Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) chase after a loose puck during the first period in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena.
Columbus, OH — If they didn’t do it the hard way it wouldn’t be Blue Jackets hockey.
A come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory at home — their first playoff home victory in franchise history — was the continuing tale of the resiliency of this club. The series is now tied at 2-2 and heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. These are the bricks upon which success is built.
Perseverance and grit are commodities that help to define what "Blue Jackets hockey" is. Forward Jack Skille displays both of these traits, as he has bounced between the Springfield Falcons (AHL) and Columbus. He has also become one of the many bricks that President of Hockey Operations John Davidson talks about.
Skille is on a two-way contract and is playing his way into a one-way deal ahead of next year. He’s playing in the playoffs on a line with emerging star Ryan Johansen and the man-child Boone Jenner. His style of play meshes well with these two.
He ended the night with 10:11 of ice time spread across 20 shifts. Although he didn’t get on the score sheet, he was a noticeable force on the ice. He had 1 shot, 5 hits and 2 takeaways on the night.
"Unbelievable," he said of the victory. "The resiliency of this team and the character in this room… When you’re down three goals to a team like that, a lot of teams would just shut it down. I think that we just show a lot of character and push-back in this room, every single night. I’m proud to be a part of this group."
The determination showed by Skille to get his game back on track and take a two-way deal to show he was good enough to play at this level, earned him a call-up from Springfield. He’s here for the Blue Jackets playoff run, even though the Falcons are in the midst of their own playoff race.
He has almost seamlessly and instantly developed chemistry with Johansen and Jenner on the top line. While this is no small feat, it shows the latent skill that has been within him. Playing with those two dynamic players also shows the trust that Columbus head coach Todd Richards has in him.
"We all work hard," he said. "Joey’s the engine, while me and Boone are the guys that get into the corner and get heavy in the battles. Ryan gets in there, too. My job is just to play hard-nosed hockey, try to get to the front of the net and just play a simple game along the walls."
With each passing game, his confidence with the puck, his linemates and his own skill grows and is on display. He’s not afraid to take the body as he’s battling for pucks. He can also make sublime passes that are tape-to-tape, cross-ice in the offensive zone.
"This is playoff hockey," Skille said. "You either elevate your game or you die out there. I’m just trying to do my best to elevate my game. I’m doing my best to help out this team any way that I can. It’s just the little details of the game, keeping it simple along the walls, smart plays and getting in on the forecheck."
"When we’re all doing our part, each player on the ice at that time, we’re a tough team to play against."
Ryan Johansen, with a goal and an assist in Game 4, was relaxed and happy after the win. With Skille on his line, Johansen is getting a touch more time and space with which to score or make plays.
"I think that he’s done a great job of coming in, being called up late this year," Johansen said. "He fits in and contributes to the team and the success of our group. He’s been doing a tremendous job."
With the series tied at 2-2, there is little doubt that this team is the real deal. Often underestimated, they go about their business believing that they can win it all. And yet, they still acknowledge that each game is the most important game. This refrain has been repeated for a few months, at this point.
"Obviously, we didn’t want to go down 3-1 going back into their building," said Johansen. "For the series to be tied now, to get the job done at home, is huge. It’s a credit to all of the guys in this room for being resilient and finding ways to get the puck in the net."
They now set their sights on Game 5 on Saturday in Pittsburgh. They won in that barn just five days ago. Can they repeat the magic and take a lead in the series for the first time? Remember kids, these guys don’t do things the easy way. So strap in tight for one hell of a ride. This is what it’s all about.