Rookie Coaches Enjoying Playoff Chess Match

Craig Berube, Jim Montgomery, NHL Coaching, Rod Brind'Amour, Todd Reirden

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Rod Brind’Amour does not think what he is doing is anything special.

Brind’Amour not only has the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs in his first season as coach but has made the necessary adjustments to tie their series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals at two games apiece. Along with Washington’s Todd Reirden and Jim Montgomery in Dallas, Brind’Amour is one of the rookie NHL coaches in the playoffs whose decisions are playing major roles in the first round.

Just don’t tell him that.

Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

“The coaching thing is fun. I think it’s a little overrated,” Brind’Amour said earlier this week. “You open the door and you say, ‘Go play.’”

Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes are playing at their peak with the chance to put the champs on the brink of elimination if they win Game 5 Saturday night in Washington (8 p.m. EDT, NBC). Carolina has already dealt with a concussion to 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov and an upper-body injury to big winger Micheal Ferland, and is expected to be without Jordan Martinook because of a lower-body injury that happened in a 2-1 Game 4 win Thursday.

Reirden Playing “Game Within the Game”

The Capitals have a major injury concern of their own now after a hit from behind from Warren Foegele knocked winger T.J. Oshie out indefinitely. Devante Smith-Pelly was recalled from the minors and will go directly into the lineup. There could be more changes from Reirden after his team failed to score a 5-on-5 goal the past two games.

Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden
Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

“That’s the game within the game,” Reirden said Friday. “It’s up for me and our staff to decide how to fill those voids in different areas and put players in situations to succeed and if it’s not working you’ve got to also know when to stop and try something new.”

Berube Shuffling the Deck

Craig Berube knew that moment had come in the middle of the St. Louis Blues’ Game 5 against the Winnipeg Jets. The interim coach who took over in November moved David Perron on to the top line in place of Brayden Schenn, and the savvy change helped the Blues come back from a two-goal deficit to win in regulation and take a 3-2 series lead going into Game 6 at home (7 p.m. EDT, NBCSN).

Blues interim head coach Craig Berube
Blues interim head coach Craig Berube (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

“Our team responded to it,” Berube said after the comeback win. “You don’t score, you’ve got to change it up a little. It was a good time to make the change.”

Montgomery Instilling College Fight in Stars

Montgomery, who played with Brind’Amour for a brief time with Philadelphia in the 1990s, hasn’t had to make big-time changes but saw the Stars finally break through on the power play and find some offence in Game 4 against the Nashville Predators to tie that series. Dallas goes into Game 5 at Nashville (3 p.m. EDT, NBC) with the chance to put the Central Division champions on the ropes.

“They feel like we’re challenging them, for sure,” defenceman John Klingberg said. “We’re giving them a tough fight.”

Dallas Stars Jim Montgomery
Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Montgomery instills that fight in his team after joining the ranks of college coaches to jump directly to the NHL. This isn’t the Frozen Four, where he led Denver twice and won a national title, but Montgomery is adjusting on the fly quickly in his first Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I’m like a baby learning how to walk right now,” Montgomery said. “The downs have been like, ‘OK, how do we get better.’ The ups have been, ‘Let’s keep getting better.’ I feel we continue to get better in this series, which is a good feeling for all of us.”

Brind’Amour: Playoff Veteran, Rookie Coach

Carolina has gotten better and better since allowing three goals on eight shots in the first period of Game 1. Brind’Amour credits his players, including goaltender Petr Mrazek for some timely saves, but he clearly made some tactical switches to turn the series around — even if he won’t say what.

“Can’t tell you that,” Brind’Amour said with a laugh. “I think it’s just we got to our game a little better.”

And there’s Brind’Amour, again, sounding like the veteran coach he already looks like.

Battle of Attrition

Injuries played a role in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ shocking sweep of Tampa Bay, and they could tip the balance for Nashville-Dallas, too.

The Predators have been without forward Brian Boyle since Game 1 after an appendectomy, and forward Wayne Simmonds has been out since taking a one-timer from Roman Josi off the inside of his left knee. They’re considered week-to-week, but Boyle and Simmonds skated with the team Friday.

“I had my appendix out when I was in high school, you’re literally out for months and months,” Laviolette said. “That was a long time ago. Now it’s somebody being able to be back and playing in less than a week is unbelievable. So he looked really good out there today. Wayne the same thing. When it first happened, we were thinking it might be that long and it’s never an exact science. But they’re both out there and they look good.”

Dallas could have forward Mattias Janmark back in the lineup after a lower-body injury caused him to miss the past two games.

The Capitals know they won’t have Oshie for a while. And while Brind’Amour quipped after Game 4 that the Hurricanes are dealing with more injuries, Oshie’s absence will take a chunk out of Washington.

T.J. Oshie Capitals
Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie talks to left wing Alex Ovechkin. (Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

“He’s a heart-and-soul guy,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “The thing with Osh is no matter what he’s going to find a way to have a positive impact on our team. … He’s a leader and he’s a guy that guys want to fight for.”

Whoever wins the Carolina-Washington series will face a shorthanded New York Islanders opponent in the second round. General manager Lou Lamoriello said defenceman Johnny Boychuk will miss three to four weeks with a lower-body injury.

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AP Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon in Dallas, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Joedy McCreary in Raleigh contributed.

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

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