Columbus Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner (38) and center Ryan Johansen (19) celebrate a goal by Jenner against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period in game five of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Columbus — No one gave them a chance of giving Pittsburgh a fight in the first round of the playoffs. But that, in fact, is just what they did. They’ve played a hard-nosed, Western Conference-style of hockey that the Penguins were not necessarily prepared for.
"I think it’s a product of believing," said Columbus left wing Matt Calvert. "You can look at the matchup all night long and it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re a skilled group with some of the best players in the world. At the same time, it comes down to out-competing an experienced team that’s ‘been there’."
One day after a 3-1 Game Five loss in Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets held an optional skate in advance of Game Six on Monday in Columbus. While the loss was disappointing and stung, giving the Penguins a 3-2 series lead, the boys in union blue refocused for a fight on home ice.
"At one point," Calvert said, "(Pittsburgh) were in our shoes. They were young once. They had to learn by winning and being successful. That’s something that we believe in our room. We know we can be successful."
"Our backs are against the wall, but we’re excited for Game Six. Every game has been a learning experience for us and we’re excited for every new opportunity that comes our way."
Overcoming adversity has been a hallmark of this team all season. Now, they get ready for the adversity of a playoff elimination game on home ice and in front of their loyal fans.
"We’ve dealt with adversity all year," said head coach Todd Richards. "We’ve dealt with a lot of ups and downs. We’ve had games where we haven’t played our best or maybe the other team has just out-played us. We’ve responded the next game."
"I’m looking at this as not necessarily an elimination game. I’m looking at it as a rebound or response game."
Are the Blue Jackets a desperate team as they fight for their playoff lives? Desperation is bandied about outside of the locker room, whereas they have a steely determination and focus, believing that they can win.
"We’ve got to find the (next) gear," Richards continued. "I think it is there. If you listen to what they’re saying, as far as what they’ve said getting ready for Game Five, a lot of the guys were saying ‘we’ve got to be better.’ To me, being better is just taking your game to another level. Really, it’s all a focus and intensity."
For Columbus to be successful tomorrow in Game Six and stave off elimination, their focus must be on playing their game, their way. Much has been said about the disparity in experience between the two clubs. And yet, Columbus has given Pittsburgh anything but a walk in the park.
"I think we’re at a stage now," said Richards, "we’re in it. We’re in the playoffs. Every game, there’s pressure for both teams. Our feet are wet and we know what to expect."
Richards said he plans on some changes to the lineup for Game Six, but would not elaborate on whether they would be forward changes or on the blue line. The Penguins played a more physical game than did Columbus in Game Five and are expected to ramp up the intensity even further tomorrow. The Blue Jackets need to answer in kind.
"We’re a gritty team," said Matt Calvert. "We want to win every battle, we want to compete. No matter who we’re playing against, we’re going to try and win that battle and out-compete you."
The focus, drive and determination are evident among these players. Yes, they were disappointed to lose last night in Pittsburgh. And yet the belief is there, surrounding them like a warm child’s blanket, that they can do anything and win tomorrow deep within the friendly confines.