Tampa, Fla. — When he entered the NHL in 2001, Stephen Weiss rightfully expected trips to the playoffs with all the excitement and memories those games provide.
But it hasn't been that way.
At age 32, and in his 13th NHL season, Weiss is making only his second NHL playoff appearance.
His other appearance? In 2011-12, Weiss' Florida Panthers reached the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils and lost in seven games, the seventh game in double overtime.
"I'm really excited, this is why I wanted to come here, for the chance to compete in the playoffs," Weiss said. "It was a little struggle down the stretch but we managed to play well enough to get in and that's all you have to do, get in."
Weiss was talking with another Red Wings veteran, Erik Cole (out for the playoffs with a spinal contusion), about how difficult it is to reach the playoffs.
"Colesy said the other day he's only been there three times and he's 36 years old," Weiss said. "It's just hard to make the playoffs."
The Red Wings reached the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season this spring, which Weiss finds incredible.
"You get spoiled in Detroit with what's happened over the last couple of decades," he said. "It's amazing how difficult it is and it's a real special opportunity when you do get the chance to do it.
"I'm really looking forward to having the second go-around."
Weiss has seen how the success of the organization has trickled down through the different eras.
"There's expectations that nothing less is expected and it's a great thing to have those expectations," he said. "You see how it funnels down from the guys who've been here in the past to Hank (Henrik Zetterberg) and Pavel (Datsyuk) and Kroner (Niklas Kronwall), and it'll be passed on to guys like (Tomas) Tatar, and (Gustav) Nyquist and (Riley) Sheahan, and all those guys."
Weiss had five points (three goals, two assists) in the seven-game series against the Devils, but the painful way the Panthers lost that series still stings, Devils forward Adam Henrique scoring in double overtime.
"It was tough, we were down 2-0 but tied it up in the third period and had a lot of momentum going into overtime," Weiss said. "We had good chances, but (Devils goalie Martin) Brodeur was real good with some timely saves.
"It was just a tough way to go out."
Justin Abdelkader (hand) practiced lightly during the morning skate but was ruled out for Game 1.
Abdelkader was hit on his hand by a Marco Scandella slap shot April 4 when the Red Wings played Minnesota.
With no Abdelkader, coach Mike Babcock kept Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together on a line with Darren Helm.
Sheahan was expected to center a line between Nyquist and Tatar.
Whoever is in the lineup, said Zetterberg, should be pumped up.
"It's the playoffs and everyone should be excited to have this opportunity," he said. "You don't realize how awesome this is until you play."
With two right-handed shots on defense now — Marek Zidlicky and Alexey Marchenko — Babcock believes there's more opportunity to execute.
"It makes it easier to create offense and make good plays," said Babcock, adding there's more possibilities for one-timers from defensemen on the points.
"The priority is that they're good players," he said. "But it makes it easier to execute in tight quarters in the defensive zone and it's easier to get through the neutral zone.
"When there was more room on the ice, it wasn't as big a deal, but now it's a bigger deal. It makes it easier to create"
Marchenko was paired with Danny DeKesyer, while Kyle Quincey was paired with Zidlicky.
With Marchenko in the lineup, Brendan Smith remained a healthy scratch.
Teemu Pulkkinen and Daniel Cleary were healthy scratches among the forwards.
… This is the first playoff series ever between the Red Wings and Lightning.