Playoff runs elusive for some NHL veterans

·4 min read

Playoff hockey deep into spring is a new experience for some NHL veterans.

A long career in the league doesn't guarantee a lot of post-season games.

Retired defenceman Jay Bouwmeester didn't get in an NHL playoff game until his 11th season in 2013 at the age of 30, although he did win a Stanley Cup six years later.

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Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano is the embodiment of playoff patience in this year's post-season.

At 39, Giordano is playing in a second round for the first time in his career.

"I'm probably the No. 1 poster boy for you don't get opportunities all the time in playoffs and getting through rounds," said Giordano, whose playoff beard is liberally speckled with grey.

"It's not an easy league to get there."

The Leafs were down 0-3 in their second-round series with the Florida Panthers heading into Wednesday's Game 4.

The only time the Calgary Flames reached the second round during Giordano's almost 15-year tenure there, he couldn't play because of his injured bicep in 2015.

"You get stuck in a rebuild, then you're five years out. Before you know it, you've been in the league for 10 years," Giordano said. "It goes by quick.

"Then you start thinking, 'Man, I'm not gonna have an opportunity, ever.’"

Taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, the 2019 Norris Trophy winner was traded to his hometown Toronto in the spring of 2022.

Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn was unaware his teammate was in the deepest playoff run of his career at almost 40 years of age.

"I didn't even know that, but he's obviously been a pro for a long time," Schenn said.

"It's nice to see a guy like that finally get rewarded team-wise and get an opportunity to advance a little farther. He's had an unbelievable career."

A couple of 30-year-olds in the second-round series between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights — tied 1-1 heading into Monday's Game 3 — didn't wait as long as Giordano to get a bigger bite of the post-season, but still bided their time.

Oilers forward Nick Bjugstad, who was acquired from Arizona at the trade deadline, rode a playoff wave into new second-round territory.

"As I get older, you realize how much harder it is to make the playoffs and win a round," Bjugstad said. "We all have our sights on a bigger goal, so it doesn't stop here.

"In the moment, after winning the series the other night, there's 20 or 30 minutes when you go 'it finally happened' and then you move on and realize there's another series to win and another one and another one.

"It's a long process. It's just fun to be a part of that challenge and climb a mountain with these guys."

Bjugstad attributes timing, luck and finding a niche with the right team for his playoff breakthrough.

"It is for sure finding your place and your role, which I feel like has happened as I've gotten older," said Bjugstad. "A little bit of luck sometimes.

"I was fortunate to get the call I was going to the Oilers. A fortunate bounce for myself."

Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit is a playoff starter for the first time in his career at 30 after previous stints with the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.

"I thought it would come quicker than this, but honestly it couldn't have happened at a better time," he said.

"Through my career I wouldn't say I was ever ready to take a team and be responsible as the starter, to take a team deep in the playoffs, and so I'm happy that when I have got this opportunity, it's been when I was most ready mentally and physically and health-wise and all that."

Dallas Stars defenceman Luke Glendening, 34, is into the second round for the first time in his career. The Stars trail 2-1 in their series against the Kraken.

Leafs defenceman Jake McCabe, 29, made his playoff debut this year in his ninth season as a full-time NHLer.

"I've been waiting a long time for this," McCabe said.

— With files from Joshua Clipperton

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press