CALGARY — Almost half of the Calgary Flames are about to embark on their very first playoff experience.
The number is startling, especially when you consider their first-round opponent won’t dress a single playoff newbie.
While it may be one of the one only edges Colorado will carry into the series starting Thursday at the Saddledome, it could be a significant one.
All told, the Flames 20-man roster boasts 254 games of playoff experience.
Take away the fact James Neal has 100 of those and Cup winner Michael Frolik has 42 and the balance of the roster possesses just 112 games.
The Avs compiled almost that many last year alone in their six-game loss, and will enter the matchup with 413 games.
“It’s always nice to have experience at anything in life,” said coach Bill Peters who is also entering his first post-season as an NHL head coach.
“You’re always better the second, third, fourth and fifth time you go through something — there’s no question about that. We don’t have a lot of it. But we’ll all go through it together and we’ll learn together and we’re preparing and talking about it a lot. The guys who have played in the playoff will share all that wisdom and the rest of us will get it as we go.”
It’s the only approach they can possibly take, as questions will abound this week about how the west’s best club will be capable of handling the unavoidable adversity spring hockey will throw at them.
“I think playoff experience is important,” admitted Frolik, who won the Stanley Cup six years ago with Chicago. “We are a pretty young team, but I remember when we got smoked here 4-0 (against Anaheim two years ago) and hopefully the young guys learned from that and learned what the playoffs are all about.
“We are more mature this time. Every game in the playoffs for these guys is experience.
“Johnny (Gaudreau) and Monny (Sean Monahan) are a couple years older and have some experience under their belt. I think they’re in their prime now so I think the time is now.”
Those two top-line leaders are amongst five core players who have played 15 games apiece as part of the club’s two playoff experiences over the last four years. Alongside Sam Bennett (who is a probable starter despite a recent injury) Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie, they managed to win a gutsy series over Vancouver four years back.
“I don’t think it’s too big of an issue,” said Gaudreau, who was rendered irrelevant in their four-game loss to the Ducks two years ago, picking up just two assists.
“Obviously those few games we have played — most of us in here played two or three series — it definitely helps a little bit.
“But with the group we have here I’m excited to see what we can do in the playoffs because it’s a special group the way we work and the way we play. I don’t think you need to worry about the experience part too too much.”
Maybe not, as this club marched to its unlikely conference crown this season by exhibiting tremendous poise, consistency and an ability to bounce back during games and after losses.
They were led by 35-year-old defenceman Mark Giordano, who has played just eight playoff games.
Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Mark Jankowski, Rasmus Andersson, Garnet Hathaway, Andrew Mangiapane, David Rittich and Derek Ryan have played none. If Bennett can’t go, a ninth playoff newbie will enter the lineup, Austin Czarnik.
So they’ll learn as they go.
“I think we can approach it that way because we don’t have a ton of experience,” said Ryan.
“More than that, we can embrace the fact that we have this opportunity. We have a great team and put ourselves in a great situation throughout the regular season to have home ice.
“The whole city is going to be behind us and the Saddledome will be loud and rambunctious, so we can embrace that and not worry too much about previous experiences.”
Indeed, home-ice advantage could play a huge role in giving the team early confidence they can build upon as the pace, intensity and stakes increase.
So could the fact the Flames swept the Avalanche in the three-game regular season series.
The most experienced blue liner is Travis Hamonic with 17 spring skates, and expected starter Mike Smith sits third on the roster with 19, which includes a run to the west final seven years ago as Phoenix’s star.
“You learn a lot about yourself in the playoffs and what it takes,” said Neal, earning endless praise for his increased leadership role of late as the team’s playoff guru.
“It’s a crazy atmosphere and you want to make sure you use the energy in the right way. I’ve talked to several of the guys about it and will continue to do that as we go.”