Flames' Jokinen set for playoff debut

After a 10-year wait, Calgary forward Olli Jokinen will make his playoff debut Thursday when the Flames visit the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarter-final.

Ten years. Ten long and excruciatingly frustrating years.

That's how long Olli Jokinen has been waiting to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But the long wait is finally over, as the Calgary forward will make his playoff debut Thursday when the Flames visit the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarter-final.

Selected third overall by Los Angeles in the 1997 NHL draft, Jokinen has bounced from one losing team to another (the Kings, Islanders, Panthers, Coyotes) since making his league debut during the 1997-98 season.

Jokinen's playoff drought looked set to continue before the Coyotes dealt him to a playoff contender — the Flames — in a trade deadline deal last month.

Now, at 30 years of age, the Finnish forward will play in the first post-season game of his NHL career.

'Good to get started'

"It feels good. It's good to get this playoff feeling. We've been waiting now for a couple of days and everybody's going to be fresh so it'll be good to get started," Jokinen told the Flames' official website.

After having to watch the playoffs from the comfort of his own living room for the past decade, Jokinen is anxious to make a lasting impression in his first NHL post-season.

But he also stressed that this playoff series isn't all about him.

"In the big picture, it's a team game and you know, I try to do whatever I can with the team concept and help the team to win. That's all that matters at this point of the year," the Finn said.

Jokinen scored eight goals in his first six games for Calgary, but he's currently mired in a terrible scoring slump, having gone 13 consecutive games without a goal.

But Flames coach Mike Keenan isn't concerned about Jokinen's poor production, or his lack of playoff experience.

'Pressures of a big stage'

"Olli's played in the Olympics. It doesn't get any bigger in terms of the stage you play on and the pressures of a big stage," Keenan said.

"If you compare the Olympic competition to the Stanley Cup Finals, they're probably pretty comparable, many series — short series — and quite a bit of attention obviously, worldwide attention."

The Flames are going to start the playoffs without top shutdown defencemen Robyn Regehr (knee injury) and Cory Sarich (foot), but Dion Phaneuf will be in action for Thursday's series opener in Chicago after missing two games.

As for the Blackhawks, coach Joel Quenneville is optimistic that injured centre Patrick Sharp (leg) will return to action. Sharp skated on the fourth line during Wednesday's practice, and all signs indicate will get some ice time in Game 1.

Sharp played coy, while Quenneville said, "it looks like he'll be ready" to play.

The Flames didn't practise Wednesday, opting simply to fly to Chicago, which followed a common plan throughout the regular season.