DETROIT - There’s a first time for everything.
For three Red Wings players, another first is in the not so distant future as they begin preparing for their Stanley Cup playoff debuts.
“Obviously it’s huge,” said Riley Sheahan, who joins teammates Luke Glendening and Tomas Jurco as the only players on Detroit’s roster who have not appeared in the NHL’s postseason. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for us and I think last year being in the AHL Calder Cup run, that was a lot of fun but this is just on another level. We’re happy where we are going in and it’s a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of fun so we’re going to enjoy it.”
Although the three youngsters have yet to play in their first NHL playoff game, that doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable postseason experience under their belts. Glendening, Jurco and Sheahan were all part of the Grand Rapids Griffins Calder Cup championship in 2013, and know that experience will only help them when the Red Wings begin their hunt for the Stanley Cup next week.
“Just being in that playoff atmosphere, being in tight situations in front of crowds that are loud and arenas that are packed, it definitely helped a lot,” Sheahan said. “Those pressure situations you get in, you've got to keep level headed and I think we did a good job of that last year, so hopefully it will work out for us again this year.”
There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Since the Olympic break, the Griffins players have accounted for 31 of the club’s 67 goals, helping Detroit earn 20 points in its last 15 games to extend its playoff streak to 23 years.
As the Wings battled an abundance of injuries this season, many things may have been uncertain, but one wasn’t: the young players did not want to be part of the reason the club didn’t make the playoffs, and they helped make sure that was not the case.
“I mean you know obviously this team has been decimated by injuries and it was tough knowing that we were the young guys coming in and I personally didn’t want to be one of the reasons why we didn’t make the playoffs so that is a little bit of a weight off our shoulders for sure,” Glendening said.
Now that the team can breathe a little easier, Glendening is looking forward to what the next few weeks will bring.
“I’m excited,” Glendening said. “Every opportunity in the playoffs is the best thing you can ask for. Anything can happen in the playoffs, it’s been shown time and time again. It doesn’t matter what seed you are, if you’re in you have a chance.”
Nobody knows that better than the players who were on last season’s playoff roster, including Gustav Nyquist. The Wings entered the postseason as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, and knocked off the Anaheim Ducks in seven games before losing a 3-1 series advantage to Chicago, eventually falling to the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
“I think we were ready for every game but even if you’re up 3-1 it’s never over,” Nyquist said. “We played our best hockey. We did, we really did, and fought hard and we competed hard. We never took it for granted when we were up 3-1 but it just shows you that anything can really happen.”
Even though Nyquist has experienced two more playoff runs than his three teammates, the forward will take a backseat when it comes to offering any advice.
“I don’t think I’m going to give them any advice I think they’re doing a great job by themselves,” Nyquist said. “We’ll see what the veterans do in this locker room. We have such great leadership and I’m not one of the veterans so I mean guys in this locker room have gone through this before, they’ve won it before, they know what it takes. Even if it’s my third year in the playoffs I still have a lot to learn and it’s a great environment to be around.”
For now, though, the players are concentrating on the task at hand. The Wings have two regular season contests left before the postseason begins, and plan on finishing the year on a high note.
“Well obviously it’s nice to know that you’re in for sure,” Nyquist said. “We would lie if we didn’t say that. Obviously we want to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. I think we’ve been playing pretty good here and gotten better as a team over the last few weeks. Obviously you want to finish off on a good note and feel good about yourself when you go into the playoffs.”
Follow Andrea Nelson on Twitter @Nelson_Andrea