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Bruins First-Timers Soaking In Postseason Experience

Thirteeen players on Boston's roster have never participated in Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - Riley Nash has played in his share of postseason games during the course of his hockey career. Between the AHL and junior, Nash has over 30 games of playoff experience.

But the six-year NHL veteran has never taken part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And even he knows it's hard to compare anything to the intensity level he will face when the puck drops against the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night for Game 1 of the First Round at Canadian Tire Centre.

"I made the playoffs in AHL and junior," Nash said with a smile following Tuesday morning's practice at Warrior Ice Arena. "No…it's been a while. Like any league, it ramps up in the playoffs. I think we saw that the last 15-20 games of the [regular season], points were pretty valuable to us."

Nash is one of 13 Bruins who could make their Stanley Cup Playoffs debuts in Boston's first-round series against the Sens. Rookies Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Sean Kuraly, Charlie McAvoy, and Zane McIntyre join Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tim Schaller, Ryan Spooner, and Frank Vatrano as postseason newbies.

Noel Acciari and Brandon Carlo, both ruled out for Game 1 because of injury, will also experience their first postseasons should they play at some point during the series.

"Really excited. I grew up watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs…to be a part of it now is awesome, it's a good feeling," said Vatrano, who just wrapped up his second NHL season. "Not every team gets to make the playoffs, so it's an honor to be there. We've got to play our best hockey in order to advance to the next round. We're ready for the challenge against Ottawa."

The opponent, however, is not the only test they will confront. Being able to handle the intensity and spectacle that come with each game will also take some getting used to.

"I don't think you really prep for it," said Vatrano, who played in three playoff games with the Providence Bruins last season. "Stanley Cup Playoffs, I've never played in it, but from what I've heard from people who have played in the league and been through the experience, they just talk about how everyone is committed and pulling for one another.

"I think that's something that's going to be fun to be a part of and I'm excited to get going."

Patrice Bergeron knows well how much things ramp up at this time of year. The 2011 Stanley Cup Champion has played 13 seasons in the National Hockey League and eight times has qualified for the postseason, racking up 23 goals and 43 assists over 95 games of playoff experience.

"The intensity is going to increase a lot," said Bergeron. "I think the speed of the game is going to be a lot higher, the physicality definitely is there and increases a lot as well. The tempo of the game, everything is going to be faster, you need to make decisions quicker as well."

But even a playoff-tested Bergeron can feel the playoff jitters from time to time.

"I think it's part of it. It's a good challenge I think," he said. "You want to be part of these games - that pressure is always part of hockey. That's why you play the game, for the jitters and the butterflies. It's just the way you manage them and embrace the moment and the challenge and go out there and have fun."

"You always have butterflies. It's such a high stage," added Brad Marchand, who remembered being captivated by the buzz around the city during his first postseason experience in 2011. "There's so much that has gone into it. There's definitely playoff jitters, I'm sure [the young guys are] going to have them, too. We'll battle through it. It goes away pretty quickly once you play a shift or two."

Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said his team - particularly the youngsters - must lean on the experience of postseason veterans like Bergeron, Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, David Backes, and others.

"Our best players need to be our best players, we know that," said Cassidy, who will be coaching in his second Stanley Cup Playoffs and first since 2002-03 when he was the head coach of the Washington Capitals. "The younger group…for them, they're going to have to adjust quickly, but we're not going to sit here and say, 'If they're not our best players [Wednesday] night, we have no chance,' because I don't think that's fair for them.

"They're going to need their period of time to adjust. Hopefully they get into it quickly, but it's going to be our veteran players that should be pulling those guys alone early, especially the runs they've been on."

Video: Veterans & newcomers are excited for the postseason

While a large chunk of Boston's roster is not familiar with playoff hockey, 15 players have participated in the postseason, nine have played in the Stanley Cup Final and six have won a Cup.

"I think that's an advantage we have is that those guys have won a Stanley Cup, they've been through the grind," said Cassidy. "Even though every year writes its own story, they have been through this experience. They're going to have to do their part with the younger guys and I have no doubt they will."

One player who will surely lean on those experienced vets is McAvoy. Signed to a three-year entry-level contract on Monday, the 14th overall pick in last June's draft is being thrust into the postseason after injuries to Carlo and Torey Krug left the Bruins thin on the back end.

Should he crack the lineup, McAvoy would become just the eighth player in Bruins history to suit up in the postseason before playing a regular season game.

"It's the next step, it's obviously the highest level," McAvoy said following his first NHL practice on Monday. "I have a feeling that I'll be put in a good position to succeed. I know that this organization wants to succeed, and they want me to be successful, as well, so I know that they'll have my best interest in mind."

McAvoy practiced alongside John-Michael Liles on Monday and was paired with Chara on Tuesday. The two blueliners have combined to play in 181 playoff games.

"To put a guy with lesser experience like myself - or at the beginning of this year, Brandon Carlo - and put him with a guy like [Chara] who has so much experience, who has such a storied career and knows what he's doing," said McAvoy. "It's easy to see why they do that, to help that transition and make it easier for someone like myself."

Ultimately, though, while the intensity and stakes are ratcheted up, the game remains the same.

"It's still hockey, right?" said Pastrnak. "That's what I'm focusing on. Go play my best hockey and help the team the way I can. That's not something I'm going to be overthinking."

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