Blue Jackets Prepare for the Ultimate Battle

You may have heard. The Columbus Blue Jackets are officially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They punched their ticket to the dance after a weekend sweep in metro New York. Here’s how the hockey world reacted to this wonderful moment for the team.

Now that the team has had a few hours to celebrate this achievement, it’s back to business. The Blue Jackets have Monday off to recharge from a pair of weekend games. They return to practice Tuesday at Nationwide Arena in preparation for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday followed by the game everyone’s waiting for in the Washington Capitals Thursday.

The Blue Jackets have battled to get where they are today. They lead the NHL in wins as of this writing with 47, one more than the Capitals. They’ve earned everything they have to this point. The battle isn’t over by any stretch. They continue to do battle for the division. That’s the precursor to the battle that awaits them in the playoffs.

One Day at a Time

If you’ve followed the Blue Jackets closely this season, you’d know that their mindset is “one day at a time.” As such, the only thing that matters to them now is preparing for their next game against the Maple Leafs. They’ll worry about the Capitals when the time comes.

This formula has worked for the Blue Jackets this season. Tortorella has repeatedly said the team isn’t good enough to look ahead. They have to focus on that day and what they have to do that day to accomplish their goal. Just because they’ve clinched a playoff spot doesn’t mean they stray away from their formula. It’s still one day at a time. It’s Tortorella’s job to make sure the team stays focused knowing that they’re in the playoffs.

The good news here is that there is still plenty to fight for in these last 11 games. The Blue Jackets, Capitals, Penguins and Blackhawks all could win the President’s trophy for the league’s best record. It takes on significant importance in the East. Winning the Metropolitan Division means an easier first-round matchup. Finishing second or third means potentially playing a team with a top-five overall record in round one. Thanks playoff format.

The race for the East’s best will come down to the end. The Blue Jackets have three games left combined against the Capitals and Penguins. That could go a long way in determining who wins this sprint.

Preparing for the Ultimate Battle

As intense as these last 11 games will play out, nothing matches the intensity and energy of the playoffs. This is what the Blue Jackets fought all season for. The 82-game season helped prepare the Blue Jackets for the ultimate battle.

I recently caught up with captain Nick Foligno and Brandon Saad about what the team needs to focus on in these last games before the playoffs begin. What do they need to do to make sure they are ready for the big dance?

Nick Foligno says the team is fine-tuning their game. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nick Foligno

“We just need to make sure our game is fine-tuned.”, Foligno said. “We’re trying to get better everyday. We still have room to grow. We still have had some lulls in our game that we’re trying to get rid of. We’re a team that’s a work in progress. We’re young, but we’re hungry. We really like the attitude we have and we feel that’s gonna help us down the stretch.”

The Blue Jackets have a condensed schedule in the month of March, playing four sets of three games in four nights. How does the team stay fresh for so many games this month?

“You battle through it. It’s just the way the schedule’s worked out.”, Foligno said. “We’ve done a good job of being that team that has battled through adversity and found ways to win. There can’t be any excuses now because every team is going through it. This is our push into the playoffs. I’m proud of the guys for the way they’ve handled everything.”

Brandon Saad, NHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Fantasy Hockey
Brandon Saad says these kids can play.(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Brandon Saad

“We need to play our style of hockey and keep our habits.”, Saad said. “It’s easy to stray away when we’re at this point in the season. We’re just trying to build and keep our habits. We just talked about that in the room. We have to play the right way and have the right mindset.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets are a young team who have a mix of playoff veterans and first-timers. I asked Saad how important playoff experience is. Can a younger team with some players who have never been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs find success? Is there a preference to having all experienced guys?

“You see some new teams, young teams that have gone quite a long way. I think it’s nice to have a mix just to have an experience, whether it’s to calm the guys down or have a good shift at the right time. These kids can still play the game.”

Improving Daily

The Blue Jackets like where they’re at. They know they have areas of their game they need to sure up before the start of the playoffs. But they are a confident group, even if they’re still one of the youngest teams in the league. Don’t let the youth fool you. The Blue Jackets have players who have been through the battle. Here’s a list of those with the most playoff experience on the Blue Jackets.

  • Scott Hartnell (91 games, including trip to Final)
  • Brandon Saad (67 games, won two Cups)
  • Kyle Quincey (54 games)
  • Brandon Dubinsky (37 games)
  • Lauri Korpikoski (30 games)
  • Nick Foligno (21 games)
  • Jack Johnson (18 games)

Others such as Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, Ryan Murray and David Savard were on the team that lost to the Penguins in six games in 2014.

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Don’t forget about the youngsters Zach Werenski, Josh Anderson, Lukas Sedlak and Oliver Bjorkstrand. They each were part of the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters when they won the Calder Cup. That squad went 15-2 on route to the championship. It’s not the NHL playoffs, but it’s great experience regardless. This supports Saad’s statement about a nice mix on the roster. The seven names listed above have a combined 318 games of playoff experience. Couple that with the hunger and drive of the youth, and you have a team that can make noise in these playoffs.

The ultimate battle is on the horizon. The Blue Jackets have prepared all season for what lies ahead in April. They know they have work to do. They know they can still win a division. But one thing remains the same. This team handles themselves one day at a time. This attitude will serve them well in the playoffs.

Clinching a playoff spot was nice. But the ultimate battle is still to come. One thing we know. They’ll be ready when the time comes. They’ve prepared all season for it.