Cam Atkinson says Blue Jackets can learn from disappointing Game 3 loss

Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena. Pittsburgh defeated Columbus 4-3.

Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports

For the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team’s youth and relative lack of playoff experience has been well documented. A case in point: Monday night’s game at Nationwide Arena was the 55th playoff Game 3 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blue Jackets, it was their third.

As a team, though, Columbus has certainly not looked overwhelmed by the playoff spotlight. Every one of the first three games could have gone either way, all ending in 4-3 scores. The playoff rookies have embraced the opportunity to try to make an impact in this series, and they have.

Cam Atkinson, for example, has a goal and an assist, and he’s plus-one in the three games. He earned the first assist on Matt Calvert’s OT goal Saturday, the goal that brought the franchise its first-ever playoff win. For Atkinson, the team’s play overall has proven it was prepared for this playoff challenge.

"I think the first game, for the most of us, including the coaching staff, it was a first. So it was maybe a little bit overwhelming," Atkinson noted. "Your butterflies are going, but you didn’t know what to expect. From watching the playoffs, you know it’s a whole different notch than the regular season.

PAST PROWESS

"But the second game we settled down and played our game," he continued. "We knew we could play with them, but we had to be a little smarter in certain areas. I think we were for the most part — we just have to stay out of the box, and we’re going to have some success."

It wasn’t the vaunted Penguins power play that keyed the impressive game-three comeback by the visitors. After Atkinson scored early in the third period to give the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead, Pittsburgh responded with three even-strength goals in just over a seven-minute span to take the series edge. Atkinson feels the Blue Jackets stopped playing their game, and that fell right into the Penguins hands.

"Personally, I think we let up on the gas a little bit," he explained. "You know, we gave them the opportunities that they wanted, and they capitalized on those opportunities. That’s what they’ve always done, and that’s what good teams do. If you give them an inch, they’re going to take it and they’re going to run with it. We’ve got to eliminate those chances for them."

Despite handing over the third-period lead Monday night, Atkinson says the Columbus room is still confident this will be a long series.

"You’ve got to flip the page and look forward to tomorrow," he mentioned. "It’s going to be another great test for us, our building’s going to be rocking, and we’re up for the challenge."

HEATING UP THE ICE

Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards told the media grouped at Nationwide Tuesday morning that Monday’s Game Three almost felt like Game One all over again because of the electric atmosphere in the building. He noted that his team adapted well from Game One to Game Two in Pittsburgh and feels it will need to settle down from the experience of Monday’s home game and play within itself in Game Four Wednesday night.

Atkinson agreed, saying it’s important to block out the buzz surrounding the playoffs and stick to the elements that allowed the team to earn its spot in the postseason.

"You have to do what you’ve done in the past that has allowed you to get to this point," he explained. "So there’s no reason to do something different. And I think everyone in the locker room has tried to be the same way that we have in the past, and that’s what makes us successful."

All season long, the Blue Jackets have proven they can learn from a discouraging loss and bounce back. As Atkinson said, Wednesday will be "another great test." Passing that test seems imperative if this indeed is going to be a long series.