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My First Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
Ian White has experienced many exciting things in his professional hockey career.

He was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002. He represented Canada in the 2003 World Junior Championships and the 2009 World Championships. He played in four Western Hockey League playoffs. And he played for the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup twice.

Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Brown, left, eyes the puck as San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski (8) and Ian White (9) defend during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 4, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
But in six National Hockey League seasons and 401 regular season games, White has never appeared in a Stanley Cup Playoff game or played for a playoff team.

The void will be filled on Thursday. That’s when the defenseman and his San Jose Sharks play hosts to the Los Angeles Kings in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

“He was like a little kid running around here in the locker room after the game when we clinched (March 31, a 6-0 win over Dallas),” said defensive partner Niclas Wallin. “He was pumped.”

“I can’t quite remember how I was,” White said with a smile. “But I can’t explain how great it feels to have a chance. I’ve played six years and haven’t had a crack at the playoffs.”

White’s journey to a potential playoff appearance began on Feb. 18 when he was traded from Carolina in exchange for a second round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. While White played for two playoff potential teams before coming to San Jose this season (Carolina and Calgary), he wasn’t playing for a team recognized as one of the NHL’s elite and full of high expectations.

“I was fortunate to come not only to a playoff team,” White said, “but to a legitimate contender. It makes you grateful and thankful for how special it is to be on a good team and have a real opportunity. They don’t come by too often.”

White has shown he’s good at carrying pucks out of the defensive zone and at putting the puck on the net. Even though his two goals with the Sharks came in each of the last two regular season games, White had 51 shots in his 23 games with San Jose (about two shots a game). He also had eight assists.

White joined the Sharks as the team was making its ascent up the Pacific Division standings. The team had won 12 of its previous 15 before his arrival. And that string of wins came after the Sharks had lost a season-high six straight and was 21-19-5. White joined the Sharks at a time some would consider “playoff mode.” Since he’s come to Silicon Valley, the Sharks went 15-4-3.

So one may consider the second season as just an extension of the last few months. If that’s true, White is more than ready.

“You know how tight it is in the West,” White said. “The points get so crucial so early. Everyone’s in playoff mode for half the season, if not more. It’s good to enter the playoffs when you’ve been battling to get in. It’s a good mindset to have going into it.”

“He’s been playing playoff games, even if it was the regular season,” Wallin said. “It’s been playoffs since Christmas. We know how it is here. Every team had its ups and downs. We had ours. It was a tight race all year.”

White’s only postseason experience came in juniors and in the AHL. In his four years with Swift Current of the WHL, White scored six goals and had 22 points in 40 games. He played in 10 Calder Cup Playoff games for Toronto’s top affiliates and scored seven points.

“Junior playoffs are nothing compared to the minor league playoffs,” White said, “and obviously they’re nothing compared to the big stage. This is as good as it gets.”

Wallin, who has been to two Stanley Cup Finals with Carolina and won the Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, said White hasn’t come to him for any advice on how to approach the playoffs. If he does, Wallin’s words would be simple.

San Jose Sharks' Ian White trips up the Chicago Blackhawks' Tomas Kopecky in front of goalie Antti Niemi during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Monday, March 14, 2011. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
“You just treat it as a regular game,” Wallin said, “and go one game at a time.”

How will White approach his first journey into the playoffs?

“You just try to keep it as normal as possible,” White said. “It will be tough to get your rest a few nights because you’re so excited. You try not to change a whole lot. You eliminate distractions that will have an effect on your game and you just stay focused on the ultimate goal. It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be a battle. You have to be ready every day.”

“I’m happy for him,” Wallin said. ”He’s a good player. I’m excited for him.”

Like most hockey-loving kids growing up in Canada, White used to pretend that he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal when he played hockey in the basement of his parent’s house. “Probably more often than you can remember,” he said.

It’s not pretend any more. Starting Thursday, it’s for real.

“It’s awesome,” White said, “to finally have an opportunity.”

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