Think of it this way: You weren’t feeling it. You’ve been battling an upper-respiratory thing that kept you up most of the night, and your head was pounding from the congestion and lack of sleep. But you plowed through it, went to work, and somehow closed that deal you’ve been working on for three months.
That was the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.
In a game that featured more turnovers than you’ll get at any all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, the Blue Jackets somehow found a way to close the deal. Sure, the Calvert-Dubinsky-Atkinson line was absolutely incredible most of the night, and the Umberger-Johansen-Foligno line was relentless on the game-winning goal.
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But, collectively, this wasn’t the team’s sharpest performance. To find a way to battle through that and pick up a win in regulation was immense. And it’s probably another sign that the Blue Jackets are finding the consistency they’ve been looking for most of the season, another sign they’re playing the “right way.”
Nick Foligno, who scored the game winner after battling to establish position in front of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, thinks the Blue Jackets recent success comes down to a simple, but collective commitment to hard work.
“I think for us we’re starting to get the work down now,” he explained. “I think that’s the biggest thing that’s changed. Our mentality’s changed, obviously, because I think we’re not happy with where we are, and we feel we haven’t played our best.
“So I think our mentality has now changed that we put in the work, and we know that’s what it’s going to take to become a successful team,” he continued. “I think everything else comes with it; work has to come first, and I think you’re starting to see that from our team now where you weren’t maybe consistently seeing that before.”
That work ethic was evident the whole night from the Dubinsky line, as both he and Atkinson registered career-high four point nights, and Calvert added a goal. But on the second game of a back-to-back for the Blue Jackets, the rest of the team struggled at times, and that included the line that combined for the goal that won the game.
“You saw what Dubie’s line did for us. I think we just felt we hadn’t played our best, and it was just one of those shifts that we just went out there grinding and played the way we’re capable of playing. We’re all big bodies, and we were using our size,” said Foligno, describing the effort that led to the game-winner.
“We were just tenacious, too, on the puck; I thought our compete level was really good on that shift, and that’s the way it needs to be all game long,” he continued. “But we found a way to battle and compete and get a goal, and it definitely came from the work. Dubie’s line is really the one that set the pace for us.”
The bottom line is the team found a way to win a game that easily could have been lost. And to do it “cleanly,” without giving the divisional opponent an overtime point made it even sweeter. With a stretch of Metro Division games, including Thursday’s in New York, the Blue Jackets are well aware that regulation wins are the best way to start catching teams above them in the standings.
“Everyone knows. We’re chasing; those are teams that are ahead of us,” Foligno said. “They’re all teams that are ahead of us right now, teams that are in our division that we cannot give away points to. Every game is so crucial, especially this stretch right now.
“It was disappointing to let that one slip away in Pittsburgh, but we found a way to battle back against New Jersey, and hopefully we’re going to find a way to win in New York.”
So far in December, the Blue Jackets have found a way to win three of four games. Foligno says the escalated commitment to hard work has allowed the team to re-establish its identity and get itself back in the playoff discussion.
“It really comes down to our work ethic, our mentality of never quitting. That’s what you saw last season, and that’s what drives our team.”