They have played postseason games in midgets, juniors, and even the American Hockey League. They have watched on television or in person.
Still, they will walk into a different world when they suit up for their initial NHL playoff game. Nine on the current Lightning roster have yet to play a postseason game in the best league in the world. For most, or all of them, that will change this week.
“It’s going to be the first time for a lot of us here,” Lightning forward Teddy Purcell said. “[The Lightning] hasn’t been in the playoffs for four years. I think it’s going to be exciting for the town and we’re all amped up and ready to go.
“We’ve asked what to expect in a playoff game and how close was that to a playoff game atmosphere. But, I think, until we experience it, we’re not going to know for sure. We just have to get as ready as we can and we have some great veterans to learn from.”
Along with Purcell, Steven Stamkos, Sean Bergenheim, Victor Hedman, Nate Thompson, Dana Tyrell, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby and Mike Smith have not played in the playoffs. Smith backed up Marty Turco with Dallas in the 2006-07 and 07-08 playoffs, but did not play.
Fourteen Lightning players have participated in the playoffs and 11 have been in at least 23 games. Simon Gagne has played the most (90), while Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis have each played in 45 postseason games for the Lightning.
Along with Stanley Cup champions St. Louis, Lecavalier and Pavel Kubina for the Bolts in 2004, Dwayne Roloson, Adam Hall, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Ryan Malone and Gagne have all gone to the finals.
“Guys are going to be flying around,” said Stamkos, who had 14 goals in 13 playoff games in juniors. “You don’t want to be that guy who makes that mistake, but at the same time you want to play the way that made the team successful.
“I’m just really excited. I’ve watched a lot of playoff hockey. We have a lot of experienced guys in this room that the young guys are going to lean on.”
Hall, who has played 31 postseason games, said every single player finds a way to up their game and find another level in the playoffs. The highs are higher. The lows are lower.
“The intensity is up. Everybody knows that,” said Bergeron, who has played 43 NHL postseason games. “It’s a matter of staying composed because it’s full of ups and downs. If you’re going with them, you’re in big trouble. So you have to stay focused and remain calm.
“You just have to read the game. You don’t want to think too much. At this time of the year, you know your role and what you’re comfortable with. You just have to focus on what you’re doing.”
For those who have yet to experience the NHL postseason on the ice, they will have to draw on any experience they have had. Tyrell played 20 playoff games in the Western Hockey League as a junior. He said everyone has told him it is the best hockey he’ll ever play.
Thompson has played 37 AHL playoff games, including with Providence against Purcell’s Manchester Monarchs in 2007-08. Thompson’s team swept.
“It’ll be a little bit different as far as skill and intensity in the NHL,” Thompson said. “But any pro playoff experience you get is invaluable. It’s a whole new season. Everything’s magnified. Everything is just a little harder, a bit more intense and they are all one-goal games. It’s going to be a huge test for us, but at the same time it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Thompson said you can’t lose your aggressiveness. You just have to bear down even more in certain areas to get the puck out and into the zone.
What has made the Lightning successful during their best periods of the season has been when they have played a simple, solid, in-your-face style. That is what will be required for a long playoff run.
“When we’re playing that kind of hockey – grind it out, throwing everything at the net, suffocating on both sides of the ice – that’s playoff hockey at its finest,” Thompson said. “If we can play that game – our game – I like our chances.”
It might take a shift or two to adjust to the speed, the emotion, the atmosphere. Because Lecavalier said it is like nothing they have experienced before.
But once they settle in, everyone will have the same quest. That journey is documented on the walls in the hallway and in the Lightning locker room. Photos of blood, sweat and sacrifice it took to win the Cup in 2004. Kubina is hugging the Cup, Lecavalier throwing punches with Jarome Iginla, St. Louis holding the Cup above his head with blood on his face from a big cut. There are photos of current players diving to knock pucks away.
“It’s our job, but this is the most fun, making the playoffs,” Tyrell said. “You’re playing to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and win it, so there are going to be a lot of emotions.
“This team has history. There are lots of pictures that we walk by every day. It’s nice to see, and hopefully we can accomplish the same thing.”