There's nothing like playoff hockey and the experience the players get in tight, hard-fought games.
That is what the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins are going through right now as they begin the Central Division finals against the Chicago Wolves tonight in Chicago.
The Griffins were the only team to sweep their division semifinal, knocking out the Milwaukee Admirals in three games, winning Games 1 and 3 in overtime.
The Griffins have played the Wolves more than any other team in the postseason but not since 2004.
This will be the two teams' fifth playoff series. The Wolves won three of the previous four, with the Griffins winning the 2003 Western Conference semifinals in four straight.
There's a little payback on the line as well as the Wolves passed the Griffins for the Central Division title and took it by one point.
Much of that was due to several players getting called up to the Detroit Red Wings and a few injuries, which led to the Griffins going 1-5-0-1 from March 29-April 9.
During that span, Grand Rapids played without five of its top nine scorers and its leading defenseman.
During the regular season, the Griffins had the upper hand, winning eight of 10 games against the Wolves. That included a 4-1 mark at Allstate Arena, where the Wolves only lost seven games in regulation, three of those to the Griffins.
Griffins coach Todd Nelson was an assistant coach for the Wolves from 2006-08, including the Calder Cup championship in his last season there. Assistant coach Ben Simon played in 196 games for the Wolves from 2001-03 and 2004-05, helping the Wolves win their first Calder Cup in 2002.
Griffins goaltender Eddie Pasquale played for the Wolves in 2010-11. Defensemen Conor Allen and Robbie Russo are from the Chicago area.
For the Wolves, former Griffin Landon Ferraro is on the team but has been out with an injury since Dec. 10.
Among the hot playoff performers in the early going is Tyler Bertuzzi, who had two goals and two assists in the Milwaukee series, and Evgeny Svechnikov, who had a goal and three assists. Goaltender Jared Coreau made 94 saves on 101 shots.
Bertuzzi's playoff success is nothing new as he has moved into a tie with Tomas Tatar for second place in franchise history with 16 playoff goals behind leader Teemu Pulkkinen's 22.
In Bertuzzi's first playoffs, he had seven goals and 12 points in 14 games. Last year, he had seven goals and eight points in nine games. Bertuzzi's seven game-winning playoff goals are a franchise record.
The Griffins have three players from their 2013 Calder Cup championship team in Mitch Callahan, Brian Lashoff and Nathan Paetsch.
They also have five players who made their playoff debuts against Milwaukee in Joe Hicketts, Dan Renouf, Dominic Turgeon, Kyle Criscuolo and Axel Holmstrom.
2017 Calder Cup Playoffs - Central Division Finals - Best of Seven
Game 1 Wed., May 3 GRIFFINS at Chicago Wolves 8 p.m.
Game 2 Fri., May 5 GRIFFINS at Chicago Wolves 8 p.m.
Game 3 Sat., May 6 Chicago Wolves at GRIFFINS 7 p.m.
Game 4 Mon., May 8 Chicago Wolves at GRIFFINS 7 p.m.
*Game 5 Sat., May 13 GRIFFINS at Chicago Wolves 8 p.m.
*Game 6 Mon., May 15 Chicago Wolves at GRIFFINS 7 p.m.
*Game 7 Tue., May 16 GRIFFINS at Chicago Wolves 8 p.m.
* if necessary