trying to motivate and get your team to believe in things. There's no question we talked about that situation. Our championship that we're pursuing is special, maybe more so than others at how we had to get here and what we had to do to get our hands on that thing."
Tonight, with his team huddled close, Laviolette will go to that mental word well one more time. And 60 minutes later, we'll all find out if there was anything left.
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.