Having several veteran defensemen miss time with injuries this postseason certainly hasn't been an ideal situation for the Anaheim Ducks, but there is a silver lining of sorts. It has opened the window of opportunity for a number of young Ducks to garner the playoff experience they might not have otherwise reaped.
Cam Fowler is in the middle of a multiple-week absence with a knee injury, while Sami Vatanen was ruled out for last night's Game 2 with an upper body ailment. Add to that the fact that fellow vets Clayton Stoner (abdominal surgery) hasn't played for Anaheim since mid-November and Simon Despres (concussion) only appeared in the season opener, and you have the Ducks counting on a number of blueliners with minimal playoff experience.
In fact, four defensemen in the lineup last night - Korbinian Holzer, Josh Manson, Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore - came into Game 2 with a combined 10 games of playoff experience. (To put that in perspective, Kevin Bieksa has 79 by himself.) But each of them has held his own contributing to a stingy Ducks defensive corps - save for a shaky second period last night - as Anaheim has carved out a 2-0 series lead against the Calgary Flames.
"We stated before the playoffs started, that we thought we were going to have to use nine defenseman through the course of the playoffs season," coach Randy Carlyle said this morning just before his Ducks got on a plane to Calgary for Games 3 and 4. "We've at eight right now, and that's great for our younger kids, getting the exposure and experience of playoff hockey and should only bode well for their future. I don't see them intimidated by it, not in the first two games anyway."
It's worth pointing out that one of the "veteran" defensemen on the Ducks roster, Hampus Lindholm and his 36 career postseason games, is still just 23 years old.
The 29-year-old Holzer played his first Stanley Cup Playoff game last night, a late insertion into the lineup when it was determined after the warmup that Vatanen was not ready to go. (Vatanen is with the Ducks on the trip to Calgary and will be reassessed tomorrow morning.)
Holzer was sent out as a starter with D partner Josh Manson, which he said helped him shake out the nerves in the early going.
"For me, it was a great feeling and I was excited," he said. "There were a little more butterflies than normal. It was kind of like your first NHL game. But it was good that I started the game, to get those nerves out of the way early, and after that I thought it was a good experience."
Montour has played both games in this series, the first two postseason contests for the 23-year-old rookie who got into 27 regular season games for Anaheim. He had an assist last night, as did Theodore, who also had two helpers in Game 1.
Montour said stepping in for established Ducks like Fowler and Vatanen wasn't intimidating.
"Obviously those guys are elite players, but for us as a whole core, anybody can play any role with the depth that we have," Montour said. "So we were very calm out there. All of us can skate and play hard in our own end. I think that showed last night, and we've just got to keep it going."
The Ducks have certainly enjoyed the friendly confines of Honda Center in Games 1 and 2, with a raucous, orange-clad and towel-waving crowd that frequently directed chants of "You can't win here!" at the Flames. And it was well-deserved, as last night's win (though not the prettiest) was the 29th in a row for Anaheim over Calgary at home, regular season and playoffs combined.
The atmosphere will be decidedly different starting tomorrow night at Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome, where Holzer admitted, "It's gonna be crazy. It's gonna be loud and a lot of emotions involved. We know they're gonna come hard, and for us it's going to be important to push and try not to be intimidated by the crowd or anything else. It's gonna be a fun atmosphere to play in. Those games, especially playoff games, are a lot of fun, so I think it's important for us to enjoy the moment and play our game."
Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg had a goal in last night's game, as he did in Game 1. In fact, the three goal-scorers for the Ducks last night - Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf - were the same three as in Game 1. Silfverberg, who was a vital part of the Ducks team that vanquished Calgary in five games in a Second Round series two years ago, expects another passionate scene highlighted by the Flames' vaunted "C of Red" fan base.
"I've had the experience to play there in the playoffs, and any time you go there, even in the regular season, it gets loud in there," Silfverberg said. "But this building gets pretty crazy too, especially last night, so it's gonna be a good atmosphere and hopefully a good game too."
Carlyle was not the Ducks coach when Anaheim won that 2015 series, but he was at the helm when the Ducks defeated the Flames in the opening round back in 2006, taking a Game 7 in Calgary.
"It's going to be that much more intense, and I'm sure the aggression will be up there," Carlyle said. "Their fan base is going to be rabid. It will be a wild night in the Saddledome."