SAN JOSE Its the single leading advantage on paper that the Sharks have over their first round series opponent, the St. Louis Blues.
Experience. Nearly everyone on the San Jose roster has been here before. Many of the Blues havent.
Can it make a difference?
It depends, Ryane Clowe said. Its something weve gained over the past few years. Before, me and Joe Pavelski and Dougie Murray didnt have much experience, but now were a team with experience. Weve been through a lot.
Todd McLellan said: At some point, I do believe experience comes into play. Whether youre ahead, behind, certain moments, dealing with it during the game, after the game. We have some experience.
Keeping emotions in check during a seven-game playoff series is paramount, as the Sharks will have to avoid getting too confident after a win or too discouraged or panicked after a loss. With players like Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Clowe and Pavelski, that shouldnt be an issue.
The highs and lows of a playoff game or a playoff series is a little bit more manageable with the experience, Marleau said. You try to pass that on to the younger guys who havent had that much experience.
When youre in those key situations, you know youre been there before and succeeded, and sometimes failed. You know how to handle those.
Even 23-year-old Logan Couture, who just completed his second full season in the NHL, has already played in 33 playoff games. Thats more than all but four players expected to dress for the Blues in Game 1 (Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Kent Huskins, Scott Nichol).
He reflected a bit upon his first action in the postseason in 2009-10, when he had four goals in 15 games before the Sharks lost to the Blackhawks.
My first playoff game and first playoff series, the nerves and intensity goes up so much more, he said. "Experience does make a little bit of a difference. By the time youre a period into your first game, youre playing hockey again. Youre used to it. But, there is a little bit of a difference.
Conversely, the Sharks will be forced to start a first round series on the road for the first time since 2007. It's a place that been kind to them in 2011-12. After winning five of their first six games away from HP Pavilion, the Sharks were just 12-16-7 the rest of the way.
The Blues finished tied with Detroit for the most points at home in the NHL (30-6-5, 65 points).
Were starting on the road going into enemy territory, and youve got to come out with at least one victory to switch that back to home ice advantage for yourself, Marleau said. Its a tough task at the start, but its a great opportunity to get our game going on the road.
Couture said: You want to win no matter what seed you are, whether its eight, or seven or six. Obviously, theyre going to want to win their home games. We want to go in there and beat them in their home rink.
And if they lose the first match in that hostile environment on Thursday, drawing on their experience could help shift the momentum back in their favor in time for Game 3 at The Tank.
Brent Burns, who hasnt been in the playoffs since 2008 and has never advanced past the first round in two attempts with the Wild, said: When you have guys that have been through it, its going to be nice. When things are going really well they can bring you down a notch, and when things are going really bad they can bring you up a notch.
When youre in a seven-game series you want to stay as even keel as possible, because it can change. We have a lot of great leaders here that have won a lot, and been through a lot.
Whether that will make a difference is to be determined.