Brian Kilrea got his traditional playoff haircut a week early this season, in anticipation of the ceremonies surrounding his last regular-season game behind the Ottawa 67's bench Sunday.
Now he's ready for his final playoff run as coach as the third-seeded 67's face the sixth-seeded Niagara IceDogs tonight (7:30 p.m., Civic Centre) in the opener of their best-of-seven series.
"You don't know how many series are ahead of you," said Kilrea. "The emotion was last week. I feel good. The team worked hard in practice (this week)."
WIN IT FOR KILLER
Overage forward Thomas Kiriakou, who will return to the lineup from injury after missing the last game of the regular season, said the 67's have plenty of reasons to be motivated, with giving Kilrea a good post-season run in his final spring as coach at the top of the list.
But Kiriakou and captain Logan Couture also want to end the 67's string of first-round playoff losses at three.
"Hopefully, it will be a magical run for us," said Kiriakou. "We want to get past the first round and get past the first of April this year."
Kilrea will turn to 17-year-old Chris Perugini in net against the IceDogs.
"He had a good run down the stretch. He looked good," said Kilrea.
Perugini owned a 26-10-3-2 record this year.
The standings are misleading in that the 67's had their hands full with the IceDogs this season, with Niagara winning 3-of-4 meetings.
"It should be an interesting series," said Kiriakou. "Niagara beat us a few games, so that's giving us motivation to compete harder. We had a great regular season, but (the veterans) are going to let the younger guys know it's going to be different hockey. You're not going to have that extra second to handle the puck."
One of the keys for the 67's will be shutting down Niagara defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. The 6-foot-4, 210-lb. native of King City started the season in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and played eight games before being returned to the IceDogs. The Blues made Pietrangelo the fourth pick overall at the NHL draft here in Ottawa last summer.
He had eight goals and 21 assists in 36 games with Niagara this season.
"We've got to really limit his space and time because we know what he can do," said Kiriakou. "He's going to log a ton of minutes. We have to crash and bang him."
"He's not only a good defenceman," added Kilrea, "when he gets the puck, he's like a good forward."
Brian Kilrea's last run as coach, three straight first-round exits ... the 67's can also draw motivation from their performance against the IceDogs this season:
Sept. 20: Niagara 6, Ottawa 3
Jan. 9: Ottawa 6, Niagara 2
Feb. 22: Niagara 4, Ottawa 3
March 1: Niagara 5, Ottawa 3