Before Wednesday, Blue Jackets winger Blake Comeau had played 422 NHL games, none of those in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Understandably, it wasn’t just the same old, same old as he prepared for game one in Pittsburgh.
"It felt a little bit different," Comeau admitted. "I had a tough time napping; I was a little bit nervous. You know, this is my seventh year in the league, and I never played in the playoffs before, so I’ve been waiting a long time to get in, and it was a bit of a whirlwind.
"But once I got settled in," he continued, "I was just trying to play my game, trying not to get out of position to look for hits. At the same time, though, I was looking to play physical when I could and tried to get in on the forecheck to create chances that way."
It didn’t take Comeau or his teammates long to settle into game one. Despite having about a fourth of the playoff experience of the Penguins collectively, the Blue Jackets jumped out to a 1-0 lead early on Jack Johnson’s goal, then built a two-goal lead, 3-1, early in the second.
Despite the good start and overall strong play, Columbus couldn’t hold off the potent Pens, who came back for the 4-3 win. It was a loss for the Blue Jackets, but it was a strong effort and a game that made it clear the underdog was ready for the challenge.
"Yeah, I think for the most part we played a pretty solid game," said Comeau. "Obviously, I think we can be better in certain areas. We had a few turnovers at their blue line that cost us, some pucks that we could have gotten in deep to get some forechecks and get some hits to create offense that way.
"You know, there are some things that we can clean up. We want our penalty kill to be a little bit better, a little more disciplined. Those are all things I think we’ll be better at in game two."
Saturday’s game two at the CONSOL Energy Center isn’t a must win for the Blue Jackets. But it would go a long way, not only in proving beyond any doubt that this series could be a long one, but also that Columbus is capable of finally beating the Penguins at all this season.
Counting the regular season, the Blue Jackets have dropped all six games against Pittsburgh, even though five of those games were in doubt until late. Is Columbus getting frustrated by the lack of results overall against the Pens this season?
"No, I don’t think anyone’s getting frustrated," Comeau replied quickly. "I think everyone has a belief in this room. For a lot of guys, that was their first playoff game, so that was a little bit of a feeling out process to start the game. That being said, we did a pretty job of getting a 3-1 lead. But I don’t think anyone is satisfied with our game. We want to play better in game two, and I think we will."
No doubt, the Blue Jackets drifted away from their style a bit in the third period of game one, and that opened the door for the Penguins. Columbus was one of the NHL’s best teams in the second-half of the season because they played that consistently physical style predicated on getting pucks deep and relentlessly forechecking opponents. It’s a formula that earned the team this playoff opportunity, and it’s also the key for the Blue Jackets if they are to earn playoff success.
"I think the style that we play isn’t easy on any team, no matter if it’s Pittsburgh or anyone else," Comeau explained. "I think everyone in this room buys into playing a physical game, getting pucks in and forechecking. We realize that’s how we’re going to create a lot of our chances, through our forecheck.
"We have to stick to what made us successful this year and why we got in this spot in the first place. I think we’ll be all right if we do that."
Comeau thinks nerves will be less of a factor now that the Blue Jackets have game one in their rearview mirror. And he believes the relative playoff inexperience of his team may actually work in its favor.
"With so much inexperience, that’s something I think can benefit us," he said. "Everyone was excited to get going, excited to play in the playoffs. We have that youthful energy, and that’s something we’ve got to use to our advantage."
A restful pre-game nap probably wouldn’t hurt, either.