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Campbell, Horton ready for playoff debuts

by Shawn P. Roarke
BOSTON -- Gregory Campbell's playoff beard is already in full bloom, far more advanced than the three days he has had, according to superstition, to grow it.

Across the room, Nathan Horton also looks to be into Week 2 of his shaving boycott.

What's the deal, then?

Well, both Campbell and Horton are so excited about being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time that it seems they got a bit of a start on some of their teammates.

"It's been six, seven, eight years since we've been able to grow one," Campbell said Thursdsay, on the morning of Boston's game 1 showdown against Montreal (7 p.m. ET, CBC, Versus) I've been chomping at the bit. The last time I grew one, I was 19."

Don't read too much into it, but Campbell did hoist a trophy last time he grew a playoff beard, claiming the Memorial Cup with Kitchener in 2003.

Today, Campbell is 27 with six years of NHL hockey under his belt. The first five seasons were spent with the Florida Panthers, who did not make the playoffs during his time there.

Horton, 25, has an even longer playoff drought, joining the Panthers full-time in the 2003-04 season, one year before Campbell arrived.

Both ended up in Boston this season after being traded from the Panthers last summer in a deal that sent Dennis Wideman south.

Now, both are ready to experience the Stanley cup Playoffs for the first time together. And, they are being thrown into the raging inferno that is Boston-Montreal in the postseason.

"I'm excited and can't wait to get going, but I try not to think too much about it," Horton said after Wednesday's practice. "I'm sure once I'm there, you can't top your emotions and how you feel. When I think about it, it's going to be a great day and I'm really excited."

Thursday, all the first-timers were trying to keep their emotions in check. Aside from Horton and Campbell, rookie Brad Marchand is also expected to make his playoff debut Thursday night. Rookie Tyler Seguin, meanwhile, is expected to be a healthy scratch.

Despite the raging nerves, Gregory says he is prepared for a date with hockey destiny he has dreamed about for the past two decades.

"When you first start out in the League, it's a pleasure to be here and to be in the League, but as you go further on in your career, I feel winning becomes more important," Campbell said. "I'm fortunate enough to be here in Boston and to have this chance to play in the postseason.

"Playing hockey is fun, but when the games really matter is in the playoffs and that is what I'm looking forward to the most is playing games that actually matter. Already you can tell this is a different feeling. It's been a while since I've had this and I can't wait to get started.

But, does Campbell or Horton have a clue as to what waits Thursday night when they skate out onto the TD garden ice and experience a roar and a buzz that can't even accurately be imagined?

It seems the answer to that is a definitive no.

"I don't think so," Boston forward Michael Ryder said. "First playoffs are always exciting and you can't wait, which I think is a good thing. You can get too overly excited and you maybe go and play a little too tense. I think you just have to relax and enjoy the moment. Go out and play your game and not try to change things up."

Is there a faith in the Boston room that Campbell and Horton will be able to weather the early storm that will surely test their nerve?

Both are integral to Boston's hopes for success in what is a pretty even matchup. Horton is part of a rugged, twin-tower first line that often sets the tempo and wears on the opposition defense. Campbell, meanwhile, is a lower-line energy guy that provides the club with all the intangibles a playoff side must display to find its way down a very treacherous path.

That answer, is a resounding yes.

"We all in here know what it is all about and like I think Soup is old enough now that he understands what it is all about even though he hasn't played in the playoffs," Ryder says. "I think he's a competitor and he's ready for it."

Defenseman Andrew Ference still remembers his first playoff game fondly. He remembers the pageantry of it all, while conveniently deleting the afternoon-long battle with nerves and doubts about his readiness to play on hockey's biggest stage.

He has talked to the newcomers in his room over dinners on the road the past few weeks, getting them as ready as they can be for Thursday night's debut.

"It's nice when you clinch with a few games left and you know you are in the playoffs because it gives you time to wrap your head around it," Ference said. "We've talked about it. Most of us go out for dinner together, so it's been brought up. There's no secret. It's still the same game, but the volume is turned up a bit."
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