NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils are heading into the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and not surprisingly half the roster has never competed in a NHL postseason game.
The newbies in the Cup chase include leading scorer Taylor Hall, No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, No. 1 goaltender Keith Kinkaid and probably nine of the 20 players expected to be in the starting lineup on Thursday night against the Lightning in the opening game of the first-round series.
There are 13 players on the roster who have never played in a Stanley Cup playoff game.
New Jersey also has its share of experienced players. Center Brian Boyle has played in 106 playoff games, going to the Finals with the Rangers. Defenseman Sami Vatanen went to the playoffs the past four seasons with Anaheim. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy won a Cup in Pittsburgh.
Their advice to the kids has been to embrace the challenge, expect the hockey to be more intense and to enjoy the games.
For the young players, most of them are just expecting hockey.
“I don’t think you change anything,” forward Blake Coleman said. “There is a reason teams make the playoffs and there is no reason to venture too far from anything. The only difference is you get a little more familiar with who you are playing.”
Coleman said every player in the Devils’ locker room has participated in some type of playoff game throughout their careers, whether it be in juniors, or the minor leagues or even younger.
“It’s fun,” said Coleman, who had 13 goals in his first full NHL season. “It’s always going to be pressure games. It’s going to be no different than what we played in the last 15 when they were all must-win games down the stretch and we found ways to be successful.”
Will Butcher, who set a team rookie record for a defenseman with 44 points, said being a part of a playoff team is fun. He enjoyed practice on Wednesday when the Devils opened the workout to fans.
“I am not going to expect different,” Butcher said. “It might be, but for me this is just a hockey game. You go out, you prepare, you play and do all the things you have done all season long and be ready to go. That’s our mindset as a team. We’re going into play another hockey game.”
Butcher said his approach to the series is viewing each game as a one-game series. First to four advances.
Veteran goaltender Cory Schneider, who played in three series with the Canucks before being traded to New Jersey in a draft-day deal in 2013, said the intensity is higher in playoff games.
“It seems like every single play matters and it does,” Schneider said. “You also have to keep perspective that no matter what happens whether you win a game or lose one, it’s on to the next one. You can’t get caught up in the mood swings.”
Defenseman Mirco Mueller was around the playoffs with the San Jose Sharks, but never got into a game.
“I have seen the intensity and the level it is played at, so that might help a little,” said Mueller, who moved into the starting lineup in the past month. “It will be new and there is a lot of noise around it, the first round starting. I guess it will just be hockey once it starts, with a lot more at stake.”
Hischier can’t wait for the playoffs. The 19-year-old Swiss center who had 20 goals and 52 points in his rookie season, said the Devils can play with anyone if they play their game.
“We’re hungry for more right now,” he said. “It’s fun to be in there (the playoffs), but now we want more.”
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