ANAHEIM, Calif. – Five Red Wings will make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts when the team faces-off against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Combined, Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner, Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl, and Brendan Smith have played in 263 NHL games. But the closest any of them have come to postseason play at the NHL level is in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs, which Andersson and Kindl have some experience.
“It’s going to be even more competitive,” said Andersson, of making his Stanley Cup debut at Honda Center. “Guys are going to work even harder and be more determined. It’s going to be a higher pace because of that.”
The five Red Wings are the most Stanley Cup playoffs first-timers since the 1991 postseason, which was the first year of the current 22-year playoff run by Detroit. That spring, 11 Red Wings made their Stanley Cup debut – goalie Tim Cheveldae, defenseman Yves Racine, centers Sergei Fedorov, Bill McDougall, Keith Primeau and Mike Sillinger, and forwards Brent Fedyk, Johan Garpenlov, Marc Potvin, Gary Shuchuk, and Paul Ysebaert.
The Red Wings lost their playoff opener in ’91, squandering a 3-1 series lead to the St. Louis Blues, who roared back to win the best-of-seven series.
At 27-years-old, Brunner is the oldest of the Red Wings making their playoff debuts. While he doesn’t know what to expect, there’s still an excitement about playing in his first Stanley Cup game.
“I guess you don’t really know until the puck is dropped,” said Brunner, the former Swiss League star, who signed with the Red Wings last summer. “It’s going to be intense out there. You have to be prepared to do all the grind work.”
In a way, Brunner and the Red Wings had a small sampling of the playoff intensity as they battled down the stretch just to qualify for the playoffs.
“We had a good challenge those last games,” he said. “There was not a point the last five or six games where I thought we were not going to make the playoffs. Everyone stuck to what we wanted to do and we came out with good success. We had good goaltending and we worked on the details and everything worked out. So I guess we’re ready for the playoffs.
“It’s going to be exciting. I’m happy we made it. We kept the streak going. It’s going to be a fun experience.”
Less than a month ago, DeKeyser was dealing with the nervousness of playing in his first NHL game. Now, as he gets set to make his playoff debut, the 23-yeaar-old Detroit native said he hopes to rely on the experiences from his first game.
“I’ll probably be a little more excited, probably like I was for my first game a few weeks ago,” DeKeyser said. “I’ll just try to raise the level of my game up a little bit higher. I’m sure it will be that kind of feeling again, and I might have some jitters. But I’ll try to get them out in the first shift or two and get into the game by making a hit, making a pass and just getting my mind into the game.”
Though the pace of playoff games is ratcheted up from the regular-season, veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall isn’t concerned about the young players who can only adjust to the postseason style by experiencing it first-hand.
“It’s almost like it’s a different game,” Kronwall said. “You go preseason to regular season, that’s two different games. Then you have the playoffs. That’s another step above that.”
So what words of wisdom can veterans bestow upon the younger guys?
“Just be themselves. Play the way they have over the last few weeks,” Kronwall said. “Most of them are very prepared. They’ll all professional hockey players. They’ll prepare themselves the way they would if it I were a normal game. The only difference is it’s going to be a higher pace and more intense.”
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