WHEELING - Patrick Killeen swears tonight will be just like any other. He's played in playoff games at this level in the past, so when his Wheeling Nailers open their Best-of-5 Eastern Conference quarterfinal with Kalamazoo at 7:05 tonight at WesBanco Arena with him between the pipes, it will be business as usual.
''It's still the same as it was last year going into the playoffs. It wasn't easy to get here, but I think that's going to be for the best because we had to deal with a little bit of adversity,'' the second-year goaltender said Monday after practice. ''It is a little bit of a different game, a little bit faster, but at the end of the day it's still hockey.
''We know what we have to do.''
What Killeen is charged with, is stopping pucks. Fortunately for he and his teammates, Killeen has done well in that area, both for the Nailers and the American Hockey League's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
In 36 games with Wheeling, Killeen posted a 19-12-4 record to go along with a goals-against average of 2.96 and an .893 save percentage. He played five games for the Baby Pens, recording a 2-2-0 mark with a 2.93 GAA and .871 SVP.
''It was good to get up there for a bit,'' Killeen said. ''I was fortunate enough to not be there too long in the playoffs last year, but I experienced a little taste in the American League. I obviously went on a run there this year and all that experience helps.''
A sixth-round draft pick (No. 180 overall) in 2008, Killeen has been lauded throughout the Pittsburgh organization for the technical improvements he's made in his game this season.
''I felt the same as I did last year - I improved as the year went on this year, and I improved as the year went on last year,'' he said. ''The day when you stop improving is going to be a tough day, but as of now I'm feeling good about my game.''
Cody Chupp, who is generally regarded as Wheeling's best two-way forward, couldn't help but think 'not again.' Late in the first period of Saturday night's victory against Elmira, Chupp, who had only recently returned after sitting out several games with a concussion, took an elbow to the jaw from the Jackals' Mario Larocque and did not return to the game.
''But it was kind of precautionary to sit out the rest of the game just to make sure,'' Chupp said. ''I had a couple vision issues but by the end of the night I was OK.
''No headaches (Sunday) and felt pretty good (Monday).''
Chupp has scored 34 points (17g-17a) in 42 games and has a plus-11 rating.
Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli wasn't sure Monday morning whether forward Ryan Schnell, who has been out with a high-ankle sprain, would be in the lineup tonight. He's listed as a reserve on the playoff roster, but Donatelli and assistant Cole Bassett were going to talk this morning about whether he will be active.
Schnell, who is second on the team in penalty minutes with 108, keeps the opposition honest when he's on the ice. That, however, might not be his most critical job.
At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Schnell is a big body that's not afraid to go to the dirty areas on the ice and can be a demon on the forecheck. That large frame in front of Kalamazoo goaltender Riley Gill would be a nightmare.
''Schnell's real close,'' Donatelli said. ''He'll be a good addition if he will be ready to go.''
Get In Early
Rather than bussing in the day of the game, Kalamazoo arrived Monday to get settled in and go through a practice on the WesBanco Arena ice.
Having been involved in a playoff series in the city of Wheeling once before, Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland said it wouldn't take his club that long to get reacclimated.
''We have 5-10 guys that were on this team last year that are kind of familiar with the downtown Wheeling area,'' he said. ''We wanted to make sure there was going to be a lot of travel in between.
''There's a possibility of four games in five nights, and then five in seven.
''We wanted to get down here as soon as we could, get a practice in and focus on the game.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net