OTTAWA – Daniel Alfredsson has been here before. Many of his teammates haven’t.
The Senators captain will look to pass his playoff experience on to a youthful Ottawa locker-room before the team opens its Eastern Conference quarter-final with the Rangers in New York on Thursday.
But Alfredsson says there’s nothing that can really prepare a player for his NHL playoff debut.
“It’s like going to Vegas for the first time,” the 39-year-old said Wednesday. “People can tell you how incredible it is to see these buildings in the middle of the desert, but until you go there it doesn’t do it justice.
“The playoffs are the same way.”
Ottawa, the eighth seed in the East, will dress no fewer than six players with zero NHL playoff experience at Madison Square Garden against the heavily-favoured Rangers.
Alfredsson, who has 107 playoff games to his credit, believes preparation will be key for the Senators’ young players.
“It’s just making them aware of how things are on such a bigger scale. If you say the wrong thing it’s going to be in every paper and you’re going to have to answer for it,” he said. “It’s about handling your emotions because you’re so pumped up and you have to be able to direct them in the right way. They’ll learn a lot right from that first game.”
One of those young players is rookie defenceman Jared Cowen.
“We’ve been talking about playoffs for a while now, especially since we clinched,” he said. “It’s exciting to actually get into it now and actually experience it for the first time and get the game started.”
Cowen says he feels both excited and nervous but adds the experience of players like Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar (118 playoff games) is reassuring.
“It’s nice to have those guys here to know I can ask them about anything,” said the 21-year-old Cowen. “They always have things to say in the locker-room or just in general about how things are going to work because the playoffs are different and they help to calm me down.”
The success of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, who won last season’s Calder Cup, also helps.
“I think we’re going to rely on that experience a lot simply because we don’t have NHL playoff experience,” said winger Colin Greening. “We went through four rounds of really hard, arduous hockey so we’re banking on that experience to help us.”
In addition to Greening and Cowen, Erik Condra, Kaspars Daugavins, Jim O’Brien and Bobby Butler were part of Binghamton’s championship team. Zack Smith was also part of the squad, but he played six playoff games for Ottawa in 2010.
With so many first timers in the lineup Paul MacLean isn’t quite sure what to expect.
“That’s what experience gives you. It’s the fact you’ve been there before so it’s not as surprising or overwhelming as a guy who’s there for the first time,” said MacLean. “We feel a sense of confidence in our group because they’ve had the experience at the Calder Cup and winning a championship.
“Although it’s different from the Stanley Cup playoffs it’s still playoff hockey and our feeling is that’s going to make the adjustment a little shorter than it would be for the normal guy that’s just starting out and it’s his first Stanley Cup playoff game or playoff game.”
Gonchar says he still gets nervous before playoff games, but relying on structure and routine helps manage that excitement.
“We’ll do our preparations and our stuff and make sure we’re ready for when the game starts,” said Gonchar. “I don’t think we’ll have to do too much, we’ll just do our thing and make sure everyone’s on the same page. It’s making sure we play our game, play for 60 minutes and do your job. Just focus on the things that you’re doing and make sure you do them right.”
Notes: Game 2 of the series goes Saturday night in New York. The series shifts to Ottawa for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Wednesday. … Senators D Matt Carkner returned to the ice Wednesday and said he is fit to play if needed. … Senators RW Mika Zibanejad was assigned to Binghamton. Zibanejad caused a minor stir on Tuesday when he skated on Ottawa’s top line in practice with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Binghamton has two games left in its regular season and won’t make the playoffs.