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First impressions

Mason Raymond is enjoying his first career playoff appearance, but wants to take his game to another level in round 2

Thursday, 04.30.2009 / 5:00 AM PT / Features
By Derek Jory
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First impressions
Overwhelmed, excited, anxious - you name it, Mason Raymond felt it.

When he laced up his skates for the 73rd time this season in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarter Finals against the St. Louis Blues, it was like he was preparing to play hockey for the first time.

In a sense that was true because despite all Raymond's been through in his young career, he had never experienced the game at its finest, highest, elitist level until the NHL playoffs opened on April 15.

With butterflies fluttering in his stomach, his legs feeling like jelly and his mind under siege with emotion, Raymond helped the Canucks beat the Blues 2-1 to open a 1-0 series lead.

Somewhere between puck drop and the team's celebratory head taps after the final horn, Raymond became at ease with his new reality.

Yes, he had finally reached the Stanley Cup playoffs, but no, it wasn't too much for him to handle.

"I was definitely nervous for my first shift out there and to get underway, but once I got into the flow of the game with the excitement of the crowd and everything, I just rode with that," said Raymond.

The natural high all players experience when they dance the dance for the first time is a feeling they'll never forget and for Raymond it was the electricity provided by the fans that pushed him over the edge.

"When the towels are going crazy and it's so loud, it's just incredible. The hair on your neck kind of stands up. The experience has certainly lived up to everything and more for sure."

Raymond has also lived up to his end of the bargain with consistent play in the opening round that not only led to increased ice time, but also added responsibility with shifts on the power play and penalty kill.

His steady play was by no means surprising, he's shown flashes of brilliance all season long, but for this playoff rookie to surge while all of St. Louis' tenderfoots fell apart says a lot about how the sophomore has elevated his game.

A major factor in Raymond's success was the steady play of his entire line, which included Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier.

The trio set out to play good defensive hockey when the playoffs started, they knew that if they performed well in their own end of the rink that opportunities would arise on offence.

That was more than the case as the third line caused a lot of trouble for the Blues, the combination of speed, hands and muscle helped alleviate pressure from Vancouver's top two lines and the importance of that can not be stressed enough.

It also can't happen enough as even though Raymond and company added depth to Vancouver's attack at both ends of the ice in the opening round, they are looking to elevate their game to another level against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We've got to be in guys' faces and just establish that presence and throw bodies around. They don't have to be huge hits, but just enough to separate the guy from the puck type thing."

Raymond and hitting used to be an oxymoron, but they go hand in hand these days. Watching the way Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows work for everything they earn, especially on offence, has inspired Raymond to do the same.

"I want to be good on the forecheck and be a pest to play against and get to the front of the net as much as possible," said Raymond.

Displaying the above criteria is what helped Bernier and Wellwood pot goals in the opening round. Bernier was the hero of Game 3 with his second career playoff score counting as the game-winner, while Wellwood was the first to light the lamp for the Canucks in Game 4.

Raymond's time will come too, until then he remains focused on the task at hand - aka doing anything and everything he can to help Vancouver win.

"Everybody knows that careers are made in the playoffs so I just have to do what I can and fill whatever roll I can. When I do score it'll be great, that's a milestone for sure and I'm really looking forward to that.

"I was hoping to get it last round, but I feel good heading into this series and hopefully I can get it in the next couple of games."

He may be walking the walk and talking the talk of a playoff veteran after only four games, but when Raymond finds the back of the net for the first time, the ecstatic rookie will surely emerge once again.

No doubt he'll be feeling overwhelmed, excited and anxious all over again.

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