Harry Zolnierczyk is about to do something he’s never done as a pro: play in the postseason.
After spending last season with Norfolk and the two prior years with Adirondack, Zolnierczyk never got to experience the thrill of a playoff game.
He really never got to know what it’s like to push just to make the postseason.
“In Adirondack, we were out for a while. We knew it,” Zolnierczyk said. “It’s tough knowing you’re not really playing for anything anymore. You lose that excitement, that interest, when you know it’s over.”
But Zolnierczyk isn’t the only Penguins who will be erasing a playoff drought this year. Team captain Tom Kostopoulos, who has 15 pro seasons and 630 NHL games under his belt, will be making his first playoff appearance since 2009 when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
In his career, Kostopoulos appeared in 16 NHL playoff games and 57 AHL postseason contests, including 51 with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
After a five-year absence, he’s glad to be back.
“I’m really excited. Enough of this regular season,” Kostopoulos said. “I’m ready to get going. It’s the most exciting time of the year and I’m looking forward to going into it with this team we have here.”
Still, the Penguins do have plenty of players with significant postseason experience. Spencer Machacek has been to the AHL postseason three times with three teams, most recently with Springfield last year.
One thing he’s learned from the experience is just how hard of a grind the postseason is.
And that’s a good thing.
“It’s so hard-nosed that even your skilled players are throwing big hits,” Machacek said. “It’s a fun grind and you want to go through it. I won the championship in juniors and I still remember the satisfaction of winning it all.”
Barry Goers also brings a lot of playoff experience to the Penguins, just not in the AHL. Goers made the postseason all three years he played with Las Vegas in the ECHL and last year appeared in the Central Hockey League playoffs with Denver.
In 2012 with Las Vegas, Goers’ team lost in the finals, while his first year in the AHL with Lake Erie his team was eliminated from contention with a loss in the last regular season game.
“Having been in the postseason in the ECHL and CHL, I’ve really learned what playoff hockey at the professional level is all about,” Goers said. “The work ethic, the grind and the willpower it takes to win those crucial games.”
It’s those elements that make not only getting into the playoffs, but winning as well so important to a player’s career.
Zolnierczyk said he discussed that element with teammate Chuck Kobasew as the pair drove back from Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
“It’s such a huge thing for your career. It’s what everyone cares about,” Zolnierczyk said. “You can have a great regular season, but to have success in the playoffs speaks volumes.”