Before Marcus Johansson made his Stanley Cup playoff debut Wednesday night in Game 1 against the Rangers, his friend and mentor Nicklas Backstrom told him about the heightened physical play and faster speed of the game in the postseason.
Although he might have had a few nervous moments early on, Johansson appeared to embrace the intense atmosphere quickly and zipped around the ice to help his line create scoring chances as the team seemed to come in waves offensively against New York.
Granted, the rookie center was on the ice for the Rangers’ lone goal and couldn’t prevent Wojtek Wolski from sending the puck on to Matt Gilroy for the tally but all told it was a solid first outing for the 20-year-old Swede. Don’t expect him to be intimidated by the playoff fervor either.
“It felt great; hockey’s fun when it’s played like that and it’s intense and things happen all the time,” said Johansson, who played 19:03 in the series opener. “Everybody’s just giving it all they’ve got, following checks and hitting everything they can and the game is just a lot faster. . . . It’s a more intense game but in a good way.”
If Johansson can be as comfortable in the playoffs as he was the last half of the regular season it should help give the Capitals a more well-balanced offense as he fuels the third line.
His speed alone is something that proved able to open space in Game 1 against the Rangers and Johansson wasn’t afraid to finish his checks either. After crashing into the corner boards in overtime Wednesday, Johansson got up and leaned his shoulder into the nearest player in a New York sweater to try to regain possession of the puck.
“Marcus looked a little tentative at first, but I think both teams have a lot of first-year guys on them that we’re all getting baptism by fire,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. “[Derek] Stepan for them, [Mats] Zuccarello for them. Our guys Marcus, Neuvy, the longer the game went, I thought everyone got more comfortable.
“It’s the initial first 10 minutes that you notice the difference in the crowd noise and the difference in intensity that nobody’s turning away from a check [that] is what gets the young guys. But the longer the game goes, the more they get into it, the more it becomes a real playoff game.”
Johansson did notice all of the energy in Verizon Center last night, but he seemed to relish in it more than anything else.
“I think the physicality and the atmosphere,” Johansson said when asked what stood out to him the most. “The crowd was into it a lot. It was just a great atmosphere out there. I think it’s just the most fun I’ve had out there when I’ve played hockey. I think it was a great night and, most of all, we played a great game.”