Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Veterans will help young Blues have better feel for playoffs

Langenbrunner, Arnott among those that have gone through the wars

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the real fun begins Thursday night, there will be an extra edge to the playoff games for the cast of veterans Doug Armstrong brought in for this very purpose.

When the Blues' GM signed players like Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins, it was with the idea that the Blues not only make the playoffs but go into a series battle-tested and not with blinders covering their eyes.

Like their last playoff visit in 2009, which turned out to be a series sweep at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.
(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner won a Stanley Cup in Dallas (1999) and in New
Jersey (2003). He has 137 games of playoff experience under his belt.

"We were brought in here -- Arny, Scotty, Husky and myself -- because we've been through this and there's a lot of guys getting their first playoff game or first five or so," said Langenbrunner, the dean of games played on the Blues with 137 playoff contests that include a pair of Stanley Cup titles. "We've been fortunate to have been through it a few times.

"I think the biggest thing is we're going to have a calming influence. It is the playoffs, but it is still the same game. I think it's a little ramped up and all that, but it seems to be the teams that crack first ... teams aren't going to get better. It's going to be teams that can make the other teams crack. For us, it's just staying focused and doing the things that we do well."

Combined with Langenbrunner's 137 games, Arnott's 115, Huskins' 47, Nichol's 40 and Andy McDonald's 41 games, that's 380 playoff games played between five players. Throw in the other 21 on the active roster, they would account for 104 games' worth of playoff experience. Take away Jaroslav Halak (21) and Vladimir Sobotka (19), that leaves 19 players with 64 playoff games between them.

"We rely on them a lot," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who will make his playoff debut Thursday. "They're going to be voices in the locker room that are going to be listened to at all times. We look at our leaders for a lot of things, but this is why they're here. This is why we got them in the off-season. They're going to provide -- even for me -- a nice shoulder to lean on and a good soundboard to really bounce ideas off of."

Being a calming influence will be part of the teaching process as well against a Sharks team with over 1,000-plus games of playoff experience.

"Guys like Arny and Langs and even Steener, McDonald ... those guys are huge, especially for us young guys calming the nerves down," said winger Ryan Reaves, who also will be making his playoff debut along with Alex Pietrangelo. "I think it's going to be an anxious couple first days for a lot of us young guys who have never been to the playoffs. Obviously there's going to be a little bit of nerves. The biggest thing for us young guys, we really need to watch the older guys and kind of keep our nerves in check."

Arnott, who has a Stanley Cup on his resume, said it's all about staying level-headed.

"You don't want to do too much," Arnott said. "You want everybody to play their game. They're going to get a feeling for it in Game 1 right off the bat. You just want to throw a few things out there to help the guys out. For the most part, we've just got to go out and play.

"It's not a dramatic change. Both teams are going to be ramped up in the playoffs, no question. The edge of the game is going to be ramped up and the speed of the game and things like that. You just can't do too much. You don't want to get overly ramped up, especially in Game 1. It's an important game to play your system and stay relaxed, especially with our crowd getting into it and stuff. We can't do too much. We've got to stick to our system and play the way we can."

What Nichol and Huskins can provide more than anything: insight into their former teammates and a possible game plan. Both were members of the Sharks the last two seasons.

"Me and Kent, we've had a couple two, long years with them going to the Western Conference Final," Nichol said. "We know the ins and outs, we help out whenever we want, but there's so much video. There really isn't a secret of how they play. They come at you, they come at you in waves.

"It's seven games. I don't think we can forget that. Not too many teams, it doesn't matter if you're first or eighth, second or seventh, you're not going to sweep a series. You're going to have your ups and downs and you've got to learn from it. That's why it's a seven-game series. If we accidentally lose a few and we stumble, it's not a panic-stricken [mode]. You've got four games to win. A little experience helps, but we've got so much youthful enthusiasm, it's exciting. These guys haven't been in this situation. We've got some young legs that are ready to go and they're a bunch of thoroughbreds ready to get opened out of those gates."
(Getty Images)
Jason Arnott (44) has 115 games of playoff experience and a Stanley Cup
(2000) to his resume. 

Which Arnott thinks is good for the older boys.

"That's good for young guys," Arnott said. "That gives us [older guys] the energy. If you let them go, great. If you have to reel them back in a little bit, that's when we step in. ... We don't want to take that fire out of the young guys. But you don't want to get overly excited as well."

And a veteran coach like Ken Hitchcock, who coached Dallas to a Stanley Cup championship in 1999, he said the playoffs are when the veterans make their marks.

"For me, playoffs are for veteran players," Hitchcock said. "That's where you expect them to shine. Sometimes when you're an older player, you have a tough time during the season, you're banged up a little bit, you understand the pace of the season. Sometimes ... I don't want to say you're resting, but sometimes you kind of dial it down to save yourself knowing what the playoffs are all about.

"You can be an experienced player, but you have to have the experience of going through the damage of playoffs, and that's why Arnott and Langenbrunner were brought here. They have the experience of what it's like to go deep, they know what it feels like, they know what it looks like. This time of year is exactly why they were brought in to come and help us."

Added center Patrik Berglund: "They know how much you have to prepare yourself and stay focused. A win is a win, but it's a long way to the big one. They've been talking a lot about it, and what they say, we have to do. It means a lot. You really take it in because you know how much it means. It's great to have them here."

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