COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson calls it the most exciting time of the year.
”This is when you want to be playing meaningful games,” the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman said.
Just maybe not so frequently.
As they went through an optional practice Monday morning, the Blue Jackets were enjoying one of their last serene moments of the week.
They close out the regular season with an unprecedented four games in five nights – back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday and again on Friday and Saturday.
”I don’t think many guys have been through this,” forward Jared Boll said.
Certainly no one currently in the NHL. According to STATS LLC, no NHL team has finished a season with so many games packed into so little time since Ottawa did it in 1992-93.
The Blue Jackets play their final home game Tuesday against Phoenix, then fly out immediately to Dallas, where their March 10 contest was suspended when the Stars’ Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench. Per NHL rules, the suspended game will start completely over – only with the Blue Jackets retaining the 1-0 lead they had about 7 minutes in when the medical emergency ended play.
Adding to the curious nature of the replayed game, the Blue Jackets’ Nathan Horton may not play because of a lower-body injury. So since his goal from the game is retained, he may get credit for a score in a game in which he did not officially play.
After the rematch with the Stars is completed, the Blue Jackets take their charter jet to the Sunshine State where they play Tampa Bay on Friday and Florida on Saturday.
To earn the franchise’s second postseason trip in its 13 seasons, the Blue Jackets must survive four games in four cities over the span of 99 hours.
”We have to take care of business and work with the hand that we’re dealt,” said defenseman Dalton Prout. ”We’re going to do the best that we can and be positive with the whole situation.”
The Blue Jackets have already played 14 back-to-backs this season, so that’s not an issue. But in a year when the Olympic break has caused schedule-makers to cram a lot of games into a relatively short regular season, most players haven’t seen anything like this since they were in pee-wees or juniors.
Boll, who needs three penalty minutes to surpass Jody Shelley’s franchise record of 1,025, said just playing games on consecutive days on the road is difficult enough.
”When you wake up, you’re a little tired and it’s tough to get out of bed,” he said. ”But once you get to the rink and get around the guys, you get that energy back. It sinks in how important every point is. It drives you.”
Through Sunday’s NHL games, the Blue Jackets held down the second wild-card spot in the East with 87 points. They are just two points behind third-place Philadelphia in the Metro Conference and a point back of Detroit, which owns the first wild-card spot.
At the same time, New Jersey (84 points), Toronto (84) and Washington (83) are all lingering right behind should the Blue Jackets falter.
Websites that assign percentages to the probability of a team making the postseason say the Blue Jackets have the inside track. But coach Todd Richards isn’t buying that.
”I don’t listen to what the mathematicians are saying,” he said. ”It’s always about the next game. We’ve got to find wins. We’ve got to get points. We need to focus on what we can control, and that’s our next game.”
And the three after that.
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