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Playoff Experience Factor

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The raw numbers are strikingly similar.

In terms of the total postseason experience of their active players, the Colorado Avalanche (712 games played) and San Jose Sharks (714) are neck-and-neck heading into the opener of their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

A deeper look tells a completely different story. The Sharks enter the series with six players on their roster who have never seen postseason action. That number pales in comparison to the Avs, whose roster sports 14 players with no experience playing in the second season.

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Colorado’s number of games played is bolstered by a small group of players, including veterans Adam Foote (164 playoff games), Milan Hejduk (109) and Stephane Yelle (165). In fact, those three players account for 61.5% of the Avalanche’s postseason experience.

Contrast that to the Sharks, who have just one player with over 100 playoff games under his belt (former Avalanche blueliner Rob Blake, with 131), but boast 10 others with 20 or more playoff games to their credit.

As a whole, the Avalanche may be inexperienced when it comes to playing in the postseason, but that just might make this hockey club even more dangerous.

“We’re going to come in loose and try to have fun. The pressure is on them,” said rookie T.J. Galiardi, who will be going through the rigors of the postseason for the first time.

“We’re very happy that we’re going to get the experience here and get the opportunity to play in the NHL playoffs,” added Galiardi. “It’s going to be exciting. For a lot of us, our only playoff experience has been in juniors and college. It’s just an exciting time and we’re looking forward to it.”

With a roster dominated by young players, veteran leadership becomes even more important at this juncture. Along with Foote, Hejduk and Yelle, other battle-tested veterans on Colorado’s roster include Scott Hannan (67 playoff games), Ruslan Salei (50) and Darcy Tucker (62).

For Foote, this will be the 13th NHL postseason he’s been a part of, and his first as captain of the Avalanche. Having twice hoisted the Stanley Cup, the 38-year-old defenseman can certainly provide some insight into the series and the playoffs as a whole.

“I think with our team, there’s a fine line between playing loose and playing tight,” said Foote. “There isn’t a whole lot of pressure on us, but at the same time you don’t want to be too loose that you don’t play your game or realize the intensity of the playoffs.”

According to Foote, the first 10 minutes of Game One will be a critical test of this young squad’s mettle. During the past few days, the captain has talked at length about how loud and rowdy the HP Pavilion can get in the regular season.

He says he’s addressed this point with his teammates, noting that the crowd will be even more rambunctious now that the games mean the difference between moving onto the next round and being sent home.

“The first thing we have to grasp as a group is to be ready, because it’s going to be a storm in there the first 10 minutes,” said Foote. “We’re going to focus on that and be ready for it, but at the same time not get off our game plan.”

And if the Avalanche can weather that storm, it could be clear sailing ahead.
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