NEW YORK – A week ago, Jason Akeson had played in just one NHL game in his career and had never even been to New York City.
But Thursday night, the 23-year-old will make his playoff debut in Game 1 of the Flyers' first-round series against the Rangers.
How quickly things change.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Akeson said. “I know the whole term of events that’s happened over the last couple days is something I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. Just hope I can take this opportunity and try to run with it.”
Akeson will play in the same spot he occupied in the Flyers’ 6-5 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last Sunday, his only game with the Flyers this season, on Sean Couturier’s line with Matt Read.
The coaches didn’t give him much added instruction.
“Just play your game,” he said. “Play the way you did last game, and things will be fine. I’m playing with two good players out there, so [it] makes my job a little easier.”
Akeson, Michael Raffl and Luke Schenn are the only Flyers without playoff experience. Akeson, though, has played only two games in his NHL career, the first in 2013. He spent this season with the Adirondack Phantoms, where he complied a team-high 64 points (24 goals).
Berube isn’t at all concerned about him.
“I know he’s a young guy that hasn’t played a whole lot, but he can be fine,” Berube said. “He’s like everybody else. He’s going to be nervous, but everybody’s going to be nervous. That’s the way it is. Like anybody else, get skating, get it in deep, take the body and get involved in the play. He’s no different than anybody else.”
Akeson grew up in Ottawa as a Senators fan, which makes tonight’s game just a bit more special for him. When he was a kid, Akeson watched Ray Emery carry the Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007.
“It’s pretty cool,” Akeson said. “I remember watching him play when I was younger, which was pretty neat. He’s getting the start tonight, so it’s pretty exciting. I’m pumped for him.”
Jakub Voracek dyed his beard black earlier this week, and Wednesday night, Scott Hartnell decided to join him.
“He did it yesterday,” Hartnell said. “I couldn’t let him do it alone. After dinner last night, I went to the drugstore and got Just For Men. I don’t know if it will catch on with the team, but I couldn’t let him go alone doing it.”
Should we expect their linemate, Flyers captain Claude Giroux, to join their ranks?
“I haven’t decided yet, but right now it’s a no,” he said. “it’s a tough look.”
The first 10
Considering the importance of this game and the Flyers’ bad habit of putting together incomplete efforts at Madison Square Garden, the first 10 minutes of Game 1 will be critical.
The Flyers know they need to keep a handle on their emotions and remain disciplined all game, but especially at the start.
“First 10 minutes in every series, everyone’s kind of running around hitting everyone,” Giroux said. “It’s kind of a zoo out there. But I think it’s going to be important for us to stay composed and make sure we don’t do any mistakes other than play our game.”
It’s been a while
It’s been two years since the Flyers made it to the postseason.
“It has been a while,” Hartnell said. “Last year there wasn’t much hockey being played before the playoffs. You miss it. Now it’s all about winning, it’s all about getting where we want to go. And that’s our vision right now, it’s one game at a time, but we want that first one.”
With the bitter taste of a playoff miss still somewhat fresh in their memories, the Flyers know to make the most of the opportunity they have before them now.
“For us to not be in the playoffs last year, it’s a little bit more boost this year to make sure we take advantage of it and have fun with it,” Giroux said.