Letestu feels Blue Jackets are built for a long series against Pittsburgh
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) as center Mark Letestu (55) defends during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3.
When he scored the team’s second goal of the night in Game 1 of round one in Pittsburgh Wednesday, it was Mark Letestu’s fifth goal in the past six games. A bit under the radar, Letestu was a driving force in getting the Columbus Blue Jackets into the playoffs, scoring 11 goals from January through the end of the season. Heading into the series with the Penguins, he felt the timing was right, for himself and his teammates.
"Yeah, I think it’s all about timing right now," said Letestu. "I had a good little run at the end (of the regular season), and you’re hoping you create some momentum into the playoffs. Teamwise, we’ve also been going really well. It’s all about timing and peaking at the right time, and hopefully this team, and myself, are peaking at the right time and are ready to show that we can do it in the second season."
Despite the tough opening-game loss by a goal Wednesday at the Consol Energy Center, Letestu thinks the Blue Jackets are still a team that thrives in road games and plays a style conducive to playoff success.
"I’ve said before I think this team is built for the playoffs and the road, just because, for example, I think we led the league in road hits this year. Our game seems to simplify (on the road), just getting pucks in deep and being that much more committed to just grinding teams down, which is paramount in the playoffs.
"It doesn’t really matter how the first two games go, it’s an investment in that we’re built for a seven-game series. The way this team is, we’re going to grind you, and we’re going to be tough to play against. That style plays to the road and to the playoffs, and it’s something we hang our hat on."
One of the reasons the Blue Jackets forward still believes strongly in his team’s chances against the vaunted Penguins is the way Columbus played in the second-half of the season, compiling the third-most points of any team in the NHL. He feels as if his team earned the right to continue playing beyond last weekend.
"I think ‘earn’ is a good word to describe how we feel in here," said the Alberta native. "We had another slow start — we had some ups and downs, some losing streaks. But we also put together some nice winning streaks and set some franchise records along the way.
"The group has really earned its place to be proud of where we are and earned the right to compete for a Stanley Cup," he continued. "The group in here is ready for the challenge. It’s another step, kind of an unknown step for a lot of us, so it’s important to dive right in and not ease your way into the situation. Just embrace it and go after it."
The 29-year-old Letestu wasn’t drafted but was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins out of Western Michigan University after putting up 46 points in 37 games in his only year there, 2006-07. He definitely wants to beat his old team but not because he used to play for the Penguins.
"You always want to beat them, but there’s no spite in my play out there — there’s no revenge or anything like that. This is a team I want to beat because they’re an elite team and because they are who they are," Letestu explained. "And in my mind you have to beat some great, elite teams to win a Stanley Cup. So, it’s no better place to start than going up against a perennial contender in Pittsburgh."
While the Game 1 loss stung, especially since the Blue Jackets held a two-goal lead early in the second period, Letestu feels strongly there are some great moments ahead for the guys in his locker room.
"I think we’ve talked about the last game of last season against Nashville as being one of those moments where you just sit back and go ‘wow,’" he said. "I think there’s going to be a few more of those in the postseason here. The community deserves it, the franchise deserves it, and it’s going to be fun to soak it all in."