Time to get emotional

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 6:00 PM ET


 There's nothing subtle about Arron Asham on the ice, and there was nothing subtle about him on the phone yesterday.

 The rugged, Portage la Prairie-born winger was summing up his season with the New York Islanders, a year in which he scored 12 goals and added a dozen assists, down 10 points from his totals the year before.

 "My stats don't really matter," Asham said while enjoying a day off on Long Island. "We're in the playoffs and we're playing for the Stanley Cup, so that's all that matters right now."

 That pretty much sums up the mood of every NHL player and coach who's not headed for the golf course this week.

 You can forget about what's happened during the winter, because springtime usually reveals more than a few surprises, not all of which end up smeared on the bottom of your shoes.

 Asham, who turns 26 in a week, is one of nine Manitoba-born or raised players whose teams are still chasing the Cup.

 Some, like Maple Leafs goalie Ed Belfour of Carman, are carrying the weight of a franchise on their shoulders. Others, like Trevor Kidd of Dugald, Belfour's backup, will be lucky to see the ice.

 All are the envy of the hundreds of players whose seasons are over.

 MENTALLY DRAINING

 "Oh, geez ... it's just so mentally draining and so physically draining," is how Asham described playoff hockey. "Regular season doesn't mean anything. It's the best time of year, the best time to play. It's so emotional, but it's so fun."

 This is Asham's third straight year in the post-season, his second with the Islanders. He's still looking for his first playoff goal, but scoring won't be his primary concern when the Isles face Tampa Bay, beginning Thursday.

 Along with linemates Mike Peca and Mark Parrish, his task will be to shut down Lightning stars like Martin St. Louis, the odds-on choice as the NHL's most valuable player this year.

 When Asham says this is not your typical 1-vs-8 matchup, we should probably listen, considering underdogs Carolina and Anaheim reached the Stanley Cup final the last two years.

 "We know what we're capable of," Asham said. "All season, we played great teams and we beat 'em. We played Tampa four times and we're 3-and-1 against them. Our line's going to be definitely flying. We've got to play them physical. They're not the biggest team.

 "Everyone's having us out to be the underdog, but that's good for us. I feel confident going into the series, and I think everyone else on our team does."

 Other Manitobans in the playoffs include Asham's teammate, defenceman Sven Butenschon (Oakbank), forwards Jordin Tootoo of Nashville (Churchill) and Mike Keane of Vancouver (Winnipeg) along with defencemen Curtis Leschyshyn of Ottawa (Thompson), Shane Hnidy of Nashville (Neepawa) and Bryce Salvador of St. Louis (Brandon).

 There's also Nashville head coach Barry Trotz, a product of Dauphin, who has his team in the playoffs for the first time.

 "Nobody gave us much of a chance to do this," Trotz told reporters in Denver on the weekend. "To be behind the bench when Nashville gets its first taste of playoff hockey is truly something special."

 At the other end of the spectrum is Keane, the three-time Cup winner who'll play his 214th post-season game when the Canucks host Calgary tomorrow. It's the Flames' first playoff appearance in eight years.

 "They will obviously be very excited to be back in the playoffs," Keane told reporters in Vancouver.

 So is Keane, who, at 36, walked into Vancouver's camp without a contract this year.

 It seems chasing the Stanley Cup never gets old.


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