Derek MacKenzie still waiting for his first taste of the NHL playoffs
MAR 08, 2014 10:07a ET
Derek MacKenzie has never been there. Actually, he's only "almost" been there once.
We speak, of course, of the NHL playoffs. At the age of 32, the Columbus Blue Jackets forward is still waiting -- somewhat patiently (but not really) to play his first NHL playoff game. He played one game in the Blue Jackets 2008-09 season, but it wasn't in the team's first and only playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Last season, as we all know, the team's elder statesman came oh so close to making it to the run for Lord Stanley's Cup. But the tiebreaker fell a different way, and his wait continues. Again this season, MacKenzie is very close to tasting genuine playoff intensity, and he admits he lets the thought of it cross his mind.
"I guess it's something you think about quite often, but at the same time you try not to look too far ahead," the native of Sudbury, Ontario, explained. "You know, I'm not getting any younger, and I think once you make it to the NHL, you start to set new goals. One is making the playoffs, and the other one is obviously trying to win a Stanley Cup.
"I've invested a lot of time in here, and I'd like to see both those things through," he continued. "I think we've got a great group of guys in there, and making it to the playoffs is certainly the first step."
MacKenzie was a happy man last season when he and his teammates made that scintillating 19-5-5 run to the very brink of the post-season. It was the first time in his NHL career, which began on a full-time basis in 2010, that he was playing meaningful games that late in a season. He was proud of the push the Blue Jackets made.
"I thought the team responded as well as could be expected last year in a similar situation, although this year's been a little different because I feel like we've been in the mix all season," he noted. "I think by the time playoffs roll around, we'll probably be pretty sick of hearing 'this is the biggest game of the year,' but that's the way it is. It makes everything exciting, and it's going to push us to be our best right up until April 12th."
Because it's an Olympic year, every team still in the playoff hunt will have to find a way to stay energized and sharp through a grueling, condensed March and April. Obviously, the Blue Jackets weren't able to accomplish that Thursday in Chicago, and MacKenzie agrees the schedule is a challenge that needs to be managed properly.
"I think we can only control what we can control," he said. "I think Richie (head coach Todd Richards) has been excellent trying to get guys rest when he can. Going down the stretch, it's going to be pretty important to take care of ourselves and hope that we stay pretty healthy. The style that we play is something that involves a lot of energy and speed and intensity, so it'll be interesting to see if it's something we can continue to build on."
Playing that kind of style, which has become the Blue Jackets identity, is especially taxing when there are so many games crammed into so few days. So it's paramount that this team maintains its greatest strength: balance. MacKenzie says the team is most effective when all four lines are rolling.
"When we come up with those big, 60-minute wins, I think the consensus in the room is everybody feels like they were involved at some point. It feels like a team effort, and that's when everyone's having the most fun. Are we where we need to be yet since the break ended? No, I don't think so.
"That's not to say that we didn't play really well in Toronto, and moving forward -- playing some of the top teams in the league -- we're going to need our best, and we're going to need all 20 guys rolling. I think as long as we continue to push each other in the dressing room, I think we'll be fine."