PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy joined The Fan Morning Show on Monday to talk about his team as it prepares to face the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, after being eliminated by the Blueshirts in each of the last two postseasons.
Those unceremonious exits could be viewed as a reason to doubt this Penguins squad, but Lovejoy thinks that you can’t compare the last two Penguins teams to this one.
“I think that most people, including everyone in our room, feel that we’re a completely different team than we were last year,” Lovejoy said. “Last year, we sort of backed our way into the playoffs, and we were really struggling down the stretch. This year has been obviously completely different, both record-wise and how you’re playing… we’re a really confident group.”
Lovejoy told the guys that new head coach Mike Sullivan has revolutionized the Penguins’ practice habits, forcing them to grind day in and day out in an effort to whip them into shape.
“His impact has been enormous,” Lovejoy said. “I think that everybody has a ton of respect for what he’s come in and done. He came in from day one and asked us to be better in practice, to work harder in practice, to be giving everything we have during practice. He thought that our practice habits were not up to par of an NHL team, so we came in and worked. Did we ever. We’d leave practice feeling like you just played a game seven, just exhausted.”
Sullivan’s mission to improve the Penguins doesn’t stop when practice ends, though.
“From the beginning, we watched a ton of video,” Lovejoy said. “He came in, and we were critiquing everything. He didn’t come in with a huge system overhaul, he came in and made tweaks- and every play, everything that went wrong, no matter who you were, you were going to see it on video. And I think it was a hard pill for a lot of guys to swallow, coming in every day and seeing your mistakes, but it has certainly worked. He’s held everybody accountable every day, and I think we’ve really seen the benefits of that the last month or two.”
Lovejoy believes that, during Sullivan’s tenure, the Penguins have turned from a team that stayed down into a team that never stays down.
“Certainly in the past- when I first arrived last year through sort of halfway through this year- when we would get down by a goal or two goals, it would be sort of an insurmountable lead,” Lovejoy said. “Everybody in the building could see the air go out, and we’d know we were in for a long night. Right now… guys on our team know that if something goes wrong, we’re going to fight through the adversity… we’ve become a much more resilient team both during games, or after we play the odd bad game. We feel we can come back and play a much better game the next time, or play a much better second period. And I think that that’s really, really helped us, because we are able to mount comebacks, and it’s certainly been a big part of our success.”
All this being said, though, Lovejoy isn’t taking this Rangers team lightly, especially after what happened in the playoffs the last two years.
“We have a lot of respect for this Rangers team,” Lovejoy said. “We had success against them this year, but they’ve gotten the better of us when it’s mattered, and any time you’re playing Henrik Lundqvist, you know that they’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The interview can be heard here: