Tampa, Fla. — You always hear about what a learning experience the NHL playoffs are for young players and for Dylan Larkin in Game 1, it was no different.
Larkn, 19, saw what a difference the playoffs are compared to the regular season.
Definitely the hitting and pace Wednesday was an eye-opener for Larkin and far removed from anything he'd encountered during the long, 82-game regular season.
And the importance of each play, every player being accountable and responsible on the ice every shift because even the most seemingly smallest of plays could turn out to be a difference maker.
Larkin found out quick.
On the Lightning’s first period goal, giving them a 1-0 lead, Larkin was out of position and caught up ice as Tampa Bay rushed toward the Red Wings’ net.
“I dove in, it was just a free rush,” said Larkin of the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov one-timer going the other way. “I didn’t take a man or anything. Just errors.”
Larkin only played 11 minutes, 30 seconds on 17 shifts in Game 1, with no shots on net and taking one penalty.
The ice time was a season-low after a regular season in which Larkin led the Red Wings with 23 goals and is being mentioned among the best rookies in the league this season.
It wasn’t the start to the playoffs Larkin wanted, but one coach Jeff Blashill believes the 19-year-old will learn from.
“All year long Dylan has been a real good player and we’ll need him to be a good player in this series,” Blashill said. “He gets important minutes and when you get important minutes you have to play at a high level, and he’s not alone in that.
“If it was a feeling out (process), he’ll feel more comfortable (in Game 2) and anytime you get more comfortable you get the opportunity to have a bigger impact.”
Larkin is hardly the only player to have a rough opener in the playoffs. For many players, it takes multiple series to fully get comfortable in high-pressure games.
Blashill feels all players go through a learning curve in the playoffs and Larkin will feel confident soon enough.
“You learn and get better through the course of years, through the course of playoff series, through course of your life, so I don’t think it’s any different for Dylan, and I’m sure Z (Henrik Zetterberg) is still learning and I’m sure Pavel is still learning,” Blashill said. “Let’s just keep getting better.”
One key, said Blashill, is for Larkin to accept what is being given to him and not force the action.
“When you force, it usually ends up bad," Blashill said. "That balance is critical for a guy like Dylan. When there are opportunities to make plays, make plays, and if there aren’t opportunities to make plays, live another day.
“He got a taste of how physical the game is, and it’ll increase as the games go on, but that stuff doesn’t bother Dylan. He’s got a great toughness to him.”