LUKE SCHENN has been in the NHL so long that sometimes it is easy to forget he is just 24 years old.
It is even tougher for Schenn himself to imagine, then, that tonight at Madison Square Garden will be his first Stanley Cup playoff game. Since Schenn joined the league in 2008, every NHL team except Edmonton and Atlanta/Winnipeg has made the playoffs.
Schenn just happened to leave Toronto - which had experienced a 7-year playoff drought until 2013 - before last season, when the Flyers had one of their rare missteps.
He finally will be wiped from the dubious club of most games among active players without appearing in a playoff contest. With 436 games under his belt, Schenn was seventh on that list, and the only one among the top 10 to make the playoffs this spring.
"It's been a long time coming," the defenseman said yesterday. "I'm excited for it. It's something you always dream of as a kid, getting a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. That's what you play for all season, every year."
If you are a big believer that experience helps win playoff games, the Rangers (736 combined games experience) and Flyers (698) are neck-and-neck. For New York, J.T. Miller and Cam Talbot have never played in the playoffs; Schenn, Jason Akeson, Jay Rosehill and rookie Michael Raffl are clamoring for their first taste of hockey's most intense action.
Schenn, Raffl and Akeson won't be the only ones on the Flyers' bench jumping into the deep end.
Craig Berube played in 1,054 NHL regular-season games. He skated in another 89 Stanley Cup playoff games, making it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998 with Washington.
Berube has been behind the bench as an NHL head coach for 79 games (42-27-10). Tonight also will be his first playoff game as a head coach; he had seven seasons' worth of experience as an NHL assistant coach.
Not surprisingly, considering his unflappable personality, Berube doesn't seem fazed by the idea.
"I don't think I'm going to change. Why would I?" Berube asked. "I want my team to play under control with emotions and disciplined hockey. I'm going to coach the same way.
"I don't think I will coach any differently that way and show that kind of [excited] side. I don't think I'm really like that.
"You've got to make decisions in the playoffs that are the best for the hockey team at that time. During the regular season, you have a little leeway at times to make decisions that are based on the future and things like that. In the playoffs, it's about right there, right now and what's best for the hockey team."
Zac Rinaldo will return to the Flyers' lineup after serving his four-game suspension. With Steve Downie out indefinitely with the same "upper-body" injury that has been lingering for months, Craig Berube will turn to winger Jason Akeson to fill his hole.
Akeson, 23, has just two games of NHL experience under his belt, but he's notched a goal and an assist. He will skate alongside Matt Read and Sean Couturier; it's the same line he played with in Sunday's shootout loss to Carolina.
"Couturier and Read are just good defensive players," Berube said. "You put a guy like Akeson there, it's just more opportunities to produce."
Berube is also hoping some of Akeson's defensive lapses, which prevented an earlier call-up since he led the Phantoms in scoring the past two seasons, will be masked by playing with two shutdown players.
"I need to be really smart and play responsibly," Akeson admitted. "Maybe instead of making that extra play, I need to keep things a little more simple. You're going to have to change your game a little bit, but hopefully not too much."
Akeson played minor hockey with Claude Giroux and the two train together in the summers in Ottawa. For Akeson, the Flyers' captain has been a helpful guy to have in his corner.
"He's helped me out when things are tough and he's been there when things are going well," Akeson said. "He's just a good friend. I'm happy to have him around. To get this opportunity, it's going to be something to remember. It's a little different going from Glens Falls, N.Y., to a game at MSG. It's going to be pretty cool and pretty surreal."
Should Akeson falter, Berube has a Plan B ready for Game 2. Tye McGinn was absent at practice yesterday and frequent call-up Chris VandeVelde took his place on the ice. VandeVelde hasn't played since March 15 because of a knee injury, but said he is healthy if called upon.
"You always want to be competitive and show what you have," VandeVelde said. "When I was hurt, I couldn't play and it was tough watching from the crowd - especially when there was injuries up here. Even being in one game to help the team get to a Stanley Cup would be pretty nice for me."
Craig Berube said he is not looking for Sean Couturier's line to match up against any one specific Rangers line in a shutdown role, because New York's offense is so balanced . . . Berube joked that Steve Mason hurt his toe when he was repeatedly pressed by writers to reveal the nature of his injury . . . Moorestown's T.J. Brennan, a product of the Little Flyers, was named the AHL's defenseman of the year. The Maple Leafs' property netted 69 points in 73 games, the most by a defenseman since 2005-06 . . . The Rangers are 21-6 all-time in Game 1 of a playoff series when that game is played at the Garden.