Last season was a bit of a learning experience for Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers. It may not have seemed that way since, as a rookie, Myers ran away with the Calder Trophy after putting up 11 goals and 48 points while playing in all 82 games.
But when the Sabres reached the postseason, Myers wasn't the same dominant force he was in the regular season. He had just 1 goal in a six-game, first-round loss to the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins.
Now, Myers admits he felt some pressure to do more in his first trip to the playoffs after his standout regular season.
"Maybe a little bit," the 21-year-old Myers told NHL.com. "I was more nervous than anything. I wasn't too nervous during the season last year, but going into my first playoff series, I'll admit, it was pretty nerve-wracking."
Myers said those nerves disappeared after his first playoff game, and it's easy to believe the 6-foot-8, 227-pounder when he says he never felt fatigued physically coming down the stretch of his first NHL season. But he said the mental exhaustion of an 82-game schedule was something he felt when the playoffs arrived.
"I was more mentally worn down last year," said Myers, who added five pounds of muscle during the offseason. "I think during my first year in the League, I knew it was going to be a physical battle, but I thought mentally it was pretty draining by the end of the year. I thought I did a pretty good job of handling it, but it just gave me more experience coming into this year, and I'm feeling good here at the end."
Myers took some time to feel confident this season. He's admitted to feeling added pressure to live up to his rookie season and learning to adjust to life without defensive partner Henrik Tallinder, who left via free agency for the New Jersey Devils during the offseason.
Through the Sabres' first 15 games of this season, Myers had 3 goals and 1 assist and was an abysmal minus-15. Coach Lindy Ruff was forced to cut down on his minutes while his young defenseman figured out things.
Sometimes the worst pressure can be the type you put on yourself.
"I felt like I had to do a lot more than I had to," Myers said. "I basically just tried to do too much. I took a lot of unnecessary risks which ended up hurting me. It took me a while to adjust and figure out that less is more. Right now, I feel really good with my game."
It's showed during the Sabres' 16-4-4 push during the final two months that took them from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to a No. 7 seed for the playoffs.
Myers had 2 goals and 10 assists and was plus-10 during those final 24 games. He also had some added responsibility with Jordan Leopold -- who was signed in the offseason to replace Tallinder -- sidelined with a broken hand on March 26.
With 10 goals and 27 assists, he hasn't matched what he did in his rookie season. But with the Sabres coming together and Myers feeling stronger mentally and physically entering his second postseason, he could hold the key to the Sabres playing hockey in June.
"I'm really excited the way our team is playing right now," Myers said. "Everyone's buying into the system. The guys, especially in the second half here, have really bought in. Everyone's feeling good."
Many believe that the only way to grow into a champion is to first experience failure in the playoffs. Those lessons tend to pay off in the future, and the Sabres are hoping last season's setback against the Bruins will be the foundation for success this postseason.
"With that experience last year," Myers said, "going into the playoffs this year, mentally, I feel a lot more confident."
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