Second place in the Metro, the Blue Jackets still not satisfied
Three nights after their game was postponed in Dallas, the Blue Jackets moved into second place in the Metro division. Although tied with the New York Rangers on points (74), they occupy the spot based on having a game in hand. That makeup game just grew in importance, as if it wasn’t important enough already.
Hard-charging Columbus, 17-7-2 in 2014, kept their emotions in-check and their collective noses to the grindstone. They’ve all bought in to the notion that every game is a playoff game for them. They know there is no coasting into a comfortable playoff position in the ultra-tight Metro.
"As a coach, you’ve got to try to take the emotion out of it," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards. "We got a point tonight, but would have loved to have gotten two. I thought we played a hard game against a very good, fast hockey team."
"Prior to the Olympic break, when we played them in their building, they handled us pretty easily. I think playing the night before, in L.A., didn’t help. They looked like the better team that night. I thought tonight we stood toe-to-toe with them."
The emotions within the Blue Jackets dressing room have run the gamut of bad to good this week. From the collapse of the Stars’ Rich Peverley on the Dallas bench Monday evening to the birth of Artem and Ksenia Anisimov’s new daughter Thursday afternoon, they have managed to get their minds focused on the task at hand.
Ryan Johansen (26-24-50) opened the scoring early in the first period, as Nick Foligno left him the puck from his knees after getting bowled over. It was an opportunistic play that paid dividends.
Early in the second, with a San Jose 5-on-3 expiring, RJ Umberger came out of the penalty box as Brandon Dubinsky sprung him behind the San Jose defense with a long pass. One-on-one with goalie Alex Stalock, Umberger buried the puck in the bowels of the net through Stalock’s five-hole.
"I just heard somebody yelling," said Brandon Dubinsky. "It was either getting out of the zone or getting on somebody’s stick. I can’t claim to have threaded the needle there at the end of a long shift. It was good awareness by Umby coming out of the box and obviously a great finish."
Dubinsky also setup the tying goal by James Wisniewski with five minutes to go in the third period, drawing a gaggle of Sharks to him along the boards, leaving Wisniewski open, alone, at the top of the opposite circle.
"The seas parted a little bit," Dubinsky said. "Matty (Calvert) made a good play at the blue line… I was able to make a good play to Wiz. We all know he can shoot the puck, but that was an absolute bomb. It was huge for us."
Getting the full two points is always the goal, but on this night they got one and let San Jose skate back to the Western Conference. With the Rangers losing 2-1 in Minnesota, they lost no ground within the Metro, actually gaining a position at the end of the night.
"We’re never satisfied with one point obviously," Dubinsky continued. "Two points is our goal every single time we step on the ice. I think we’re selling ourselves short if we don’t feel that way coming into the game. Right now, I think the boys feel good about our team, about who we are and where we’re going."
The Blue Jackets have done well within the friendly confines this season, posting a 19-11-3 record at home by playing "their" game.
"Home ice is big in our sport and in our league," said Todd Richards. "They (Sharks) get a great advantage playing at home. I thought we had a very good advantage tonight playing in our building."
"They’re a rush-attack team. Our strength is to grind it. If the game is turning into a track meet, going up and down the ice, that usually doesn’t favor us too much versus a really skilled team like San Jose. But, I didn’t sense that we were giving up great opportunities. There were a couple of rushes that they had and you can see the skill that they have. But, we had some rushes, too."
Todd Richards and the guys in the room are never satisfied, always striving to be better. Yes, they earned a much-needed and valuable point against one of the best teams in the NHL. And yes, by virtue of the Rangers loss, they moved into second place in the Metro. But satisfied? The answer to that is a resounding "no."
A few seasons ago, this club would have been relieved to come away with a point against the caliber of team that is the San Jose Sharks. This year, though, one point is not enough. They will not be content to limp into the playoffs. They want to ride into the postseason with the reputation of being a very tough team to play against.
Satisfaction is a fleeting feeling. They are earning the respect of the league, one grinding game at a time. They don’t want to leave points on the ice. Since the break they are 5-2-1, equating to 11 points out of a possible 16. With sixteen games to play, the pressure will only get greater from here on out as the intensity gets ratcheted higher.
"Our guys worked extremely hard," opined Richards. "It was a tough game against a very good opponent. We came up one play short as far as getting two points."