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Inexperienced Flames set to enjoy first taste of playoffs

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

West (P2) vs. (P3)

Canucks vs. Flames

VANCOUVER, BC -- With just 275 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience shared across the 27 players on the current active roster, Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley is preaching one thing.

Enjoy it.

"Our message to our team -- especially our young players -- is that we earned this right to be in the playoffs by working since day one of training camp, practices, gym workouts, 82 games, facing adversity, let's enjoy it," Hartley said. "Starting tonight, everyone is in the starting line for the Stanley Cup. This is the dream for any kids, whether they're in minor hockey, playing on the pond, playing on the street.

“That's our mindset and that's our mindset, that's what we're telling our guys. Let's go and enjoy it, let’s have fun. We had a mountain to climb and we're still not at the top, we still have lots of work to do."

The Flames have eight players who could make their playoff debut in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday (8 p.m. MT; CBC, SN960).

In fact, only eight Flames skaters have double-digits in career playoff games played.

Its enthusiasm, not inexperience that alternate captain Kris Russell hopes his club taps into.

I think we’ve got to use that energy and that youth and the excitement to our advantage, but at the same time we can’t go overboard,” Russell said. “We’ve got a game to play and we play within the systems and be disciplined. We can’t be over eager and take some penalties or try and do too much early.

“It’s special. It’s different, you don’t know what to expect but once you go out, hear the crowd and the puck drops. It’s just like any other game. It’s a game that we need to win, but they’ll have a lot of fun with it.

“I’m excited. This is a great opportunity. I think we’re excited about the group we have, the youth we have, and some of the veteran guys. We’re looking forward to a good start.”

Calgary’s top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler has a combined 66 games of playoff experience under their belts. Hudler is responsible for all 66.

But Gaudreau, 21, is looking to harness the excitement of his first trip to the postseason.

“I think most of the guys in our locker room are pretty excited,” Gaudreau said. “I think us younger guys, this is our first playoff game so there’s a bit extra excitement from us.

“I think we’ve got to play the same way we’ve been playing down the stretch when we were trying to make the playoffs. We were all working pretty hard and we lost [Mark Giordano] and everybody stepped up a little more. I think that’s what we need to do in these next few games.”

Sam Bennett, who played in four Ontario Hockey League playoff games as a member of the Kingston Frontenacs, has just one regular season game under his belt after rejoining the Flames in early April.

And while he’s not confirmed to add another -- his first Stanley Cup Playoff game -- the excitement remains.

“It’s definitely exciting,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s exciting in the dressing room and on the ice. We’re all really pumped up for this game and really excited. This will definitely be a fun one.

“I still don’t know if I’m going to get a chance or not, but just being here and being around the guys, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs and it’s the most exciting time of year.”

The excitement isn’t just limited to the rookies, though.

Matt Stajan, a veteran of 774 career regular season games, will skate in just his fourth ever NHL playoff game.

The excitement from the 31-year-old rivals the level of those taking their first spin.

“I think it’s everybody,” Stajan said. “I think you look across the League. Anybody who’s in the playoffs, there’s an excitement from anybody whether it’s your first time or you’ve been here 10 times or however many times. This is what you play hockey for.

“This is the time of year that you want to be the difference. We’ve got an anxious group, an excited group and we’ll be ready to go."

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