The Stanley Cup playoffs are serious business.
The speed picks up, the hits get harder and the adrenaline flows through players willing to do whatever it takes to hoist the Stanley Cup. But what sometimes gets lost in the blood, sweat, tears, exhaustion and anguish is the fact that it’s also a lot of fun.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” said Kyle Okposo, who scored three goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013. “The Stanley Cup Playoffs are like no other tournament in the world. I think it’s the best and one of the hardest to win. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in. Everything is jacked up a little bit more. You find that extra motivation and oomph.”
Okposo has represented his country at the World Juniors and World Championships, but said nothing compared to the rush of playing in the NHL playoffs. The stakes are higher, the physical punishment is fiercer, but so is the drive to push forward, embracing the pain along the way.
“You definitely have more adrenaline that you’re running on,” Okposo said. “You use the crowd, the energy from the fans. You just go from there. It’s the purest form of the sport.”
For three of the newest Islanders, the intensity and emotion of the playoffs is a new experience. Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome have played a big role in the Islanders return to the playoffs, but have a combined one playoff game between them. That honor belongs to Nelson, who suited up for Game Six against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013.
If it’s scoring a goal, sacrificing your body, you do whatever it takes to win. Everybody knows that, hopefully everybody does that. - Johnny Boychuk
“You try to lean on the other guys who have gone through it,” Nelson said. “Maybe [Nick] Leddy and Johnny [Boychuk], guys who know what it takes and what it’s like to go all the way. It’s nice to have those guys for that support and feedback on what to expect.”
So what type of advice does Boychuk – a Stanley Cup champ with the Boston Bruins in 2011 – offer to his teammates?
“It’s about doing anything to make your team win,” Boychuk said. “If it’s scoring a goal, sacrificing your body, you do whatever it takes to win. Everybody knows that, hopefully everybody does that.”
Boychuk also stressed the importance of staying calm and not getting overwhelmed by the emotion or the spotlight. He has the most playoff experience on the roster (79 games), then there’s Tyler Kennedy (76 games) and Leddy (54 games) before a considerable drop off. Most of the Islanders homegrown core has seen six games or fewer, but there won’t be any surprises in Game One.
“This is another level,” said John Tavares, who has also represented Canada at the Olympics and World Juniors. “There’s nothing really they’ve quite experienced that will live up to what a playoff series is like. Playing every-other day and the emotion that’s involved; the wear and tear and the sacrifice you have to make. They’ll learn on the fly like a lot of us did.”
Tavares is right. There’s only one way to gain that playoff experience. Make the sacrifices. Play.
It is fun after all.