GREENBURGH — Defenseman Brady Skjei played five post-season games against the Penguins last spring. Center Oscar Lindberg played two. Both said the learning experience was invaluable.
“Playing that little bit last year and a full year this year, you feel like you’re supposed to be here. Familiarity is a big difference,” said Skjei, 23. In the playoffs, he said, momentum swings are magnified. “After an [opposing] goal, the next shift is huge. On a power play you’ve got to get momentum, on the penalty kill you’ve got to get momentum.”
“It was good to see [the atmosphere] a little bit, it’s better than playing zero games,” said Lindberg, 25. “There’s more at stake. The pace was higher, guys play harder; you’ve got to be better at everything.”
For rookie Jimmy Vesey, his first playoff experience looms. “He’s one of those guys, a lot like Chris Kreider in his first year, playing a big role and big minutes,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “And Jimmy is getting this opportunity. Like all of our players, he’s been through championship games at another level, been in big moments, and he’s handled it real well.”
Although left wing Tanner Glass, 33, skated on the fourth line in practice, rookie Pavel Buchnevich was on the ice as well, Vig neault insisted that he had not made a final decision on a 12th forward for Wednesday. Glass, who is a more physical player, but not as skilled as Buchnevich, has played in 11 games since being summoned from the AHL.
Backup goalie Antti Raanta’s right knee, bruised from a shot in practice last Friday, remains sore, but he practiced Tuesday, and is prepared to play if called on. “It’s not swollen,” said Raanta, who is wearing a little extra padding around the spot. “It didn’t heal as fast as we hoped, but it can’t get worse,” Magnus Hellberg, called up to start the final regular-season game against Pittsburgh, a 3-2 win, was returned to Hartford.
The two power play units at practice were: Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh; Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Vesey and Skjei . . . Kevin Klein, who missed 15 games with back spasms, Steven Kampfer and Adam Clendening are the scratches on defense for Game 1. “He’s [Klein] a good defenseman and he’s ready if we need him moving forward,” Vigneault said.