ST. LOUIS -- For rookies Colton Parayko, Robby Fabbri and Joel Edmundson, when the puck drops tonight between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Found, it'll be the start of an experience like no other.
Parayko knows judging by his excitement level.
"For us kids, it's new," Parayko said. "When these older guys see how excited we are, hopefully they kind of get an extra boost. It's our first time around and we're so excited."
It's safe to say the Blues' rookies are not only excited to get the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, they don't lack confidence either knowing they're about to go on a journey and try to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions and winners of three of the past six.
"It's a different season now and everything's amped up," Fabbri said. "With everything that comes along with being the playoffs, it's going to be a lot of fun and really exciting. The guys are just trying to keep us calm and comfortable for the playoffs.
"(It's) the chance to win the Stanley Cup of course. You grow up watching it, you dream of it and getting that first taste of the playoffs, we have our ultimate goal and we've just got to take it game by game."
It's a reason why all three will play prominent roles and why coach Ken Hitchcock trusts them.
"I always thought it was big and then you see other things with younger players," Hitchcock said. "I think it's how do they handle the stage more than anything. You don't know that until you put a player into that position. It's really about how you handle the stage. There's more focus media-wise, there's more intensity game-wise, a lot of things go into it. Everything seems magnified, good plays, mistakes. So how you handle it is really unknown to most coaches until you go through it. They've handled the limelight this year very well. All those guys have really done a fantastic job helping us get to where we're at. Now you don't know until you actually take them through for a couple games.
"I think everybody needs to live in the moment. I think everything stops here. Bill paying, callbacks, textbacks, all that stuff just stops. You don't have time for it, you don't make time for it. You get time for that moment, and it's what makes it so much fun. You get to live in the moment for as long as you're in the playoffs. That's the fun part, and I think anybody that knows you, family or friends, knows to back off and allow you that space and time to spend with your teammates or your coaches or whatever. It's a very focused time and everything in the world around us stops to the point where you're either watching hockey or you're sleeping. It's just amazing for this time of year that you get to do that for a period of up to two months. It's a real focused time."
More and more, young players are getting the chance to thrive in big situations, and recently when they were in town, Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said those players deserve it.
"I think it's opportunity. You look at the opportunity our young players have got, probably more than in the past," Tippett said. "The opportunity is there, but the thing that is interesting around the league is that the rookies have earned that opportunity. Fabbri here has earned that opportunity to play with his play, you look at Dylan Larkin (in Detroit), he's earned that opportunity. Max (Domi) and (Anthony) Duclair have earned that opportunity here. I think teams are more open to having young players come in and pushed to make their lineup, but you've got to give a lot of the young players around the league credit because not just come in, they've played well. ... They get to the NHL, not much fazes them anymore. ... Some of that awe factor has gone out of it because just the way young players have been brought up."
Edmundson said the trot onto the ice for the morning skate today was a sight he'll never forget.
"The morning skate and seeing all white seats out there, I kind of got the chills," Edmundson said. "I can't wait to see it when the stands are packed.
"It's through the roof. It's going to be a new experience for us three and a couple other guys on the team. We're all looking forward to it, but I think we've got to contain our excitement a little bit, play within the boundaries of don't get too excited out there, but you have to take it all in at the same time."
But when the temperature gets amped up and the intensity blows through the roof for these guys, there will be plenty of veteran leadership for them to lean on.
"They've done a great throughout the whole year when we've needed to lean on someone," Fabbri said. "They're there to help us through experiences. It's been very important for them to be in our ear."
"There's so much to think about," Parayko said. "I didn't really watch regular season hockey that much when I was growing up, but when the Stanley Cup is on, that's kind of all that's on TV. It's obviously really exciting. Everybody's playing their best, and I'm just looking forward to everyone playing their best and having everyone focused on one goal together with one goal towards winning it."
Now that the preparation is complete and the series gets going, it's time to let it all hang out.
"It's going to be different," Parayko said. "It's a seven-game series. You could get games you win, you get on a high. You might lose one, you get on a low. You don't want to stay too high or too low. It's a seven-game series, lots of time to win four. You obviously want to win four in a row if you can. That's where the roller coaster ride comes in. You just kind of reset after the game."
"It's all mental," Edmundson said. "You just prepare like it's any other game, but you do have to use some of the excitement to your advantage. It'll give you the extra legs out there, maybe jump up in the play a little more. You've got to find that happy medium."
And can they make a difference?
"A hundred percent," Edmundson said. "I think for myself, I'll just bring that physical presence like I've done all season. Robby's a goal scorer and Colton is an all-around defenseman. We just have to stick to our game all year like we have and just bring it over."
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Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk woke up Wednesday morning feeling like kid.
"It's more like Christmas night when you're told to go to sleep and get ready for a big morning and exciting things in the morning," Shattenkirk said. "It's going to be a great day today, a great night. We're all looking forward to it.
"It's just a great rivalry. Two teams that play against each other quite a bit. We know the tendencies. They're our biggest rival and they bring the best out of us. It's kind of the same thing for them and that just breeds great hockey and tight hockey. ... There's no secret, magical game plans for either team to use that's going to help you win the series. But they're a team that has the resiliency and at any time in a series, they can just wake up. It's something that we have to be careful of because they have a lot of weapons out there."
Captain David Backes, who will return after missing the final three regular season games with a lower-body injury, is healthy and looking forward to the challenge.
"We have an ultimate goal and we've got to take it one step at a time, but to get to that goal, you're going to have to beat the best teams in this league," Backes said. "Why not start with the defending Stanley Cup champions who's won three Cups in six years? It's going to be a heck of a Central Division battle the way it is every time the teams in the Central get together. We'll take it one game at a time and sort out the rest when it comes."
When it comes to preparation for the Blackhawks, Hitchcock said throw it out the window.
"I don't think we need to prepare anything about them," he said. "We know them, we know how they play. I think everything's about us and the way we prepare. It's elevating our game, it's getting our game to another level. I think the total focus, when you know a team as well as we know each other, the total focus is on your own game and that's where we're at right now. We know everything about them, they know everything about us, we know how good they are, we know what their record is, we know what their pedigree is. The focus becomes us. They are the team that has the knowledge. They have the knowledge, they have that information that everybody craves and wants, so the focus has to be learning from it and also focusing on your own game and that's our focus right now, it's all about us."
The Blackhawks know what they're up against and figure not to get caught up in extra activities after whistles.
"We don't want to get bad penalties," right wing Marian Hossa said. "They've got lots of great players on the power play. Obviously when they try to play that game, we've got to be smart about it.
"They're going to bring their best game. They're going to be hungry. We just have to be prepared from the beginning."
Said coach Joel Quenneville: "We expect a dangerous team. I'm sure they're as excited as ever. They've got everybody ready to go, they're healthy. It'a a great matchup.
"When you look at a three-seed, a five-seed in the first round, it's a great test for both teams. We know we have to be at our best and bring our A+ game because we know they're going to be ready."
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Steve Ott, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Petteri Lindbohm, Robert Bortuzzo and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Richard Panik-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Brandon Mashinter-Teuvo Teravainen-Tomas Fleischmann
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Viktor Svedberg-Brent Seabrook
Erik Gustafsson-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Andrew Ladd is a game-time decision after he returned to Chicago to be with his wife for the birth of their child. If Ladd returns, expect Panik to play on the top line. Healthy scratches include David Rundblad, Dale Weise and Christian Ehrhoff. Duncan Keith will serve the last of his six-game suspension tonight.