6:30 A.M. -- LET'S DO THIS! All right, friends...it's that time again. The Blue Jackets are a few hours from getting game day officially underway with the morning skate, and a big game looms against the Blues tonight at Nationwide Arena.
Entering tonight, the Blue Jackets are three points back of the Detroit Red Wings for eighth place in the Western Conference with eight games remaining. The margin for error dwindles with each passing day, and tonight's game is no different - the Jackets have to defend home ice and pick up points before they head out on a nine-day road trip.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Boone Jenner is getting rather accustomed to these playoff races.
In a span of a couple days, the 19-year-old Blue Jackets prospect will say goodbye to one playoff experience with his Oshawa Generals (OHL) teammates and dive head-first into the next significant challenge of his hockey career. When he joins the Springfield Falcons this week, Jenner will be part of another championship chase as the Falcons clinched a playoff spot and have a chance at the Calder Cup for the first time in 10 years.
Not a bad week, right?
And this won't be the first American Hockey League exposure for Jenner, either: the Blue Jackets' first pick (37th overall) in the 2011 NHL draft spent the tail end of last season on a tryout agreement with the Falcons, and scored one goal in five appearances. The circumstances are a bit different this time around under new management, a new coaching staff in Springfield and championship aspirations.
But as Jenner has proved time and again, there's no stage too big for his simple yet intelligent style of hockey that has both aggravated and garnered the respect of his opponents.
"This is a big challenge for him, there's no doubt about that," Blue Jackets assistant GM Chris MacFarland told BlueJackets.com. "We think it's a good springboard for these guys as they go into the summer to get exposed to the higher pace and how strong players are at this level. It's no different this time; he's a year older, he's certainly stronger and improved in all facets of his game."
All the Blue Jackets wanted to do was give themselves a chance, take one game at a time and treat every remaining game as if it was Game 7. Here they stand with eight games to play, two points back of eighth-place Detroit and right in the smack dab middle of it.
They needed this one tonight, and were desperate to get back to playing "Blue Jackets hockey" after their trademark speed and forechecking went incognito in a 3-0 loss to Minnesota over the weekend. For as well as they had played - going 11-3-3 in the 17 games prior to Sunday's loss - they really didn't want one clunker to send them over the edge.
With a response like they put forth tonight, a 4-0 shutout win over a team that's been playing some solid hockey, the Blue Jackets took care of the only thing they can control. Are the remaining eight games must-wins? It wouldn't be far-fetched to suggest it, but for this group, the spotlight rests now on Friday night against St. Louis -- with their 3-1 loss at Scottrade Center fresh in their minds.
Much like we've seen during this two-month stretch, the Blue Jackets got some early energy from their fourth line and got the lead goal from a duo that's provided a fair amount of them; Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson did their thing below the goal line in the first period to get things started, and Calvert chipped in his eighth of the year to open the scoring.
And what did the Jackets miss without James Wisniewski in the lineup? For starters, that wicked cannon of a shot. His fifth made it a 2-0 game in the second period and Antti Niemi could only hear the puck float past him. Ryan Johansen's third goal of the year made it a three-goal advantage less than two minutes later, and the Jackets never looked back from there.
6:30 A.M. -- UP AND AT 'EM! Rise and shine, Blue Jackets fans...this is a big day and there's a big ole hockey game going on at Nationwide Arena later this evening. Four points back of eighth-place Detroit with nine games to go, the Blue Jackets face a "do-or-die" scenario and that's how they're going to approach their remaining games.
Can they run the table? It's definitely possible and if they were to do so, you have to like their odds of qualifying for the playoffs. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; the most important game is tonight and the focus is on the San Jose Sharks, who have spent a day or so in Columbus after a 5-4 shootout loss on home ice that left a little salt in their wounds.
The Sharks didn't like the way they played in that loss to Dallas and their last game at Nationwide Arena wasn't so hot, either. The Blue Jackets dropped six goals on them in a rout, and you can bet that will be on their minds.
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Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards didn't need to think very long before stating that the second period and special teams were the difference in tonight's hockey game.
After an uneventful first period with both teams trying to find their legs and feel the game out, the second period saw a lot of action but it was at the wrong end of the ice for the Jackets. They were out-shot 11-4 in the middle frame and spent several shifts chasing the puck, causing a lot of work for Sergei Bobrovsky and a lot of retrieving for the defense corps.
Ryan Suter - who played a brilliant game on the blue line for Minnesota - opened the scoring with a crafty wrist shot through traffic at 3:13 of the second period, the first of two power-play markers for the Wild. The Blue Jackets had a chance to answer back, but the man advantage was not their friend tonight: Columbus went 0-for-4 on the power play and registered just three shots on goal combined.
The Wild got the game's biggest goal late in the second period from Charlie Coyle, who was camped at the back post after a Jackets turnover while shorthanded. Jason Pominville's first goal with Minnesota made it 3-0 in the final minutes of regulation.
With that being said: while it's a disappointing loss for the Blue Jackets in the grand scheme of this playoff race, there's too much time left for them to hang their heads. They have two more games at Nationwide Arena this week before embarking on a six-game road trip, and the points only get more important from here.
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.
Marian Gaborik had a loud debut in the Blue Jackets' 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, and he wants to experience another loud debut this afternoon.
It was a wild, somewhat-surreal 24-hour stretch that began with Wednesday's trading deadline. Gaborik, preparing for his mid-afternoon nap before the New York Rangers faced the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden, looked at his ringing cell phone and saw Glen Sather's name pop up.
Less than an hour later, Gaborik signed a no-trade waiver and became a member of the Blue Jackets in a six-player deal that sent shock waves around the NHL.
John Davidson, who spoke with Gaborik over the phone while the trade was being finalized, took a private plane to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and met the team's newest acquisition. Davidson and the Blue Jackets wanted Gaborik to feel welcomed and also wanted him in the lineup as soon as possible, and they flew from Teterboro to Nashville where Gaborik met his new teammates for the first time.
All Gaborik did in his Jackets debut was tally the game-winning goal in the third period, pick up an assist on James Wisniewski's power play goal and play big minutes on a newly-assembled line with Artem Anisimov at center and Vinny Prospal on left wing.
That trio will remain intact as Columbus faces a pivotal game against the Minnesota Wild this afternoon - ironically enough, the club that drafted Gaborik third overall in 2000.
7:00 A.M. -- WELCOME HOME: Well, no sooner did the Blue Jackets arrive in Columbus off a two-game road swing to Nashville and St. Louis than did their attention shift to today's game against the Minnesota Wild. You'll be hearing us say this a lot in these final 10 games (but mostly because it's true)...but this is a huuuuuge game in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Blue Jackets, sitting three points back of eighth-place St. Louis, did get some help yesterday. Chicago beat Nashville in regulation, and Los Angeles picked up a 4-1 win over Edmonton to ensure that the Blue Jackets' position did not change entering Sunday.
Marian Gaborik plays his third game against the team that drafted him today, and he's got a goal and an assist in the two previous meetings with Minnesota.
Here's a highlight of Gaborik's first goal as a Blue Jacket, which happened to be the game-winner in Nashville:
6:30 A.M. -- BACK TO BACK: Welcome to Columbus, Marian Gaborik! The Blue Jackets got quite the debut from their trade deadline acquisition last night in Nashville, with Gaborik notching the game-winning goal in the third period off a nice pass from Brandon Dubinsky.
With the win, Columbus improved its record to 16-14-7 on the season and pulled into a points tie (39) with Edmonton and one point behind St. Louis -- the Blue Jackets' opponent tonight at Scottrade Center.
Every game is huge this time of the year, but as the coaches will say, the biggest next is always the next game. There's a lot on the line tonight and both clubs know that, which leads us to believe we're in for quite the hockey game when 8 p.m. rolls around.
You want highlights of last night's game? Of course you do, so here they are: