It's playoff time and that means there are no easy games.
It's no different for the top-ranked Manchester Monarchs, who begin a best-of-five series with No. 8 Norfolk tonight at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at VWA before the series shifts to Norfolk next week.
Manchester (48-19-9) and Norfolk (40-26-10) split the four regular-season meetings, with each team winning two games on home ice. The Monarchs come in with more rest, having played just three games in the past two weeks to Norfolk's six.
That extra time off means the Manchester players are eager to get this series going.
"It's been a long regular season and toward the last month we weren't playing many games so guys were getting kind of anxious for the playoffs," said veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz. "I think everyone is excited to get the second season started."
The Admirals are solid up and down the lineup, beginning on the blue line with a rugged defensive corps.
"They're big and physical. You look at their back end with (Garnet) Exelby (and Nolan) Yonkman are big bodied, thick guys that have been around the league for a long time. (Steve) Eminger is a crafty player. So their back end is experienced, but it's also older," said Monarchs coach Mark Morris. "Our identity has been to play a fast game and hopefully that can work to our advantage."
Up front, the Admirals are loaded with Andre Petersson (23 goals, 33 assists, 56 points), Max Friberg (17-23-40), Antoine Laganiere (10-8-18), former Monarch Dave Steckel (10-17-27) and tough guy Zack Stortini (299 penalty minutes). Steckel was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2001 and played 63 games for the Monarchs in the 2004-05 season.
"You've got experienced players like Steckel. He's a steady guy and Stortini brings an element of grit and toughness," Morris said. "They've also got some nice pieces of offense. Friberg, Langaniere ... Petersson. Those are names and guys that have been able to produce at this level."
In goal, John Gibson just came back down from a call-up to Anaheim. Gibson's NHL debut was a good one as he earned a 3-0 shutout.
As for the Monarchs, they have to endure without one of their top scoring threats as Brian O'Neill (leg injury) is lost for six to eight weeks. With him out of commission, Morris made it clear which player he will be looking to for scoring punch.
"I think a big part of our success in looking ahead is going to be that we need to rely on Linden Vey to bring his 'A' game. When he plays his game, he can elevate this team and give it another layer of depth," Morris said. "This is when you should be playing your best hockey and springtime, this is what everybody shoots for — to extend your season and see how many teams you can knock off in your quest for the cup."
Vey said he wasn't thinking about any added pressure because so many players have stepped up through the course of the season as the Monarchs have dealt with call-ups and injuries.
"Myself, (Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli), everyone has been going up and down and the thing about the whole year is that everybody has had a chance to step up and fill holes and done such a great job that it's not just one guy or one line or two lines," Vey said. "It's everybody working together and that's the reason we're so successful this year."
Entering Thursday night's Game 4 between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, the Kings were on the brink of elimination, down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series. If L.A. is knocked out, Pearson, Toffoli and Colin Fraser would all be eligible to return to Manchester for the playoffs and give the Monarchs an offensive boost.