New York Islanders captain John Tavares will face Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin when the two clubs clash in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. The former first overall pick dishes on the Art Ross Trophy, the Islanders' playoff hopes and which fellow superstar is fun to have a beer with.
STRANG: I haven't seen you in a while. How are things? What's new?
TAVARES: Not much. I come to practice every day, go home and sit on my couch.
STRANG: Delve into any good new shows lately?
TAVARES: I watch "Suits" and "Homeland." That's basically it. I watch "Trailer Park Boys," if I want a laugh.
STRANG: Oh, I've heard about that. That's a Canadian show, right?
TAVARES: Yeah, he's from Nova Scotia, so basically where Boults [Halifax, Nova Scotia native Eric Boulton] is from.
STRANG: OK, I'll have to scope that. So tell me, how has the season been going?
TAVARES: Overall, I think we overcame a lot and proved a lot this year. Especially, [for] the steps back we took this year, I thought we took a lot forward this regular season. It was a tremendous start to the year. You know, obviously we've had some hurdles ever since the All-Star break a little bit, but we've stuck with it and we know what we need to do. We would've loved to have gotten home ice, but you're at 101 points and I don't think many people expected that this year and certainly I think you see where the group is now, there's a lot of potential going forward, a lot of opportunities to grasp and a lot of good young players as well. Some of those years were really tough. I think you're starting to see things start to come together and, like I said, it's up to us now to take advantage of that.
STRANG: Kyle Okposo said the other night that two years ago in that series against the Pittsburgh Penguins you guys might have been a bit shell-shocked at first. Do you feel like you guys are now better mentally prepared going in?
TAVARES: Yeah, we have a much better understanding, especially starting on the road. Game 1 a few years ago obviously we lost 5-0 and it then it wasn't much of a game and people thought it wasn't going to be a series, then things changed pretty quickly where we played really well those next five games. Could've won any of them. I think, for sure, any time you go through something, you have a better understanding and are more prepared and we're looking forward to the challenge.
STRANG: What sort of challenge do the Capitals present?
TAVARES: Well, I think they can play that kind of brand of hockey. I think they're kind of built for the playoff style. They're obviously big, they're physical, like everyone knows but they can skate and make plays and be creative. They have some game-breakers, a lot of experience over there. They'll be ready to compete for a full 60 minutes and whatever it takes to win a seven-game series, so we have to not only match that but we have to elevate and try to even get to another level, which takes a lot of commitment, a lot of sacrifice. It should be a great matchup.
STRANG: Does Ovechkin seem committed to playing a more complete game this season?
TAVRES: Yeah, I think you see the way he's had a great season, still producing at his ... really the rate at which he's been able to score goals over his career is some of the best all-time, so but certainly their commitment all over the ice as a team, they're tough to play against. I don't know if that's Barry Trotz coming in or other guys they've added, but they've just become a very complete team. He's fit into that kind of mold that their team has become.
STRANG: Where do you feel your game is at, heading into the playoffs?
TAVARES: It's good. Certainly, I thought I had some ups and downs before probably the last eight or so games. I think for probably five or six games there, I wasn't as good without the puck as I would have liked to been and I think I've sharpened that area up and I think that's only helped my game offensively. The way the game has been the last number of weeks, the way games have been officiated, the chippier games get, points are so valuable, it's more of that playoff-style of hockey, so it's kind of gotten you ready and you know this time of year you're never going to really feel that good, but you let that adrenaline and that emotion kind of take over and you enjoy these moments and try to grasp that opportunity.
STRANG: Would the scoring title have been a big thing for you?
TAVARES: Well, I don't think you focus on it but certainly it would have been nice. Anytime you win an Art Ross, a scoring title, or an award at this level in this league, it's a special honor, but credit to Jamie [Benn] -- he's had a great season, a tremendous finish, [he's] a good friend, a good teammate. I got to play with him on Team Canada a few times, so he's a fun guy to have a beer with, so he's a tremendous guy. For us, we were playing for home ice right until the end. I'm not going to lie, obviously, you think about it from time to time, but its not the way I tried to play. I didn't try to cut any corners or cheat. I just wanted to play my game and knowing if I played well and I do the right things, I'll get my opportunities. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be, but now it's just time to move on and focus on the playoffs. Obviously, we'd love to go on a deep run.
STRANG: What do you hope people say about the way the Islanders play this postseason?
TAVARES: I think we just want to be tough to play against. We want them to have to defend. When you have to defend, you lose a lot of energy trying to get the puck back. It makes it a tough time to create opportunities at the other end of the ice. I'm sure they'll say the same about us, but anytime you're a tough team to play against, in all areas of the game, we're a good hockey team. Obviously, the first half of the year we were really good at doing that. After that, things got a little tighter and we faced some adversity, but if we get back to that, I think we're a hard team to stop.