CALGARY, Alberta--Unlike at this time last year when the Colorado Avalanche was preparing for its first-round series against the Nashville Predators, the club doesn't lack playoff experience.
The Avalanche will look to use that to its benefit this evening at Scotiabank Saddledome in Game 1 of its Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Calgary Flames.
"It matters, we have guys with a lot of experience," said Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon on the importance of having played in these types of games before. "The last three Cups, we have guys that have won [them] in our locker room and they're helping us a lot to get ready for the playoffs."
Of the 25 active players on the Avs' roster, only rookies Ryan Graves and Vladislav Kamenev (presently injured) and third-string goaltender Joe Cannata have never skated in the NHL's second season before. None of those players will be in Colorado's lineup tonight, as they will join Sven Andrighetto and Mark Barberio as the team's scratches.
Of the Avalanche's 22 players that have first-hand knowledge of the intensity that comes with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, 18 suited up for the club in last year's six-game series versus Nashville.
"A bunch of us now have playoff experience, so it's nice to come into this series now a little more confident, you know what to expect," said Tyson Jost, who was one of seven players that made their playoff debuts last season. "It's just exciting. It's always exciting when playoffs come around. This is what you want to do as a hockey player, as an NHL player, you want to be in the playoffs every year."
Colorado's familiarity of the NHL postseason is varied from veteran forward Derick Brassard's 90 games to sophomore defenseman Samuel Girard's three. Overall, Colorado has a combined 422 games of playoff experience. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer (2018) and defenseman Ian Cole (2017, 2016) were on Stanley Cup winners the past three seasons.
Video: Nathan MacKinnon on the series with the Flames
Brassard joined the Avs at the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25, and part of the reason why the club acquired was for his knowledge of big games come springtime. This is his eighth postseason, having reached a conference final three times and the Stanley Cup Final once.
"Brassard, he's one of the best playoff players in the last decade, been to the finals, conference finals, all that stuff, so we're fortunate," said MacKinnon, who has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 13 playoff games. "I mean I don't have many (games), guys don't have many, but I feel confident that I can play in any situation and the more experience, the better, obviously. We feel good, we have a good young group, we do have some veterans that have played a lot of playoff hockey."
For Calgary, the team is preparing for its third playoff run in the past five seasons but will enter this year's installment with 13 players that have never skated beyond the NHL's regular season.
The Flames players have 287 contests worth of experience, but more than a third of that is from veteran forward James Neal with 100. He has played in deep runs previously with the Pittsburgh Penguins and reached the Stanley Cup Final the past two years with the Nashville Predators (2017) and Vegas Golden Knights (2018).
"Experience has been a word that has been thrown out the last five days. If you have some, you should use it," said Calgary head coach Bill Peters after their squad's morning skate.
The Flames will rely on a veteran this evening in goal as 37-year-old Mike Smith will get the start. Smith has played in 19 postseason outings, recording a 10-8 record, 1.88 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.
Colorado will counter with Grubauer, who has played four games in the playoffs and started two last year during the Washington Capitals' title run.
"I think every shift you get out there is crucial," Grubauer said of spring hockey. "Every small little detail is important. You can't sit back, you can't relax for a second, you've always got to be ready to go and that's the message I'm telling the guys. You've got to be ready every time. Every small detail matters."
Video: Philipp Grubauer before Game 1 in Calgary
Grubauer started nine of the Avs' final 11 games of the season and was one of the hottest goalies in the league at the campaign's conclusion. From March 17 on, the Colorado keeper posted a 7-0-2 record, 1.63 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
"Both of our goalies have done a real nice job down the stretch. Grubi just elevated his game to a whole another level here," said head coach Jared Bednar. "He's given us a chance to win every night. He looks confident, quick in goal. He's taking care of rebounds. All of the things we talk about a lot. Just based on what he's done over the last month of the season, he earned the right to start for us."
This is the Avalanche's franchise's 47th playoff series (including Quebec Nordiques) and 32nd since moving to Colorado in 1995. The Avs and Flames were in the same division for 17 years (1995-2013), but this will be the clubs' first-ever meeting in the postseason.
COMING HOME, KIND OF
Avs forward Tyson Jost grew up in the suburbs of Edmonton, roughly 185 miles away from Calgary, but he'll still have a decent amount of support in the stands for the season opener as his family will make the nearly three-hour trip south from St. Albert this evening.
"It will be a special moment for my family, they'll all make the drive down from Edmonton, it's right next door," Jost said. "I grew up playing a lot of hockey here (in Calgary), a lot of minor hockey tournaments. It's going to be pretty special for me for sure, so I'm excited."
Video: Tyson Jost on playoff hockey in Alberta
Jost said the Flames were his first favorite team he liked growing up before eventually converting to a fan of his hometown Edmonton Oilers. He remembers playoff fever in the province at its highest 10-plus years ago when Calgary was in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final and the Oilers did the same two years later.
"It's nuts. It's kind of a different animal," Jost said of the atmosphere in Western Canada. "I remember as a kid I was so excited when playoff hockey came around. I remember the Oilers when they went on a run, and Calgary when they were playing Tampa in the finals. Just the whole city, the whole province rallies around the teams. The buzz and the excitement throughout the whole city.
"Some of the guys asked me about it, and I just told them how cool it was and how special it is. We obviously want to silence that noise and whatnot. It's going to be exciting for us to come in and play the bad guys."
Both the Flames and Oilers lost in Game 7 of their respective title runs more than a decade ago, and the country of Canada hasn't had a Stanley Cup winner since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
HOW TO WATCH
Game time is set for 8 p.m. MT, as the contest will be the second half of a national doubleheader on NBCSN in the United States and CBC and Sportsnet in Canada. The Boston Bruins against the Toronto Maple Leafs is the first outing at 5 p.m. MT.
Colorado fans can also watch the game locally on Altitude TV, with pregame coverage beginning at 7 p.m. MT. The radio broadcast with Conor McGahey can be heard to on Altitude Sports Radio FM 92.5 in the Denver area or right here on ColoradoAvalanche.com.
The Avalanche is also hosting an official watch party in downtown Denver at Sports Column. In addition to watching the Avs with fellow fans, the team will also be giving away special prizes, including home game tickets for when the series shifts to Colorado next week.