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Ron Hainsey of Penguins ready for first playoff game

Defenseman, 36, even-keeled as Pittsburgh gets set for Game 1 against Blue Jackets

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey could have poured out his 36-year-old heart Wednesday morning about his NHL career spanning 14 seasons and 907 regular-season games and what it feels like to finally end his long, arduous and frustrating wait to get his first chance to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It feels like Wednesday," Hainsey said with a deadpanned look on his face.

That's it?

No, but Hainsey clearly wasn't feeling all warm and cuddly about the storyline following him into the Penguins' Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena is Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 3, ROOT, FS-O).

"I got a lot going every day, you know what I mean," Hainsey said. "You can't worry about some [day] in the future. Certainly since I got traded here at the end of February, you try not to look too far ahead, but from then on the team was obviously going to be in the playoffs, it was more a matter of where we finished and who we were playing. Your mind could definitely wander at that point."

 

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Hainsey was in the Montreal Canadiens organization when they made the playoffs in 2004, but he was playing for Hamilton in the American Hockey League's Calder Cup Playoffs at the time the Canadiens were playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He moved on to play with the Blue Jackets for three seasons, but he had already moved to the Atlanta Thrashers when Columbus made the playoffs for the first time in its history in 2009. He spent five seasons with the Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, but he was in his second of three playoff-less seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes when the Jets made the postseason in 2015. 

Hainsey's luck turned on Feb. 23, when the Penguins acquired him in a trade with the Hurricanes. But even at that point he was considered a stopgap addition until Pittsburgh got healthy on defense. There was no guarantee he would get in a single playoff game, let alone start on Pittsburgh's top pair with Brian Dumoulin in Game 1 of the first round.

Olli Maatta just had surgery on his hand. Trevor Daley just had surgery on his knee. Hainsey's first game, the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Heinz Field, was the first Kris Letang missed with what has since been determined to be a herniated disk in his neck that requires season-ending surgery.

Maatta and Daley are back, but Hainsey is needed big time. He has played more than 22 minutes in four of his six games since returning from a seven-game absence with an upper-body injury. 

Hainsey averaged 20:59 of ice time per game with three assists and a plus-8 rating in 16 games with Pittsburgh following the trade. Now he gets his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We're thrilled for him," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think he's as excited as some of our young guys that it's a new experience for."

Video: Ron Hainsey talks about the Penguins' playoff hopes

Hainsey, in fact, is a walking reminder to the Penguins young players about how difficult it is, or at least should be, to make the playoffs. They might need one, too, considering how fortunate they've been to land with Pittsburgh, which has made the playoffs every year since 2007.

Consider the following: Bryan Rust played 55 games, Tom Kuhnhackl 42 and Conor Sheary 44 before the forwards got into their first playoff games last season. They all were key players in the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup championship.

Hainsey will join forwards Carter Rowney (27 games) and Jake Guentzel (40) as Penguins making their NHL playoff debut Wednesday.

"He's got to be excited," Sheary said. "It's quite the experience. I was lucky enough to have it in my first year and play as many games as I could. For a guy like that, such a good player and such a veteran, to just get his first chance is pretty amazing, but I'm sure he'll be excited."

Hainsey is excited; you just have to get through the dry sense of humor and the veteran poise to get that emotion out of him.

"Well, I mean, you've got to play what's in front of you, whether it be the game, the season, whatever it is," Hainsey said. "Certainly I would have loved to play 100 playoff games by now and won three Stanley Cups; it just hasn't been the way it's worked out for me. 

"This opportunity, these next couple months, hopefully we can string together a run for an opportunity at another championship for these guys and a first run like this for myself. That's what I'm focused on."

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