When the Vancouver Canucks open their Stanley Cup playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow night, they will have a decided edge in experience.
Every player on Vancouver's presumed roster for Game 1 has been to the NHL playoffs, save for fourth-line forward Matt Pettinger, who is expected to replace an injured Ryan Johnson at centre. After three Northwest Division titles in the past four years, the Canucks are old dogs at this game.
The Kings, on the other hand, are postseason puppies.
Their two best defencemen, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, will be making their playoff debuts, although both played in the 2010 Olympics gold-medal game - Doughty for Canada, and Johnson for the United States.
Up front, the team's top two goal-scorers, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, are also playoff virgins and the same goes for struggling goaltender Jonathan Quick and his backup, Swede Erik Ersberg.
Last year, matched against a similarly inexperienced opponent, the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver swept the opening round in four games. Like the Blues, the Kings have some terrific young offensive players, and are snapping a long postseason drought, having not been to the Stanley Cup tournament since 2002.
"It's more about the mental side," Canucks centre Henrik Sedin said when asked how an opponent's inexperience can be used against them. "That's what happened to St. Louis last year, and that's what happened to us in the second round [a six-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks]
"When you get down in series and games, you start changing your mindset. You start cheating. You start getting rattled."
Vancouver's Sedin twins certainly had their playoff travails.
They were ineffective in their first several tours, and Henrik Sedin, the NHL's scoring champion, said he was guilty of changing his game.
He said it is easy to slip into that trap, because everyone is so conscious of the stakes, and because nobody wants to make a major mistake. Sedin said he would make safe plays, such as chipping the puck off the boards to clear the zone, as opposed to playing to his strengths, such as puck-carrying.
"Instead of making a play where you have to make a play, you get nervous," he said. "If it's a five-foot pass in the last minute of a deciding game, you have to make it. There's no difference between doing that [in a playoff game]and doing that in the 15th game of the regular season.
"A lot of people, in their first couple of years, they think there's a big difference and they change their game. They do everything that they didn't do during the regular season, and that's when you don't get success."
The Canucks enter the Western Conference quarter-final series with a combined 549 games of playoff experience. Los Angeles has 467, but those games are highly concentrated in six players, four of them Stanley Cup winners.
Forwards Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Fredrik Modin and Justin Williams, as well as defencemen Rob Scuderi and Sean O'Donnell, have combined for 370 playoff games, or 80 per cent of the team's postseason experience.
In Vancouver, other than Pettinger, almost every player has gone through multiple postseasons.
Mason Raymond, Kyle Wellwood and Rick Rypien all took their maiden voyage last year, competing in 10 games beyond the regular season. Then there is winger Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver's most second-most seasoned playoff performer and only Stanley Cup winner, who has been to the finals with the Detroit Red Wings in each of the past two seasons.
"Everybody can talk about experience, but what is experience if you don't have other ingredients?" Samuelsson asked. "Like hard work, like confidence. I think those things are more important than experience, but obviously, every little piece is a good piece."Report Typo/Error