SAN JOSE -- Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto know the deal. They know that the NHL playoffs get tougher as they go along.
Not because they have been there. They haven't. The two Sharks forwards are rookies. But they have been listening to the old Sharks talk about what's ahead, as the series between the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings resumes in Sunday night's Game 2.
"There's been a little conversation between the coaching staff and those two about the playoffs being different, what to expect," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Most of that has been from the guys in the room, though."
The conversation before Game 1 on Thursday must have been especially effective. Hertl, the 20-year-old prodigy from the Czech Republic, had a goal and an assist in the Sharks' 6-3 victory. Nieto, the 21-year-old from Long Beach, had an assist to set up Patrick Marleau on a 2-on-1 break toward L.A.'s net.
Afterward, Hertl offered his assessment of regular season hockey vs. postseason hockey.
"It's big difference," said Hertl, who is still learning English but game to answer questions. "It's more speedy. It's too many hits. One hundred hits in one game. It's unbelievable."
And it's only beginning.
An unknown factor about the Sharks' playoff chances this spring revolved around how the rookies would handle the playoff glare -- or how much they would even play. Rest assured, in Game 2 and beyond, the Kings will find a way to put pressure on Hertl and Nieto to see if they can be rattled. But the grades after Game 1 were good.
"They had an impact," said McLellan, not simply referring to the scoreboard but the way Hertl and Nieto held their own physically and the way they adjusted to playoff tempo and playoff contact.
In so doing, the two kids rewarded McLellan's faith. His decision to dress both rookies could be considered a gutsy move -- at least in this day and age. While it wasn't a straight-up choice, McLellan chose to play Hertl and Nieto while making healthy scratches of two veteran forwards, Martin Havlat and Tyler Kennedy.
Havlat and Kennedy have a combined 150 games of NHL playoff experience. Havlat has a $5 million salary. Kennedy earns $2.35 million. The NHL salary cap hovers around $70 million. This means McLellan chose to sit down roughly 10 percent of the Sharks' cap money while playing the two kids who each make $925,000.
In some organizations, there might be pressure to put the money on the ice, as a return on investment -- and as a nod to veteran presence on the big playoff stage. But it's clear that McLellan and the Sharks believe youthful energy and hard work should be rewarded.
From the upper deck at SAP Center, you'd never guess that Hertl and Nieto are barely out of their teens from the way they skate and shoot and hit. But make no mistake. Up close, they are fresh-faced lads. They room together on the road. Hertl has learned that Nieto loves California culture. Nieto has learned that Hertl likes animated films.
In fact, during a road trip to Anaheim earlier this month, those elements all combined. Nieto introduced Hertl to a 20-something's idea of dining heaven -- the Dave & Buster's chain that features large-screen televisions and arcade games. They played a few of them and then watched sports on TV while eating. Hertl was captivated.
"He didn't know you can play the games and get prizes, so he went back by himself," Nieto said. "Next time I came back to the hotel room, he had three of those stuffed characters from 'Despicable Me' on his bed.' He was like a big kid."
Hertl is, in fact, a big kid. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he can still fill out some. His potential seems unlimited. Nieto, at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is not as physically imposing but uses his speed to unbalance opponents. It will be interesting to see where his career goes.
Meanwhile, Hertl continues to learn about the ways of America. After practice Friday, he was wearing a San Francisco Giants baseball cap. But how many games has he seen at AT&T Park?
"One," Hertl admitted. "I don't like much baseball. It's slow. But it's a lot of fun because it's summertime, it's outside, it's 50,000 people."
Nieto, for his part, said his first playoff game was "everything you thought it would be." One unexpected development was the pregame power outage that delayed warm-ups -- and then created a sauna in the Sharks dressing room when the heat came on full blast as power was restored.
"I've never sweated so much in my life," Nieto said.
You could have fooled Sharks fans. Both he and Hertl were cool customers in their debuts. However, there is plenty more playoff shopping to do.
With valuable prizes at checkout.
Sharks lead Los Angeles series, 1-0
First-round series; best of seven
Game 1: Sharks 6, Kings 3
Game 2: Sunday, at S.J., 7 p.m. CSNCA**
Game 3: Tuesday at L.A., 7 p.m. CSNCA**
Game 4: Thursday at L.A., 7:30 p.m. CSNCA**
Game 5*: April 26 at San Jose, TBD, NBCSN
Game 6*: April 28 at L.A., time/TV TBD
Game 7*: April 30 at San Jose, time/TV TBD
* -- IF NECESSARY; ** -- ALSO ON NBCSN