DETROIT -- There is no secret that the biggest storyline in the opening round matchup between Detroit and Columbus is experience. The two NHL franchises bring vastly different histories to the table as they prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals series.
The Blue Jackets are making their first playoff appearance in franchise history. The Wings are making their 18th straight appearance.
Columbus captain Rick Nash has never played in the playoffs. Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom hasn't missed the playoffs in his career.
Columbus rookie goalie Steve Mason won 33 games this season. Detroit's Chris Osgood has won 389 career games.
The Wings believe that the experience of winning a Stanley Cup just 10 months ago will be a huge advantage over the youthful Blue Jackets.
“When the game’s on the line, you have some experience; you’ve been there," Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "On the other hand, Columbus is coming in as a fresh team, they’ve got nothing to lose; they just keep going and going. We need to do a good job, especially early in the game, come out with some good power and some good speed and hopefully take advantage of the experience.”
Last spring's Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg reiterated his fellow Swede’s words, saying that he has learned that fast starts are key in any playoff series.
“We just have to get a good start," Zetterberg said. "If you don’t play good from the start, then it could end quick. We’ve been in both situations, so we just have to get a good start, and just keep going.”
Standing in the way of that fast start will be Nash and Mason, the young but dangerous leaders of the Wings’ first round opponent. Nash, the Blue Jackets’ 24-year-old captain, is in his sixth season. He led the Jackets with 40 goals and 39 assists, and recorded two of his four career hat tricks against the Wings this season.
“He’s a big size, he’s always focusing on the net,” said Pavel Datsyuk, one of the Wings forwards who will try to slow down Nash throughout the series. “He’s always shooting the puck and going for the rebound. He’s a good player.”
“He uses his body really well,” Kronwall said. “He’s an obviously a big guy, he takes it to the net all the time. I think we need to do a better job of helping each other out there; sometimes we might have to double up on him, make sure he doesn’t get to the net, because he’s doing a really good job out there.”
At the other end of the ice is Mason, the Blue Jackets’ 20-year-old rookie, who wasn’t on the opening-night roster, before surprising the hockey world with a 33-20-7 record. The Blue Jackets’ organization showed that Mason would be ‘their guy’ for the playoffs when they sent former starter Pascal Leclaire to Ottawa for Antoine Vermette.
“He’s had a real good first year in the league, he’s a real talented kid, he’s a big goalie that’s played well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “But in saying that, it didn’t matter who you were going to get, they were going to have a good goalie that played well and you’re going to have to find a way to get to him.
“We’ll be prepared, we understand what he does, we have played him enough. We know his tendencies and we have to get to the second chances.”
Forty-goal scorer Marian Hossa said that he has been impressed with Mason’s performance this season.
“It’s unbelievable how young he is and how confident he is," Hossa said. "The confidence he’s played with all year … that’s what stands out. You don’t see many young goalies that play like that.”
Zetterberg said that the key to beating the 6-foot- 4 goaltender is making sure he can’t see the puck.
“We have to shoot the puck, be in front, create a lot of screens, and be there for rebounds," Zetterberg said. "If he sees the puck, he will make the save, so you've got to shoot the puck and be in front of him.”
Thursday, the Wings will find out if their experience will aid them in stopping the seventh-seed Blue Jackets. Puck drops at 7 p.m. EDT.