Carlyle Lewis is a tough guy.

Carlyle Lewis is a tough guy.

He’s called the “Grim Sleeper” for a reason. But the Missouri Mavericks team captain knows that his skill on the ice is going to play a much bigger role in the opening round of the playoffs than his ability to KO an opponent with one mighty swing.

Lewis, a member of the original Mavericks and a big reason the team earned home ice with a fourth-place finish in the Turner Conference, believes the key to taking tonight’s opening contest against the host Wichita Thunder is simple.

“The most disciplined and focused team is going to win the first game and probably win the series,” Lewis said as the Mavericks brace for a series against a rival that owned a 5-4-2 advantage during the regular season.

“We don’t like them, and they don’t like us – that’s pretty evident from all the fights during the regular season. But that stuff is history. We can’t afford to have guys sitting in the penalty box.

“We need to be at full strength, and it goes without saying that we need to be focused and ready. I like it that Scott (Hillman, head coach) gave Nolly (Robby Nolan) the last two games off so he’ll be fully rested and ready to go.”

Lewis said the Mavericks’ All-Star goaltender will be a necessary piece to the playoff puzzle.

“He’s going to be a key to our success. He’s the best goaltender in the league, and we have to give him every opportunity to have success.”

Nolan, who led the league with seven shutouts (including one vs. the Thunder) and a 2.07 goals against average, appreciates the comments from Lewis.

“The guys would do anything for me, and they know I’d do anything for them,” Nolan said. “The defense is going to be the deciding factor in this series. Our boys play so hard – Pally (Derek Pallardy) will block 10 shots a game.

“That’s the stuff I notice, but the fans don’t. He does the dirty work out there. And no one works harder than Ray (DiLauro). Our defense is amazing. We know what we have to do to take this series, and the first game is probably the biggest (please see column).”

Like Lewis and DiLauro, Ryan Jardine is a team captain, and he believes one of his biggest roles over the next week is keep his teammates focused.

“We need great defense and we need to score goals, but the main thing we need to do is maintain an even keel,” Jardine said. “You don’t want to get too high or too low.

“Personally, I want to try my best to do something special every shift I’m out there. And when I’m not on the ice, I’m going to be cheering the boys on from the bench.

“This is big, and it’s important that we get off to a good start. We beat them two of the last three times we played them. So we’re going into this series with a lot of confidence. We just have to maintain that confidence throughout the series.”

No player on the Mavericks is more excited about the first round of the playoffs than Pallardy, who had not been on the ice for 10 days, before playing in the regular-season finale at Laredo, Texas.

“I’m ready – oh, am I ready,” said Pallardy, who is coming off the injured reserve list. “I’m glad I got in that last game, so I don’t have to go into the playoffs without any ice time in a couple of weeks.”

Pallardy, a star on the Mavericks’ penalty killing team that finished second in the CHL this season, said special teams could play a key role in the playoffs.

“We take a lot of pride in the penalty kill,” said Pallardy, who will shift playing time between offense and defense with the recent injury to defenseman Steven Later.

“I know I’ll be out there with the PK unit, and I’ll play wherever coach wants me to play. This is what you dream about all season, this is why you play 66 regular-season games. We’re ready for Wichita, and we know they’re going to be ready for us.”

Jared Lavender, another original Maverick, agrees.

“Since I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was play hockey,” Lavender said. “And now we’re in the playoffs. Last year, we were just happy to make it. This year, we want to make a deep run.

“Wichita is aggressive and is going to try and take advantage of the playoffs starting on their ice. And we have to go in there and be physical and not let them push us around or get any momentum – especially early in the game.”

Because of scheduling issues, instead of a 2-1-2 series with the Mavericks claiming home ice, the series will feature a 1-2-1-1 format with games two and three at the Events Center along with game five (if necessary).