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Veterans to draw on past postseason experiences

Monday, 04.09.2012 / 6:01 PM / Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Veterans to draw on past postseason experiences
Veterans hope to put past postseason experiences to use during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was less than a year ago that Patrice Bergeron and his Boston Bruins teammates outlasted 15 other teams to reach the summit of the hockey universe and claim the Stanley Cup.

Bergeron said he and his teammates hope to take the lessons they learned in last year's climb and put them to use when the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs start.

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And for Bergeron, that's keeping the focus set on Game 1 against the Washington Capitals on Thursday at TD Garden (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"We've learned from the experiences last year," he said on a conference call Monday. "It was a battle, a grind for two months. But now it starts from square one. It's all about the first game and the first series and nothing else. It's pretty much the same as last year.

"It's all about the Capitals and then we'll go from there. It's about the first game and making sure we have a strong start, all players playing their role, and go from there. That's about it."

Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, a four-time Cup champion, agreed with Bergeron in that the focus has to be narrow and locked in on the next game only.

"You start from scratch again," he said. "You get up that mountain again. You can't look too far ahead. You can't worry about what might happen later on. You have to look at that. That's how we've been breaking it down in previous seasons."

This year's playoffs are a bit different for Lidstrom and the Red Wings. While making it an even 20-for-20 -- 20 seasons, 20 trips to the playoffs for the future Hall of Famer -- Lidstrom and the Red Wings will open the playoffs on the road for just the second time since the 1990-91 season -- the season before Lidstrom started in the League.

However, he said the Wings are embracing their underdog status entering their series against the Nashville Predators, which opens Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC).

We don't mind that at all," he said. "Nashville had a real strong season … I think they're the team to be the favorites right now. We're looking forward to the challenge of facing Nashville in the first round."

Aiding in that challenge will be a return to health of a pair of Red Wings forwards. Lidstrom said Danny Cleary and Darren Helm each skated with the team at Monday's practice, and Lidstrom said he expects Cleary to be in the lineup for Game 1. Helm he said he hopes to see return soon; Lidstrom said his speed will be vital against the Predators.

Having a healthy team in general, however, is something Lidstrom said is one of, if not the most important, factor in a team's Stanley Cup hopes.

"It's hard to put a percentage on it, but I would say it (health) is one of the most important things," said Lidstrom. "You want to have depth and different players step up … but health is the most important thing to go all the way."

New York Rangers center Brad Richards agreed, and used his history as an example.

"I'll use the experience we had when we won it [in 2004 with Tampa Bay], and the experience we had in Dallas [in the 2008 Western Conference Finals]," said Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Lightning hoisted Lord Stanley eight years ago. "In Tampa we got lucky, won some series early and had some rest and had everybody healthy going into the final series. In Dallas we had everyone beat up. It's a big difference and helps you win some games in the end."

The Vancouver Canucks are in the same boat, wondering if one of their most important forwards -- leading goal-scorer Daniel Sedin -- will be available for Game 1 of their first-round series with the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC) due to a concussion he suffered March 21.

"He practiced today and that's good news," said Canucks center Ryan Kesler. "Hopefully we see him in the first round."

Bergeron saw how important having healthy players was in last year's Cup run. His team stayed mostly healthy until Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, when Nathan Horton suffered a season-ending concussion. However, the Bruins were able to persevere and win the title in seven games.

"Health is very important," he said. "Same thing for us last year. We went through the Final pretty healthy. We lost Nathan Horton in Game 3, but we were pretty healthy through the lineup and that helped us a lot."

Horton again is out; he hasn't played since suffering another concussion Jan. 22. And just like last year, Bergeron said the Bruins will do what they can to win without him.

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"He's going to be missed," said Bergeron. "He's been missed since he left. He's a big part of our team. He scored some big goals for us. We can't stop to think about it because it's adversity we need to overcome. We know [Horton], he wants to be out there as much as we want him to be on the ice [but] we have to play the games with who we have."

They'll start that quest Wednesday against a Washington team that beat the Bruins three times in four regular-season games. And with a healthy Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have the look of a team that could return to being an offensive juggernaut.

Bergeron, who led the NHL with a plus-36 rating, will be the key part of the group tasked with slowing the Caps. However, he knows it's more than his job alone.

"It's not just about me," he said. "It's about the five-man unit on the ice. Anytime guys like [Backstrom] or [Alex] Ovechkin are on the ice, it's about the full unit. We all need to be aware of where they are on the ice. They're that good, they're going to make those plays. It's about finding those guys on the ice and making sure we communicate."

That's not much different from the plan the Bruins used to slow the Canucks' best offensive players last season. That memory stuck with Kesler and his teammates, who rebounded from last year's loss to win a second-straight Presidents' Trophy.

Like the lessons the Bruins learned in winning the Cup, the Canucks learned a whole different set of things in coming up one game short.

"We know we're a team that's going to be judged by how we do in the playoffs," said Kesler. "Now the real season begins and this will be a big test for us."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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