But having a good attitude about it, says Florida Panthers center Jerred Smithson, takes the edge off of it a little bit.
"As a player, you want to play every game," said Smithson, who is expected to play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey after sitting for the first two games.
"You want to contribute and play as hard as you can. But it’s just the situation we’re in. We’ve got a great hockey club with great players, and it’s a good problem to have as a team, having so many guys that can step in and play in any situation. But as a professional, you just go about your business and prepare like you’re going to play. You never know when you’re going to get in that lineup."
The 33-year-old center, who played for the Trenton Titans during the 2000-01 season, was dealt at the deadline from the Nashville Predators to the Panthers, for whom he participated in 33 postseason contests. The most memorable of those came last year, when Nashville defeated Anaheim to get out of the first round for the first time.
"It was a tough go there for a while in Nashville," he said. "It seems like we’d have some great hockey teams, and just whether it was match-ups or some fluky plays with a bounce here and there, there were just some things we didn’t stay on top of. But finally getting out of that first round was great for the city, great for the team and pretty rewarding as a player. You work so hard to get to that position, and it just goes to show how hard it is to win the Stanley Cup."
Smithson’s teammate, Kris Versteeg, is certainly in no danger of being a healthy scratch. The team’s second-leading goal scorer, he won the Cup in 2010 with Chicago – who had former Trenton Titans coach Mike Haviland behind the bench as an assistant –and he’s appreciate of the role that both Smithson and fellow ECHL alumnus Krys Barch have played for the team early on in the series.
"They’ve been great for us," Versteeg told ECHL.com. "Smitty’s come in here and he’s played a really responsible role. He’s scored big goals in the playoffs before, and he’s a guy you can insert into your lineup and he can contribute right away."
According to Versteeg, healthy scratches can play a bigger role in the postseason than during the first 82 games.
"They’re definitely guys that try to keep you upbeat when you’re losing," he said. "They’ll come in the room and help you out. They’ve got to keep on their toes too, because they can go into the lineup at any time. But I think from a verbal standpoint, they’re trying to help you and be positive in the room. It is tough, you never want to be a healthy scratch, but they do their best and they do a great job."
But for Smithson, it’s all about maintaining a professional approach no matter what.
"You never want to let your teammates down, no matter what the situation may be," he said.
"You go out there and do whatever you can to stay sharp, stay ready. Whether it’s doing extra in the weight room or on the ice after practice, and so on. We’ve got a great group here that pushes each other, and the guys that have been in have been really supportive and worked real hard. But whenever you get that chance, you’ve got to be ready to go."
Being ready for the regular season and ready for the postseason are two entirely different things, but Smithson is looking to draw off of his previous playoff experience to slide into the lineup tonight.
"It’s a different gear," he said. "A lot of times, it’s just mental. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to get that puck out or get that puck in or block a shot every shift out there. Whoever you’re lined up against, you’ve got to be better than him. You look at the games so far, with all these close games and overtime games, and a lot of times it just comes down to one lucky bounce or one little break, and you’ve got to be able to capitalize on it or be able to defend it."