By Mark McGee, NashvillePredators.com
The first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs can be a jitter fest for the most seasoned of players.
In the middle of preparations for Wednesday night's Western Conference quarterfinals opener between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville center David Legwand decided to talk with rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque.
"I just wanted him to know that the ice is still 200 by 85 and that it is just amped up a little bit," Legwand said. "I told him not to get too nervous and to play a calm game.
"I think he did a good job of that tonight. He kept it simple and straight forward. That is the way to play in the playoffs."
Legwand is one of the veteran members of tbe Predators. One of the main things he has noticed about Bourque is the rookie's desire to learn all he can about the game.
"He is trying to learn and listen to the older guys, though we don't have too many older guys here," Legwand said. "He appreciates it when players talk to him and help him out a little."
Despite his strong start in his first NHL playoff game he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I don't want to talk too fast," Bourque said. "It is only one game. I just want to be more prepared and do my best every game.
"I was excited to put my first step on the ice. It will be a game that I will remember for sure. But we have to be ready for the next one Friday."
Bourque is no stranger to playoff success. Last season he led the Milwaukee Admirals in the Calder Cup playoffs with seven goals and 13 points.
Predators assistant coach Lane Lambert coached Bourque at Milwaukee last season. He thinks Bourque is built for playoff hockey.
"He was terrific last year in the playoffs," Lambert said. "That is just the type of player that he is, and he plays the type of game the playoffs demand.
"He is built for that type of hockey. He plays hard. He goes to the hard areas. He finishes his checks. He goes in and he grinds. He wins puck battles. That's what is about...winning the puck ion the battle areas."
Lambert watched Bourque improve his game in his first pro season with the Admirals in the American Hockey League. He thinks that Bourque has made steady progress this season.
"For him it is just a matter of getting up to speed and understanding the game at this level," Lambert said. "There are a few steps up to the NHL from the AHL _ how players think and how they do different things. And he is adjusting his game accordingly. It is all part of his learning curve.
"One of his biggest areas of improvement has been his understanding of how to manage the puck. He has to make sure it goes into the proper areas so it doesn't create turnovers or opportunities for the other team. Coming out of juniors you sometimes have success making something out of nothing, but as you go higher and higher you have to understand if you don't manage the puck in certain areas it will come back to bite you."
Bourque played for Moncton from the QMJHL in 2010 and won the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz has said that everyone would need to contribute if the Predators were to be successful in postseason play. He was glad to see Bourque step up.
"You always talk about how you're going to need contributions right through the whole lineup," Trotz said. "The bottom part of our lineup did a pretty good job. Tonight, I could have played the Spaling line against anybody -- they were good.”
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