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Brand new game looms for Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com
Craig Anderson might have wondered if he'd ever get the chance to take part in a Stanley Cup Playoff game, but his time has finally arrived.

Eight years after putting on an NHL jersey for the first time, the 28-year-old goalie will make his postseason debut Wednesday night when the Colorado Avalanche opens Western Conference quarterfinal play against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion (10:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

"I'm really excited," Anderson, one of 14 Avalanche players without postseason experience, said after practice Tuesday. "The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup and you've got to be in the playoffs to get the opportunity. Coming here I just wanted to battle for the No. 1 spot. It's worked out. It's been a fairy tale story for me."

Anderson set career highs this season for games (71) wins (38) and shutouts (seven) while posting a 2.64 goals-against average and .917 save percentage after signing a two-year, $3.625 million contract with the Avalanche as a free agent last summer.

"I'm excited. The last couple of days I've been thinking about it the night before I go to bed. We've heard the older guys talk about the playoff battles and you can't help but get excited, especially playing against a good team like San Jose. We had some good battles against them this year, including a couple down the stretch, so we're all excited to get started." -- Chris Stewart

It was money well spent and now Anderson, who began the season having played a total of 109 NHL regular-season games with Chicago and Florida, is being counted on to backstop the eighth-seeded Avalanche to an upset against the top-seeded Sharks.

"It's a new, fresh start for us," Anderson said. "The guys want to get this thing going and get after it. We've played these guys four times this year. It's just another hockey game. We have to approach this game the way we have every other game this year. Those first 82 games were just practice. Now is when it counts."

Six Avalanche players have 50 or more games of playoff experience, led by center Stephane Yelle (165), captain Adam Foote (164) and right wing Milan Hejduk (109).

Yelle and Foote were members of the Avalanche's Stanley Cup teams in 1996 and 2001, and Hejduk played on the 2001 championship team.

But, aside from Anderson, Kyle Cumiskey, Matt Duchene, Chris Durno, T.J. Galiardi, Matt Hendricks, David Koci, Peter Mueller, Ryan O'Reilly, Kevin Porter, Chris Stewart, Ryan Stoa, Ryan Wilson and Brandon Yip haven't played as much as a second in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Based on the lines and defense pairings at Tuesday's practice, all but Durno, Koci, Mueller and Stoa will make their postseason debuts Wednesday. Mueller is recovering from a concussion and didn't make the trip to San Jose.

"I think playoffs are pretty much the same at every level," said Duchene, one of eight rookies or first-year players expected to be in the Avalanche lineup. "The intensity's there and every game means so much. Obviously (the NHL) is a lot higher level than I've played at in the past. But I played a full year here now. I played in 81 games and I'm pretty used to the league.

"I think I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. If I have any questions, there're a lot of great guys here that have great experience that I can talk to."

That would include veteran forward Darcy Tucker, who has 62 games of postseason experience but hasn't been in the playoffs since 2004 when he played for Toronto.

"There's a level that comes with playing in the playoffs and you always find out more about people, the guys who can elevate their games to the next level," Tucker said. "It is a different sort of mentality in the playoffs and we've been trying to get that across to the younger guys."

Stewart was a rookie last season when the Avalanche finished in the conference basement and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. He scored a team-high 28 goals this year and is skating at right wing on the top line with Galiardi and Paul Stastny.

"I'm excited," Stewart said. "The last couple of days I've been thinking about it the night before I go to bed. We've heard the older guys talk about the playoff battles and you can't help but get excited, especially playing against a good team like San Jose. We had some good battles against them this year, including a couple down the stretch, so we're all excited to get started."

Anderson has had to lean on backup goalie Peter Budaj, whose playoff experience is the 108 minutes he played in 2008, and Avalanche goalie consultant Jocelyn Thibault, who played in 18 playoff games in his NHL career.

"Patrick Roy would be nice to talk to, but I don't know him personally," Anderson said. "There're enough resources around."
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