6:30 A.M. -- HELLLLLLLO, THURSDAY! Raise your hand if you didn't need any additional motivation to get out of bed this morning. (waits patiently)
Alright, so looks like that was just me. I won't hold it against any of you.
In case you hadn't heard, the Blue Jackets have quite a hockey game on tap tonight in Dallas. They're only three points ahead of the Stars entering tonight's game at American Airlines Center and each club has two games remaining, including tonight. Needless to say, this is one of those big-time "swing" games that will greatly help the winner in its quest for the postseason.
Per usual, we'll have all the latest game day happenings right here on the appropriately-named game day blog. Stay tuned for lineup news from both the Jackets and Stars, starting goaltenders, photos, video interviews from our pals at Jackets TV and much more.
Say it with me: let's go Jackets.
Taylor or Tyler? Hedman or Tavares? Yakupov or Murray?
Pre-draft drama in the National Hockey League is at its most entertaining and unpredictable point when there is a legitimate logjam of talent atop the board, and NHL Central Scouting's final rankings help get the conversation started. All 30 teams in the league are analyzed, discussed and analyzed some more between now and draft day, making for an exciting two months of debate leading up to the draft.
The 2013 final rankings - released today - aim to paint a clearer picture heading into the draft of which players are expected to go high in the draft order while breaking them down into four primary categories: North American skaters, North American goaltenders, European skaters and European goaltenders.
Topping the list of North American skaters is Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, better known as the guy everyone's talking about as a potential No. 1 overall pick. He's a top-pairing defenseman who can play both ends of the rink, and recently represented gold medal-winning Team USA at the World Junior tournament in Ufa, Russia.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., many think Jones is on the verge of being able to play in the NHL, and he already proved his ability to play well on a big stage at the World Junior.
Ryan Murray almost forgot what it was like to skate with people other than himself.
For the last five months, though, he's endured a long and difficult road to recovery after a serious shoulder injury ended his season. At the time, he was a star defenseman for the Everett Silvertips (WHL), but there stood a chance that Murray could have been traded to a contender before the league's trading deadline.
That could have meant another opportunity to represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, or a run at the Mastercard Memorial Cup - something he didn't get to experience in a decorated junior hockey career. But for Murray, it's all in the past now and the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter by the day.
Another important and exciting step in his rehabilitation process took place today, when the 19-year-old stepped on to Nationwide Arena ice with 10 of the Blue Jackets for an optional practice. It wasn't anything major or too involved - just a few drills and shooting some pucks here and there - but merely being on the ice with familiar faces was something Murray was longingly looking forward to.
It's been a lonely feeling at times, he admitted, skating by himself or with a strength coach nearby. But today's practice wasn't as much about progress as it was what comes along with it - being able to spend on-ice time in a "team" setting for the first time since his November injury.
It has become fairly evident these past few months that the future is bright in Columbus, and now, the pieces are starting to fall into place.
Matt Calvert, who was in the midst of a breakout season in the National Hockey League before suffering a broken finger last week in Los Angeles, inked a new two-year contract extension today and is set up to be part of the Blue Jackets core group in the years to come.
The 23-year-old native of Brandon, Manitoba was a fifth-round pick of former GM Scott Howson and got off to a fast start in 2011, scoring a hat trick against the Phoenix Coyotes and helping the team in a late-season playoff push.
Despite struggling in his second pro season in 2011-12, Calvert went to Springfield (AHL) and was determined to return to Columbus a different and more rounded player. He played a lot of minutes with the Falcons and was their best forward to start this season before the NHL lockout ended, and when recalled to the Blue Jackets in January, he stepped right into the lineup and proved to coach Todd Richards that he could play in all situations and on any line.
One of the most tired cliches used in sports is that of a team playing with a "chip on its shoulder."
Sure, we get what it means (by mere virtue of hearing it repeated so often) but rarely do we see it entrenched in the identity of a team - but quite frankly, these Blue Jackets have played with a figurative glacier on their shoulder.
I often think back to a couple of months ago when the Blue Jackets were a frustrated group, sitting in last place with a 5-12-2 record and on the wrong side of too many one-goal decisions. The few mistakes they made found a way into the back of their net, the margin for error was microscopic and results were few and far between.
But then something changed, something ignited them and galvanized them. And along the way, there are certain moments that stand out as defining junctures.
A week after Jarmo Kekalainen took over as GM, Vinny Prospal scored one of the season's most memorable goals in the final 30 seconds at Joe Louis Arena, giving the Blue Jackets their first win in four games. Their confidence began to swell, and a couple of weeks later, they swept a four-game home stand at Nationwide Arena and began a 12-game points streak that was the beginning of this magical run they're on.
Not long after that it was Jack Johnson, sitting in his locker stall answering questions after one of those wins and being asked by a reporter if he knew this team "wasn't supposed to be winning games" in such a fashion.
"I don't really care what the experts think," he said with a matter-of-fact tone.
As the Blue Jackets embark on their most exciting and anticipated week in quite some time, it's been made pretty clear that they aren't particularly interested in following along with some predetermined fate. They hold a 17-5-5 record in their last 27 games and won four of five games on a recently-completed road trip that encompassed nine days, five games and three time zones in some of the most hostile buildings in the NHL.
It's become less about proving others wrong and more about proving themselves right.
It's not just that they're doing it. It's how they're doing it.
One would imagine that rival Western Conference fans watched intently as the San Jose Sharks erased a 3-1 deficit in the third period and stormed back to tie the Blue Jackets. The Shark Tank was rocking, all the momentum was in the home team's favor and the Sharks looked the part of a team that (pardon me) smelled blood in the water.
But as the Blue Jackets have done time and time again - almost to the point where you expect it - they shrugged off a game-tying goal by Joe Pavelski and got right back to work.
The big-time finish from Ryan Johansen on the game-winner with 97 seconds left in the third period was the cherry on top of a Sunday sundae that was filled with ebbs, flows and turbulence but what happened after the Pavelski goal can't be ignored. Rather than sit back and let the Sharks continue to attack, the Blue Jackets stuck to their guns and got the puck in deep to re-establish their forecheck.
In watching Johansen's goal on replay, the one thing that stands out is the pressure. How many times have we seen teams in the NHL (especially in a playoff race where the loser point is so coveted) lock the doors and get to overtime, making the final minutes of regulation into a good time to change the laundry over? The Blue Jackets weren't having any of it, and sent two men in on the puck, resulting in a crushing turnover by - guess who - Pavelski.
6:30 A.M. -- GAME DAY SUNDAY: Anything better than a beautiful Sunday morning *and* knowing it's a Blue Jackets game day? You'd be hard-pressed to find it, so we're here to get you prepped for a humongous game tonight at HP Pavilion, or "the Shark Tank," as the kids call it.
Tonight's game is the third of three this season between the Sharks and Blue Jackets, and if you need caught up, the first two were convincing wins for Columbus.
Highlights? You betcha.
While most of you were leaving the office and gearing up for the weekend, the Blue Jackets traveled further north from Los Angeles and arrived in sunny San Jose this afternoon.
The good news for the Blue Jackets after last night's loss is they have two full days to rest, recover and get prepared for Sunday's game against the Sharks, which (as the cliche goes) is their next biggest game of the season. After the Dallas Stars got a home-ice win over Vancouver last night, they sit just two points back of the Blue Jackets alongside the Detroit Red Wings which makes the accumulation of points even more imperative.
And coming off a brutal stretch of playing five games in seven days, perhaps rest is the ideal remedy for the Blue Jackets right now. Four of those games were on the road and they played games in four different time zones, which becomes taxing both mentally and physically as this truncated season hits its final furlong.
Coach Todd Richards and his players will have their eyes on tonight's game at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks face the Minnesota Wild in another pivotal game featuring teams looking to solidify their playoff positions. And on Saturday night, the Red Wings travel to British Columbia for a game against the Canucks that will have the full attention of those teams in the hunt.Updates on Matt Calvert's injury, a possible Artem Anisimov return & more inside this post.
6:30 A.M. -- RISE AND SHINE: What, you actually went to sleep?
While you were getting some rest (for whatever reason, your call) after the Blue Jackets' OT win last night in Anaheim, we were getting today's game day blog all nice and pretty for you. Aren't we awesome? Actually, check that -- both #CBJ and #DuckHunt were trending last night in Columbus, so that means YOU are the awesome ones.
The team took a short bus ride north after leaving Anaheim and arrived in Los Angeles around midnight local time. They'll get some rest, take the morning off from the ice and get re-charged for tonight's game against the Kings at STAPLES Center.
But that doesn't mean we'll take the morning off. Bob McElligott, Jeff Rimer and the rest of the CBJ crew are on-site at the team hotel and will bring you the latest updates and player interviews -- all of which you'll find here first.
Stay tuned, and remember...the refresh button is your friend.
Bruce Boudreau knows the Blue Jackets' situation all too well.
When he was called up from the Hershey Bears to coach the Washington Capitals in 2007 after former coach Glen Hanlon was fired, there wasn't a whole lot of conversation about the postseason in the nation's capital. The Capitals didn't have much confidence and their star players were struggling mightily, but shortly thereafter, they caught a spark.
By the time they stormed their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs and instantly became the NHL's feel-good story, Boudreau was in the Jack Adams conversation (an award he eventually won) and the team won its final seven games to capture its first Southeast Division title in seven years.
The Capitals were 6-14-1 when he took over, losing close games, lacking consistency and not at all unlike the Blue Jackets' 5-12-2 record this season before they embarked on this thrilling run that has them entrenched in the playoff hunt.
It's a do-or-die situation every single game, making for intense competition on a nightly basis and a sense of desperation that comes only with a team's season in the balance.
Entering tonight's pivotal game against Boudreau's new team, the Ducks, the Blue Jackets (47 points) are equal with eighth-place Detroit - which plays tonight in Calgary.