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First-timers Stamkos, Lovejoy talk playoff hockey

by Mike G. Morreale
TAMPA -- A pair of third-year players receiving their initial dose of playoff fever this spring sat down with this week to provide some insight into the NHL's second season.

And despite the six-year age difference and the fact Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy excel at different positions, they certainly seem to be on the same page when the subject shifts to postseason hockey.

Both players were credited with their first playoff point on Monday when the Penguins scored a 3-2 victory to grab a 2-1 series lead in this best-of-7 that resumes Wednesday at St. Pete Times Forum.

For the 21-year-old Stamkos, whose struggles down the stretch (5 goals in last 26 games) have seemed to carry over three games into his team's first-round series against the Penguins, the playoffs have presented a new challenge. He did muster an assist on Monday, earning the secondary helper on the first of two goals by Martin St. Louis.

For Lovejoy, a 27-year-old native of Concord, N.H., who was never drafted but signed as a free agent in 2008, getting an opportunity to play with a perennial contender on hockey's grandest stage is a tremendous honor. Lovejoy notched his first playoff point after unloading the puck to eventual goal-scorer Maxime Talbot along the right-wing boards before getting creamed behind the Penguins net 5:46 into the first period.

Both players were asked to respond to the same five playoff-based questions. Here are the results:

Is there anything that has surprised you about the playoffs?

Stamkos: "I think it's just the intensity level. Watching it doesn't really tell you the whole tale of the story until you play in one. The Penguins are a totally different team now than the one we played two weeks ago in the regular season. The intensity level, compete level, the sacrifice everyone is willing to make … it's different. It's something that took me just one game to understand."

Lovejoy: "I think that first game, I really felt the intensity and the physical nature in front of the net. It was a jungle in there. Everything's a battle and you realize how desperate both teams are for every play. This isn't a game in January, you win and continue. Lose and go home. This is an exciting time, and I think you're seeing everyone's best right now."

What do you enjoy most about the playoffs?

Stamkos: "I think it's just that nervousness, that anxiousness, you feel before the game. That's a good thing since it gets your blood going, it gets you ready. You go out there and are all excited for a game. Every shift means something and that isn't always true in the regular season. You've got to put everything on the line, every shift. It's all about momentum and any certain play can swing momentum of a game or an entire series, so that's something you have to take seriously. Every little move you make could have an effect on the bigger picture."

Lovejoy: "I enjoy the intensity, the crowds in the buildings. You see the intensity of every player … you've got your superstars working as hard as they can, your fourth-line grinders working as hard as they can, and it's fun to be a part of and knowing every play really matters."

Are you preparing any differently in the playoffs?

Stamkos: "You try and do the same things you've been successful with in the past. I think we've been able to stay pretty loose before the game and not get too riled up. During warm-ups and game time, it's all business and that intensifies in the playoffs. I think you're just more focused on getting that rest, eating properly and taking care of any lingering injuries you might have had throughout the season. This is the time when your teammates, coaching staff and fans depend on you the most, so you want to go out there and give a good effort."

Lovejoy: "Individually, I don't think so. I think if you can't get excited for these games, you're not going to get excited for anything. As a team, though, we spend a ton of time watching video and talking about other players and things we can do differently to exploit systems that they're working on. We talk about limiting mistakes and ways we can get better."

Do you sense a different approach from the veteran players in the playoffs?

Stamkos: "It just intensifies for those guys. (Vincent Lecavalier and St. Louis) are our leaders and you can see it in their eyes that they want to do it again. They want to be the veteran guys that lead, maybe, a younger, not-as-experienced team. They've been doing that all year for us. They bring that calming presence, especially when you get to a situation where some of us haven't had experience. You can see that passion in their eyes when they hit the ice."

Lovejoy: "I think so. I think that everybody is that much more excited and that much more intense. Everybody knows how important each little detail is and you see guys that really step up their game. We have defensemen playing between 25 and 30 minutes a night, playing every shift against some of the most talented players in the world. To see how efficient they've been and how smart they are -- it's fun to watch."

Has your head coach maintained the same focus now as in the regular season?

Stamkos: "He wants everyone's compete level to be a lot higher, and that's expected since everything intensifies come playoff time. We don't want to change, especially since our play was successful during the season, but you need to work hard and sacrifice. He harped on the fact a lot of people say it's a new season, but it's not. It's the game after your last game, so you got to play the same way. You have to stick to the structure that made you successful, and I think that's what we're trying to do."

Lovejoy: "Yes. He hasn't changed at all. He's been the same as when he was an assistant with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (in the American Hockey League). He's all business, an incredibly bright hockey mind and he's doing everything he can to get us prepared to play tonight, tomorrow and, hopefully, the next two months."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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