If you want to follow former University of Wisconsin men’s hockey players in the chase for the NHL’s Stanley Cup, they won’t be difficult to find.
At least one ex-Badgers player will be in each of eight first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, including seven skaters who will be in action as the postseason begins tonight.
UW and Boston University are the only college programs that have an alum in every series.
And the 10 former Badgers players on playoff rosters ranks third among college teams, behind Boston College (13) and North Dakota (11).
Three of the 10 — defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith and forward Derek Stepan — play for the New York Rangers, who open against Montreal tonight.
The others playing on opening night: Ottawa forward Kyle Turris against Boston, Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz against Columbus, Minnesota defenseman and Madison native Ryan Suter against St. Louis and San Jose forward Joe Pavelski against Edmonton.
All 10 former Badgers players in the playoffs have experience in the NHL postseason.
“It’s a different time of year,” said Calgary Flames goalie Brian Elliott, who won a national championship at UW in 2006. “It’s such a higher level of intensity. Every play means that much more. And I think you have to embrace it. It’s not something you get scared of or shy away from. You want to prove you can play at that level. It’s a whole different league.”
Elliott’s Flames open their best-of-seven series at Anaheim on Thursday. That night, forward Craig Smith — another Madison native — and the Nashville Predators start at Chicago and defenseman Jake Gardiner’s Toronto Maple Leafs get going at Washington.
Here are five more things to know about former Badgers players in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs:
1. Pavelski is climbing the charts
Sharks captain Pavelski likely will move into the top five for playoff games played by a UW alum by the time the first round is over.
The Plover native, who played at UW from 2004 to 2006, has taken part in 105 playoff games, which ranks seventh among 51 former Badgers players who have NHL playoff experience.
Bruce Driver and Gary Suter are tied for sixth at 108 postseason games. Chris Chelios leads with 266 games, followed by Brian Rafalski (165), Scott Mellanby (136) and Curtis Joseph (133).
With a league-leading 14 goals last season in the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup final, Pavelski is already the Badgers’ leader in career NHL playoff goals with 40.
San Jose limped into the playoffs this season, losing nine of its last 13 games. Pavelski’s 495-game playing streak ended when he was scratched from Saturday’s regular season finale against Calgary, but he’s expected to play in Game 1.
“At the end of the day, I don’t care how well you know your opponent, it comes down to a shift-by-shift thing,” Pavelski told sjsharks.com. “It’s commitment. You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice to win. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. If we go in with that mindset it gives us a chance.”
2. Schultz looking for a repeat
With a breakout regular season behind him, Schultz is looking to become the third former Badgers player to win Stanley Cups in consecutive seasons.
The others were Brian Engblom (Montreal, 1977-79) and Paul Stanton (Pittsburgh, 1990-91).
Schultz, a Badgers defenseman from 2009 to 2012, was traded to Pittsburgh from Edmonton in February 2016 and lifted the Cup with the Penguins four months later. That made him the 14th former Badgers player to be part of a Stanley Cup champion as a player.
This season, he scored a career-high 12 goals and was tied for eighth in the NHL at plus-27. That performance should give him a good contract next year — he’s a restricted free agent after the season.
Madison native Phil Kessel also is looking for his second straight title with the Penguins.
3. Playing overtime
If you’re looking for a former Badgers player to support in a Twitter overtime challenge, keep in mind that four have previous experience in that category.
Pavelski leads all UW alums with three playoff overtime goals, the most recent coming in 2011.
Turris has scored two, and Stepan and McDonagh have each scored one.
4. Strength in numbers
There have been two Badgers alums on Cup-winning teams before, but never three.
That became possible this season when Brendan Smith was traded on Feb. 28 to the Rangers, where he joined former UW teammates McDonagh, the team captain, and Stepan.
The Rangers got into the playoffs as the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, and their first-round series against Atlantic Division champion Montreal is a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.
Stepan scored three times and McDonagh twice in that series, which the Rangers won in six games.
“Playoff time is the best time of the year,” Stepan told reporters in New York on Monday. “It’s so much fun. There’s no real way to explain it other to be in it and play in one.”
Chelios was involved both times a pair of former UW players won the Cup together — with Brian Rafalski in Detroit in 2008 and with Dave Maley in Montreal in 1986.
5. New home for Elliott
Smith isn’t the only one with a new team this playoff season. Elliott was traded from St. Louis to Calgary last June, and he struggled to gain his footing with his new team.
That turned around in February, when he started an 11-game winning streak that helped the Flames solidify playoff hopes.
Elliott helped St. Louis to the Western Conference finals last season and will be playing in his 38th NHL postseason game on Thursday.
“It’s how you handle those pressure situations,” he told reporters in Calgary on Monday. “And I think you really just have to go through it to get better at it. We went pretty far last year. I wish I could have gone further, but that’s what this year is for.”