CALGARY – After playing 799 regular season games, Olli Jokinen will finally take part in his first-ever National Hockey League playoff game on Thursday.
“It’s good to get this playoff feeling,” said Jokinen, who was acquired by the Calgary Flames from the Phoenix Coyotes at the NHL’s trade deadline in March.
The Flames practised for the second straight day at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Tuesday and will depart on Wednesday morning for Chicago to get ready for Thursday’s opening game of their best-of-seven affair against the Blackhawks.
“All we can worry about is be ready on Thursday to get a win,” Jokinen said. “As a player, you always have high expectations. At this time of the year all that matters is how we’re going to get that win.
“You just want to do all the little things right. It doesn’t matter who’s scoring goals or getting points. All that matters is score one more than they do and get that win.
“That’s all we’re worrying about right now.”
Calgary coach Mike Keenan said he’s not too concerned about the fact that Jokinen hasn’t had any NHL playoff experience.
“Olli’s played in the Olympics,” said the veteran NHL bench boss, who’s tied for fourth all time with Pat Quinn among coaches with 94 playoff victories. “It doesn’t get any bigger in terms of the stage to play on and meet the pressures of the big stage.
“If you compare the Olympic competition to the Stanley Cup finals, they’re probably pretty comparable.”
While Jokinen, Michael Cammalleri, Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque will all make their playoff debuts against Chicago, the Flames also have a host of other players with loads of post-season experience.
Among those players is defenceman Jordan Leopold, who the Flames acquired from the Colorado Avalanche, also at the trade deadline.
Along with Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, defenceman Robyn Regehr and forward Craig Conroy, Leopold helped guide the Flames to within one win of capturing the Stanley Cup in 2004.
“I’ve been in a spot where I hadn’t played in playoffs before as well as a lot of guys in this locker room back in ’04,” Leopold said. “Guys were energized because of it.
“When it’s playoffs everybody’s excited. It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or a young guy who’s new to the extra season. One thing’s for sure, everybody’s going to be out there pushing with everything they’ve got and doing whatever they can to get wins.”
Among active players, Conroy boasts the most playoff experience with 75 games played (injured Calgary defenceman Rhett Warrener leads all players on both teams with 101 career playoff games).
Conroy cautioned that even though key Chicago contributors Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook haven’t yet suited up for playoff action, they’ll be full of adrenaline once the puck drops on Thursday night.
“They’re going to be excited,” Conroy said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are going to be excited. You can kind of throw (experience) out the window at the beginning.”
As the series progresses though, Calgary’s experienced playoff veterans might just give the Flames an edge, Conroy added.
“Late in the third, when it’s a one-goal game, that’s when the experience will start to come in,” he said. “There are key situations in the game that experience is going to come through.
“Now we can right the ship and kind of just bring the other guys along too.”
The Flames also welcomed defenceman Anders Eriksson back into the fold on Tuesday when he cleared waivers after being recalled from the Quad City Flames of the American Hockey League.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Eriksson, who has 34 games of NHL playoff experience, including a Stanley Cup championship with the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. “I’m going to run with it and do what I can. I’m super excited.
“If I get in to play, I’m going to do the best I can to help the team.”
With Regehr and Cory Sarich still out of the lineup with injuries, Keenan said that it’s a “reasonable expectation” that Eriksson could be in the starting lineup for Game 1 against Chicago.
“He adds a great deal of depth to our team and to our defence corps, experience in the playoffs,” Keenan said. “He’s a highly skilled individual.
“He can take minutes and certainly in the situation we’re in right now, he’s a very important part of a contributing veteran.”
Although he found himself practising on a line with Warrener and Quad City call-up Brett Sutter on Tuesday, forward Andre Roy said he’s ready to fill any role that’s asked of him.
“For myself, I’ve just got to go out and lead the way by example,” said Roy, who has 39 games of playoff experience and a Stanley Cup ring from 2004 when his Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Flames in seven games in the finals.
“I think I could be a factor for sure because we need that physical presence in the playoffs.”
Whether they’ve completed in the playoffs before or not, Keenan said that every player in the lineup on Thursday will have to be ready to elevate their play to a higher level for the Flames to succeed.
“I don’t know any team or any athlete that doesn’t compete harder in the playoffs on a more consistent basis than in the regular season,” Keenan said.
“The consistent high-level performers embrace the opportunity and the challenge of competing with the best athletes in the game and that’s what’s expected of them.
They’re prepared in their own minds to elevate their games and they have to elevate their games if our team is going to be successful.”