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Young Guns to Play in First Career Playoff Game

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
The opening night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs brings a renewed energy to fans and players. Whether it’s a 10-year veteran or a rookie, everyone on a hockey team is a little more amped up this time of year.

That however isn’t always a good thing if it’s not angled in the right direction. Players skating around looking to make that impact play can sometimes miss a simple play. Yet, the most successful clubs will make sure the energy is going in the right direction.

“The first five minutes are always pretty intense,” Stanley Cup Champion Dan Boyle said.

Rookies to the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be greatly challenged. The Sharks have two who’ve been on the shuttle between San Jose and their top development affiliate in Worcester: forward Logan Couture and defenseman Jason Demers.

Couture will be centering a line with Manny Malhotra and Torrey Mitchell and can rely on their talents and experiences.

“He’s so calm, cool and collective. He plays beyond his years,” Mitchell said. “He’ll play great.”

Couture knows he’s entering a new phase of competition tonight.

“It’s exciting, but I’ll try to treat it like any other game,” Couture said. “Last night going to bed I was thinking about it.”

Demers, a defenseman by trade, will probably be playing exclusively at forward – a position he’s been recently playing and for the first time since he was a young kid – tonight.

“I think that’s how it’s shaping up,” Demers said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m at forward or defense, I’ll probably have a few shifts on defense. It’s exciting to be here and in the lineup. This place will be rocking tonight.”

Coach Todd McLellan pointed out why Demers can be successful at forward with such little experience at the position.

“He has the ability to jump up in the rush,” McLellan said. “In the D zone, he could be better than some forwards.”

Boyle still remembers his first NHL playoff game.

“It was in Tampa,” Boyle said. “It was against the Washington Capitals and other than my first NHL game, it was the most nervous I’d ever been.”

“I remember the feeling of being very excited and the adrenaline was pumping,” Douglas Murray said.

“We lost to Calgary,” said Mitchell about his first playoff game in 2008. “It was so loud in here. If you ever question why you love the game so much, this (the playoffs) answers all the questions.”

The excitement is good, but it must be a controlled excitement.

“I know personally, when I’m too fired up, I can get too aggressive,” said Murray. “You don’t want to be too emotional, then things can go wrong.”

Scott Nichol remembers his first playoff game. He was with Nashville in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks.

“It was against these guys,” Nichol said. “The fans were great the last game, but I remember coming in with Nashville and it was a really intense building.”

There’s one big piece of advice the veteran players can pass on to the younger ones: “You can’t take a second off,” Murray said.

Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson faced 2,233 shots this season – more than any other goaltender in the National Hockey League. So McLellan was asked if it was important to get a lot of shots on him.

“There are 16 coaches in the League telling you that you have to do that,” McLellan said.

McLellan noted the Avalanche have a lot of speed the Sharks will have to contend with.

“The top two lines can really move,” McLellan said. “The puck moves quicker than the feet and we’ll try to move the puck.”

Kent Huskins was acquired from Anaheim last year for the postseason, but an injury kept him on the sidelines. Now the blueliner finally gets to play in a playoff game for the Sharks.

“It was tough having to sit there and watch and not participate,” said Huskins of not playing last year.

He’s looking forward to the Sharks crowd while being part of the postseason action.

“It’s a great atmosphere and we’ll use the energy to our advantage,” he said.

There’s always a little extra attention paid to trying to win the first game of a series.

“Past experience shows it’s very important to get off to a good start,” Boyle said. “You want to show the other team you’re ready.”

Many players have an opportunity to bring family in for the postseason. Demers’ father will be in attendance watching his son’s first playoff game.

“My mom and brother are a little jealous,” Demers said. “They have to work.”

The Sharks-Avalanche game will be on at 7:30 tonight on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and
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