This week's Big Question: What does the word "playoffs" mean to you?
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: "Everything's just turned up. Everything's magnified. The physicality goes up. Turnovers are magnified that much more. Your special teams are magnified. Everything's just so much more important. As soon as that first game starts, everything is just geared up. The buildings are more into it. Everything is just jacked up so much more. ... Even going into opposing buildings, it's so exciting. You can just feel the buzz. You can hear, no matter if you're at home or on the road, fans are there in warm-up just getting ready. Just the excitement, it makes you excited and makes you eager to go."
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: "It's [a] totally different mentally. ... You can say it's a totally different world. You ... don't know how it's going to be. ... Mentally, it's totally different. Sometimes you just don't know what to expect. Yeah, I love it. I love to be part of it. Obviously, we didn't have success as a team [in] past years, but you play 82 games to be in this position."
Matt Martin, Toronto Maple Leafs: "It is a whole other gear, it's just so exciting. It seems like there's so much more desperation in every play everyone makes. Any play you make can be a huge turning point in a game and in a series. The energy in the building is way higher; the energy on the ice, too. You play 82 games just to get ready for that. The regular season can be a grind. I think everyone goes through a bit of a lull, but once the playoffs come around it's like new-found life. It's just the best time of the year."
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators: "I don't think you can explain it until you play in it. Obviously, you didn't know what to expect the first game. You've played 82 [regular-season games] and you felt you were an NHL player, and then you play [in] the playoffs and it's a whole new level. And it's great. It's a lot of fun. They're the most fun games to play in. I want to keep doing it."
Brian Boyle, Toronto Maple Leafs: "Playing in this league is a privilege and it's a blast, and you try not to take games for granted, but you get in the dog days of the season sometimes -- we're all human, the focus is tough, you get three or four on the road or something. But the playoffs? You win, you advance, you don't win, you go home, everything is on the line. All the crap you dealt with during the season, all the travel, the training in the summer, it comes down to that, you want to be ready to go in the playoffs and play your best. The stakes are raised. What's better? The storylines are amazing in the playoffs, different things happen, it's just a ton of fun to be part of."
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: "It's one of those things that when you look back on your career, you look at how many games you played and what you've done, but also how many times you've been in the playoffs, how deep you've gone in the playoffs and how well you've done in the playoffs. If you make the playoffs, those are the moments you remember about the whole year."
Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens: "Excitement. ... I had never been in the playoffs before until the year I was traded here. I had always loved the atmosphere here at the Bell Centre and to see it in the playoffs is crazy. It's what every player plays for, to get into the playoffs. Because once you get in, anything can happen, as we've seen over the years."
Kevin Shattenkirk, Washington Capitals: "Even for me with my uncertainty, where I'm going next year, I don't know if I'm going to go to a team that never gets back to the playoffs again. It's tough. I think in that respect, I've always treated every playoff year like it was my most important yet. And my last. And I try to treat it like that. This year's definitely no different."
Adam McQuaid, Boston Bruins: "Just excitement. Without getting too cliché, how many times you played as a kid growing up, you're always thinking about winning the Stanley Cup. I remember the first time we made the playoffs, I realized we're playing for the Stanley Cup. That's what everybody plays hockey for and I was very fortunate to [win in 2011]. It's do-or-die and leave it all out there. You're playing for the Stanley Cup and it's pretty amazing. ... Everyone's playing for the same thing and the closer you get, the more you can taste it. You make sacrifices to get further and further and you realize how difficult it is and the closer you get you want to make the most of the opportunity. That's why you see how much more intense, I mean, it's intense from the get-go, but you're closer to your goal the further along you go."
Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: "Everybody always talks about how it's ramped up to another level. And it's true. Until you've been there, it's hard to realize what level it's at. Down the stretch, everyone is battling just to get in and everything is amped up, but playoffs are a whole other level. So much fun. That's what you work for all year, really your whole life, to give yourself a chance to win the Stanley Cup. What I learned from that first year is that you just have to get in to give yourself a chance, every team is so good now, any team can beat any team any given night."
Thomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings: "I think it starts with the fans. Anywhere you go, any building you go to. I think in the regular season, some buildings are better than others, but it doesn't matter where you are in the playoffs. I think the intensity right from the fans, it just trickles down to the players. It just gives you more energy and I think that's the biggest difference. I think come playoff time ... even though it's a best-of-seven series, I think the series can get away from you quick if you make a mistake or two."
Dave Poulin, retired: "For me, playoffs meant go time. But I remember one time we were sitting at a golf tournament in Cape Cod the year that Raymond [Bourque] won his Cup. They put a stat up on the board and it was the top 10 most playoff games played without winning a Cup. Ray was No. 1 at that point. I think No. 3, No. 5 and No. 7 were all sitting at the bar. It was Brian Propp, myself and Russ Courtnall at that time. So I played 129 playoff games without winning a Cup. We were all high-fiving each other because if Ray wins, we're moving up that list, baby. I loved the playoffs. Six times in the conference finals, three times in the Cup final, obviously. But I think seven times out of my 13 years my team lost to the team that won the Cup. Which is pretty crazy. The absolute best time of year, though. All you had to worry about is hockey. Everything else was irrelevant. You just played hockey."
Mike Knuble, retired: "It was just like more. Everybody just cared a little bit more. Guys fought harder for a battle in the corner, fought harder for the puck. They finished 10 percent harder when they came at you and tried to finish a check. Guys were a little hungrier around the net and defensemen were a little nastier around the net. Shots were harder to come by. Everything just got harder to do. I think that's kind of what catches some people by surprise. ... After your first couple of times through, you're like, 'OK, I know what's coming now.' Just the fact that it's harder to get things accomplished and you're used to working at a pace, exerting a certain amount of energy for 82, but every [playoff] game you can feel it, just the screws tighten on everybody. The coaches are tighter, everybody's just a little bit tighter. You feel just a little something in the air. ... And then playing in some cities if they figured out who you are, you'd feel like they might be peeing in your soup before they'd bring it to you. Some cities it's so passionate, you're not sure what somebody might have done to your food."
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: "One game at a time. It's the message you have to feed yourself. If you read the media, if you read outside sources, sometimes that can distract you from the objective, but [you have to] stay away from some of that stuff and just focus on the task at hand when you're at the rink. Keeping the mental battle inside is tough. You talk to any athlete -- great ones, All-Stars, hall of famers -- they'll all tell you the same thing, that every game is a mental battle."
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: "Best time of the year. It's the time you bond the most as teammates when you're going through that. You have to win a playoff game or lose a playoff game to see what it actually feels like."
Derick Brassard, Ottawa Senators: "It doesn't happen every year you have a good team. It's really hard just to get in, and once you're in, you have a chance. It's just about passion and emotion. That's what I learned over the years, is there's a lot of emotions in the building, a lot of big games."
Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins: "As a player, you've got to walk through the door every day, knowing you can work on something, or impact that next game; you don't get to do that as a [general] manager. The wheel turns slower and you're hoping the best-laid plans [work], but when you know they're going sideways, you've got to react to the curve balls. You've got your fingers and toes crossed that you've done your due diligence and the players are going to respond. As a player, you get to respond, and that's the single biggest difference."
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: "The buzz around the game is something special. You want to be at your best and perform at a high level in the playoffs. It's so much fun. It's the best part of the year."
-- Scott Burnside, Craig Custance, Joe McDonald, Pierre LeBrun