Richards says Jackets weren’t ’emotionally into game’ in 6-1 loss

Columbus Blue Jackets center Derek MacKenzie reacts after missing a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period at the United Center.

Mike DiNovo

Playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions should be an occasion where a team rises to the challenge. This close to the end of the season and in the midst of a tight battle for a playoff position, intensity and hard work get ramped up. Contenders rise as the rest begin to fall by the wayside. As the saying goes, it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Being down 5-1 and having your starting goalie chased less than halfway through the game, does not portend a positive outcome that one has come to expect from a team whose mantra is hard work.

"We weren’t emotionally into the game," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards. "I thought we lacked intensity. It wasn’t everyone. We had some guys that wanted to get involved, but there were too many guys that weren’t involved in the game."

Down just 2-1 after twenty minutes of play, they were hanging tough with Chicago. That all changed in the second period, as the Blackhawks turned up the heat and the Blue Jackets were left floundering. They got away from playing their hard-working game. Over the last year, when that happens, they tend to come away with zero points.

"It’s two games now," said Richards. "I thought we had the same thing (against) Dallas. We were able to escape with the win and two points. I chalk that one up to fatigue and travel, playing the night before in Toronto. But, I wasn’t expecting this."

"I was expecting a good team, coming into their (Chicago) building to be really involved in this game. (There was) very little emotion on the bench. I’m really disappointed in how we played the game coming down the stretch."

The lone Blue Jackets goal came from the team’s leading scorer Ryan Johansen midway through the first period. He has cooled a bit since the break, yet still is progressing with his play on the ice and maturing a budding star in the league. He ranks 16th in the league in goals and is 25-24-49 through 63 games.

Three takeaways from loss to Chicago

"We got away from our game in a hurry," Johansen said. "You can’t do that against these guys and they made us pay. We just came off a three-game winning streak and (were) playing great hockey. We’ve got to approach every game like it’s a playoff game."

So close to the end of the season, they distinctly remember the taste of missing out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker last year. One has to wonder what leaving these two points on the table will mean in a few weeks.

"It’s frustrating because we didn’t play our game. Who knows what these points… what difference they will make at the end of the season? We let this one get away from us.

"It’s really frustrating right now because there’s nineteen games left," said Johansen. "We’re right there in the playoff hunt. To play like we did, it’s a very poor effort. It’s nothing we’re proud of. From myself, to everybody in this room, we better be ready in Nashville."

Columbus’ defensive corps has been healthy for most of the season – until now. Losing Fedor Tyutin (ankle) during the break, Ryan Murray (lower body) a few games ago, and playing without Nikita Nikitin for the majority of last night’s game after he was rocked by a hit to the head late in the first period, has put a heavy workload on the remaining defensemen.

Jack Johnson has averaged just over 30 minutes of ice-time over the last three games. He eats big minutes and doesn’t usually seem the worse for wear. The younger blue-liners are not quite able to handle that amount of time, yet.

"Unfortunately, our blue-line is getting hit with injuries right now," said Johnson. "We’ve got to do our best to stay healthy and stay strong. But, that’s life. We can’t say that we would have done better if we had them (Tyutin, Murray, Nikitin), because the season is not going to stop."

Winning two of every three games down the stretch should see them make the playoffs. Since the break, they are 3-2-0. They can stay on that pace with a win Saturday evening in Nashville. If there’s one thing this team has show in the last few months, it’s that they are a resilient group of guys. They have tended to bounce back after a tough loss.

With 9 games in the next 16 days, it’s "make-or-break" time for the club. With essentially the same roster from a year ago, they do not want a repeat of the way last season ended for them. They currently sit in ninth place in the East tied with the Red Wings on points (69), with Detroit occupying the second wildcard spot having played one fewer game than Columbus.

In the Metro, they are in fourth place, one point behind the New York Rangers and trailing the Philadelphia Flyers by three points. Five points separate the second place Flyers from the sixth place New Jersey Devils.

It may be cliche, but this will come down to the last week of the season, with these teams all fighting for a berth in the postseason.

Does Columbus have the wherewithal to make only their second postseason appearance in franchise history? Suck it up, buttercup. These games all mean something. The race to the finish is supposed to be this exciting.