By Kyle Shohara
The doors to the Ducks locker room opened to a mass of Canadian media this afternoon; a reminder that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are indeed upon us. For some of the players, it’s a return to a familiar setting. Veterans such as captain Ryan Getzlaf and alternate captains Francois Beauchemin and Corey Perry have climbed the highest mountain before. All three were members of the 2007 championship squad that defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games. Between them are over 230 games of experience spanning seven years of postseason competition. But for others, such as rookies Chris Wagner and Jiri Sekac, and even a veteran like Tim Jackman, these are unchartered waters.
“I’ve heard that the hockey style is way different than the regular season,” said the 22-year-old Sekac. “It’s going to be fun. It’s definitely an exciting time of the year, and I’m really looking forward to Game 1. This is what you work for the whole year.”
Sekac was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Devante Smith-Pelly on Feb. 24, and went on to record seven points (2g/5a) with a plus-2 rating in 19 games with the Ducks. Sekac earned 23 points (9g/14a) with an even plus/minus rating and 22 penalty minutes in 69 games with Montreal and Anaheim.
Fellow youngster Rickard Rakell made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut last year in Game 4 of the First Round vs. Dallas. Rakell went on to skate in four postseason games. Like Sekac, Rakell expressed his excitement for what lies ahead. “It’s a great feeling right now,” said Rakell, who scored his first career NHL goal in Game 5 against the Stars. “Everyone is super excited. We can’t wait for tomorrow. With the great regular season we had, and the way we’ve played lately, we’re excited for what’s going to happen. We have a really good feeling heading into tomorrow.”
Rakell’s smile widened when he was asked what he expects the atmosphere to be like inside Honda Center tomorrow night. “It’s going to be really loud. We have great fans,” he said. “We’re all looking forward to it. It’s the best feeling. You just want to push a little more and get that goal.”
Within earshot of Rakell sat Kyle Palmieri, who knows a thing or two about delivering in the postseason. The 24-year-old right wing has six goals and eight points in 17 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, including three in nine games last year vs. Dallas and Los Angeles. After making his postseason debut as a “black ace” during the 2011 playoffs (one game), Palmieri appeared in seven quarterfinal games the following postseason vs. Detroit, leading the club with a plus-5 rating, co-leading in goals (3) and finishing tied for third in points (5). “The excitement level never changes,” said Palmieri, on the postseason. “All it takes is seeing a commercial when you’re watching TV during the week. It gets your blood pumping a little bit. You try your best to get into playoff mode in these first couple of days, but now it’s time. We’re ready for it.
“You have dreams of those rally towels. I’ve had some great memories of all those orange towels waving. Hopefully they’ll outdo themselves this year.”
The likelihood of John Gibson and Nate Thompson playing tomorrow is slim, at least according to Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, who said it’ll be “pretty tough” for either of them to play in Game 1 after not skating for the past four days. Gibson and Thompson are both dealing with upper-body injuries, though Boudreau said Gibson is “getting closer.”
Thompson’s replacement could very well be Wagner, who has all of nine games of NHL experience under his belt. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in tenacity and determination, and Boudreau says he’ll be ready if/when he’s called upon. “Playing nine games has helped, but it’s certainly a tall task for a young guy that’s played in the minors for two years and has been asked to be put into an important role,” said Boudreau. “He’s a competitive guy, and he will rise to the occasion.