Still, the players insist that this game is just like any other.
“We’ve been in this position pretty much every game for the past month,” Marian Gaborik said. “We’re just going to take it shift by shift.”
Shift by shift, period by period, game by game. That has been the mentality for the Blue Jackets this season. According to Vinny Prospal, that mentality has not changed heading into tonight’s game, saying that they’re not worried about the playoffs or how Detroit and Minnesota play tonight.
“You don’t worry about the outside stuff – you worry about the game you have to play,” he said. “We’re looking at tonight’s game as the most important game of the season for us.”
That's old news if you've been following the team over the past couple of months. Jackets coach Todd Richards insisted on calling every game the "next most important game." It was a sentiment that the players have echoed after every morning skate, every win, and every loss since the beginning of March.
That’s one of the buzzwords floating around the Blue Jackets locker room as the team prepares for its final two games of the regular season. It’s the word that forward Ryan Johansen used to describe the team’s play throughout a successful road trip that earned the Jackets eight points in five games and positioned them as the eighth seed in the race to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We keep surprising ourselves,” Johansen said after the team practiced yesterday at Nationwide Arena. “We look around the room, and there’s always guys stepping up for us, taking charge, and then everybody jumps on.”
Johansen has been one of the players taking charge in the wake of injuries to Artem Anisimov and the always-tenacious Matt Calvert. He scored the game-winning goal against the San Jose Sharks with 97 seconds left in regulation to put the Blue Jackets up 4-3 after Joe Pavelski tied the game at three apiece earlier in the third period.
“For myself, that was the biggest goal of my hockey career,” Johansen said.
Johansen’s game-winner is just one example of how this team has battled through adversity and found ways to win. To him, the relentless hard work of the team is the reason why they can weather the ups and downs of every game despite the ever-changing lines and steady stream of injuries.
The argument can be made that no one works harder than Calvert. The 23-year forward is loved in Columbus for his gritty, energetic style of play. Calvert doesn’t just work hard, he refuses to give up.
Whether it’s a battle along the boards, or a scuffle in front of the net, Calvert plays with the same level of intensity, and his resilience has earned him a new two-year contract extension that was announced Tuesday by the Blue Jackets.
Calvert is also not a stranger to adversity, and in many ways, his story of perseverance mirrors the Blue Jackets’ own journey to the playoffs.
“I was never expected to make it to junior hockey, so I think that gave me a chip on my shoulder, and it just makes me want to go and prove myself every night,” Calvert said after his morning work out yesterday.
While Johansen said it was the team’s resilience has earned them their current position in the standings and the opportunity to make the playoffs, Calvert gave credit to the Blue Jackets’ system and the development of players who play for the club’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.
“We got everyone buying in,” Calvert said. “It just shows the depth in our system, and guys want to be here and guys want to earn a spot.”
Calvert mentioned Dalton Prout’s solid play as an example of the team’s depth and commitment to their system. Prout, who was called up to play for the “big squad” in the beginning of March, has been a consistently calm force on the blue line. While Prout has kept his focus on keeping the puck from getting behind Sergei Bobrovsky, his dedication paid off in a more obvious way against the LA Kings last Thursday. Despite the loss, Prout scored his first NHL goal to put the Blue Jackets on the board and tie the game in the second period.
Whatever the reason for it, the recent success has put the team in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Still, nothing is guaranteed, and for Vinny Prospal, that fact is more important than anything else at the moment.
“We’ve proven people wrong, but it’s not done yet,” Prospal said. “We are at the point right now where we haven’t really achieved anything.”
While Calvert and Johansen credited the team’s resilience and commitment to the system established by coach Todd Richards and the coaching staff, Prospal was quick to point out that the turnaround in the team’s performance was also helped by learning how to compete in (and win) close games.
“We learned how to win these one-goal games,” Prospal said. “That’s really the difference between good teams and bad teams – the good teams, they find a way to win these one-goal games.”
With those wins came something else, something that could be the most crucial factor of a team’s success in any sport: confidence. Without confidence, no one believes. According to Prospal, this team’s confidence has not only grown, it has snowballed.
They say success is 90 percent attitude and 10 percent aptitude. Hockey may be a little more complicated than that, but the various reasons that Calvert, Johansen, and Prospal attribute to the team’s success with battling adversity and finding a way to win provide a clear message that transcends the game on the ice:
Work hard, believe, and good things will happen.
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine, but for Comeau and the handful of NHL players who get traded every year at the trade deadline, the sudden change is just a part of the job. According to Comeau, best way to adjust to a new environment is to “just move forward and focus on the ice.”
After all, the ice doesn’t change, no matter what NHL city you’re in. While Comeau made his Blue Jackets debut on the road last Friday against the St. Louis Blues, tonight will be his first game in front of his new home crowd. It’s an experience Comeau is looking forward to.
“I think the nerves are going to be there just playing your first game at home, but it’s going to be exciting as well playing in front of the home fans rather than joining the team on the road,” Comeau said from his locker room stall at Nationwide Arena after the morning skate.
“It’s exciting to finally be in Columbus and see the city.”
For Comeau, the biggest adjustment has been getting to know his new teammates and learning the different systems. He admits that it’s a “bit of a process,” but is trying to make the learning curve as short as possible.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in town and to quote head coach Todd Richards, today is the “next biggest game” for the Blue Jackets. Here are some of the main stories from this morning’s practice:
There’s no question that Artem Anisimov’s return to the line-up tonight is great timing. The forward has eight points in 19 games this season and has scored two goals in three games against the Blackhawks this season. He returns to the line-up amidst an eight-game point streak for the Blue Jackets.
Adrian Aucoin isn’t an offensive defenseman like some of the other blue-liners on the Blue Jackets. He doesn’t put up the most minutes each night, either. What he does is much more important in some ways.
Aucoin is a leader. He has played in over 1,000 games in the NHL and even served as captain of the Chicago Blackhawks from 2005-2007. He is a mentor for many of the Blue Jackets’ young defensemen and has been a valuable asset to this team.
“It’s veteran leadership, guidance,” Richards said when asked about what Aucoin’s greatest contribution to the team. “He talks to the young guys; it’s the way that he plays the game too.”Read more of the top stories from today's morning skate inside this blog post.
After a successful home-and-home this weekend against the Detroit Red Wings, the Blue Jackets are getting ready to take on the Vancouver Canucks tonight at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m. The Blue Jackets beat the Canucks in OT last Thursday on a goal by Matt Calvert.
Here are some of the main snippets from this morning’s skate:
After sustaining a knee injury that has kept him out of the line-up since February 16, Dubinsky said he made the decision yesterday to come back.
“I just wanted to make sure I was prepared to play the right way – the way that I need to play to help this team and try and help them continue building on the success they’ve had of late,” he said.
“I think you’re always anxious to try and get back as soon as you can, and I’m excited to get ready to go tonight.”
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said Dubinsky is a player who adds energy and offense to the team, but he doesn’t want him put too much pressure on himself for his return.
“He can’t come in and try to do too much and think he needs to be the difference,” Richards said. “He needs to step in and just add to our team in the way that we’re playing.”
Get the complete scoop from today's morning skate inside this blog post.
The Blue Jackets go for three straight wins tonight as they welcome the Vancouver Canucks to Nationwide Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. If you don’t have time to watch the player interviews from the post-practice media scrum or missed any news from this morning, here’s what you need to know:
Brandon Dubinsky skated today, but will not return tonight. Tim Erixon was absent from the morning skate due to illness, but is expected to play. Fedor Tyutin left practice early and is a game-time decision tonight.
Even though Dubinsky is still recovering from a knee sprain, coach Todd Richards said it was encouraging to see him skate with the group today.
“It was good that he was out there with us,” Richards said. “That’s a step. I think getting out on the ice with their teammates again and including them in practices and in drills – getting in the mix again – drives that motivation to want to get back."
“I think they’re one of the elite teams in the league,” he said. “I look at their history and what they’ve been able to do over the past four or five years. The personnel that they have, the coaching that they have – there’s a lot of consistency in how they play.”Get the complete scoop from today's morning skate inside this blog post.
The Blue Jackets were back at Nationwide Arena this morning to prepare for their game against the Edmonton Oilers at 7 p.m. tonight. The Blue Jackets last met the Oilers on Feb. 10 at home, a contest they lost 3-1 despite outshooting their opponents by a 40-14 margin. They hope to win tonight and earn their first back-to-back wins of the season.
Here are some of the major stories and quotes that came from the team’s post-skate media scrum this morning:
Jack Johnson will return to the lineup tonight after missing four games due to an upper body injury he sustained against St. Louis on Feb. 23. Although proud of the team’s efforts over the past several games, he said it has been hard to sit and watch the games.
“To come down after you win or tough games and everyone has contributed and battled, and all you can do is cheer for them – it’s frustrating, but that’s sports,” Johnson said.
“They’ve played well. We’ve been in every game, and have had a chance to win every game.”
Johnson isn’t the only one to return from injury tonight. Derick Brassard, who has not played since Feb. 26 against the Dallas Stars, is slated to return tonight as well.
“Feeling really good, it’s been a tough four or five days, but I’m ready to go 100 percent, and I’m ready to help my team,” Brassard said after the skate. “They’ve been playing really good, so I can’t wait for tonight.”Catch more of today's "Overheard" storylines inside this blog post.
The Dallas Stars are in town, and the Blue Jackets took the ice today for a brief morning skate to prepare for tonight’s contest at Nationwide Arena. The puck drops at 7:00 p.m., and the Blue Jackets will look to rebound against their 1-0 loss against Chicago on Sunday. Here is what some of the players and coaches had to say after today’s morning skate:
“Guys are going to have to be thrust into some different roles,” coach Todd Richards said.
Dubinsky and Anisimov are both “progressing” according to Richards, but there is no timetable for their return.
“(Dubinsky) has been out skating the last couple of days, and that’s how we’ll continue,” Richards said. “As long as he keeps feeling better, we can continue to push him along.”
Anisimov has been doing some light exercises after being released from the hospital last Friday. He sustained what appeared to be a head injury in Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Wisniewski is out for “an extended period of time” due to a broken foot that he got after blocking a shot in the Chicago game.
Richards said Johnson has an upper body injury and shouldn’t be out for more than a week.
“It’s nothing serious with Jack,” Richards said.
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The Blue Jackets took the ice today for an energetic practice merely an hour after President of Hockey Operations John Davidson announced that Jarmo Kekalainen would replace Scott Howson as general manager.
Davidson spoke to the team briefly before their practice at Nationwide Arena this morning to discuss the change and the expectations moving forward.
“He told us what the expectations are, but that’s nothing earth-shattering… to come and give it your best every day,” Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said. “We know the organization is serious about doing whatever they can to try to help us win here.”
For many of the players, the change is bittersweet since contract moves made by Howson and his staff are the reason for being here in Columbus.
“Unfortunately, it’s a part of this business, but it’s never an easy decision to make,” Prospal said. “Here, this is a hard business, and [it’s] not where they’re from, [it’s] what they do, and how hard they work.”Read the rest of this story by clicking inside the blog post.
“It was a dream come true,” Goloubef said after the game. “You think about playing your first game and scoring your first goal – it’s huge.”
The shot did not look like your typical blaster from the point, but Goloubef said that’s not his style. The play started after Nick Foligno won a battle in the corner and pushed the puck to Derek MacKenzie, who dished it to Goloubef at the blue line. He took only a moment to windup just a little before sending the puck through traffic and into the net behind Sharks goaltender Thomas Greiss.
“You see most guys wind up all the way up to the roof. I don’t wind up, I don’t unscrew the light bulbs – I just keep it quick,” Goloubef said.
The quick release was something that Goloubef said he worked on in college a lot and carried with him because it seemed to work for him.
“I feel like I have a better shot when I get it off quickly,” he said. “I get a little more torque on my stick for whatever reason, but it seems to work for me so I’m gonna stick to it.”Read the full story on Goloubef's first career goal inside this blog post.