Blue Jackets put season-best winning streak on line vs. Washington
With their comeback win against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday, the Columbus Blue Jackets earned their first four-game winning streak of the year.
Is this the start of the long-awaited run the team needs to go on to have any realistic hopes of snagging a playoff spot? And if it is, what’s behind it? What’s going right with this team? Columbus center Ryan Johansen says it’s a combination of things.
"It’s everything," he said. "With winning comes confidence, and with winning comes individual success, and there are a lot of individuals on this team who have been playing really well as of late. Everything’s great when you’re winning, so you have to stay focused on that and not take your foot off the gas, especially this time of the year.
"We have a goal and a vision," he continued, "and it’s not going to be too long before the season’s over, so we have to make the most out of every game."
It stands to reason that stringing some wins together would ramp up the collective confidence of any team. According to Nick Foligno, once that confidence is there, the chance of perpetuating success goes up exponentially.
"Oh, it’s probably 95 percent mental. You feel good, and when you feel good, you play good. I think that’s the kind of feeling we’re starting to get in here. We’re doing the right things," said the Blue Jackets winger. "You know you’re still going to win some games you aren’t supposed to win and maybe lose some you deserve to win. But it’s a matter of us just mentally being prepared and doing the same thing night in and night out.
"That’s what we were doing last year, and I think that’s what we’re starting to do this year. We haven’t put a full 60 together that we’d like, but we’re definitely playing a lot better structure game and doing a lot more things that we need to do in order to win, and it’s showing up for us right now."
Part of the growing confidence on this team stems from the offensive production. The Blue Jackets have been getting balanced contributions up front these days and have scored 15 goals in their four-game streak. And the team has two of its three 3rd-period come-from-behind wins in just the past few weeks. One of those came last month in the victory at Carolina, and the other Monday vs. Tampa. Johansen says that definitely gives the team a boost mentally.
"Yeah, for sure," he said. "We have a lot of dangerous offensive players on this team, who — when they get a chance — won’t make a mistake. It’s not easy for teams to come back in this league, especially in third periods, and we’re really proud of the way we were able to stick with it and come up with huge wins."
Yes, the team has been playing well lately, using its speed and size effectively. But there’s another eminently important reason for the recent run of success for Columbus. Curtis McElhinney, as he has been in most of his fill-in opportunities this season — was very solid in the 6-3 win last week at Winnipeg. And in his three starts since the groin injury, Sergei Bobrovsky has looked very much like the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
"It’s tough to go for 60 minutes, but there have been some periods in the past couple of games that I’m even sitting on the bench and saying, ‘Wow, we’re flying,’" said Johansen. "It’s a very good sign to see that. And Bob, since he’s been back, has been great for us, and we have a lot of confidence with him back in there now. Things are just rolling in the right direction."
Will they keep rolling? Is this The Run? Stand by, there’s another huge test coming Friday against the Washington Capitals, a team that has beaten the Blue Jackets twice this season, both on the road. Johansen agrees it’ll be a challenge.
"It’s a tough building to play in at Washington, and obviously they have some dangerous players. So definitely we’re going to have to be focused and make sure we’re ready from the first drop of the puck to play a 60-minute hard game, and hopefully we can keep playing the way we’ve been playing."