It was only last spring that Umberger took the Stanley Cup Playoffs by storm as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound native of Pittsburgh posted 10 goals and 15 points in 17 playoff games before his upstart team finally dropped a five-game series to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
He's hoping to put together a similar offensive outburst beginning Tuesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 at Nationwide Arena, with his team desperate for a victory. The Red Wings hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Umberger, acquired from Philadelphia in exchange for a first- and third-round draft pick last June 20, actually has the only goal scored by a Columbus player in this series -- the Red Wings hold an 8-1 scoring advantage. A quick exit after earning the first Stanley Cup playoff appearance in team history is certainly not what the Columbus players or their fans had envisioned. To that end, Umberger is confident the Blue Jackets can turn this series around.
"We haven't played to our potential and I think (Detroit) knows that, so if we can come out and play our type of game and give them the first staggering punch, maybe it'll put them on their heels a little bit," Umberger said following a spirited practice session on Monday.
That staggering punch Umberger refers to is the game's first goal, something the Blue Jackets have failed to muster in two decisive losses. When Detroit scored the opening goal of the game during the regular season, it fashioned a 37-4-5 mark, which ranked second in the League. Columbus, meanwhile, finished 13-22-6 -- 17th in the League -- when allowing the opposition to break the ice.
It would certainly benefit the Blue Jackets to finally break that trend while playing in front of a raucous home crowd.
"It'll be really important to get that first goal," center Jason Williams said. "If we can get that first goal and get the fans into the game and behind us, maybe they'll make more mistakes and take more chances trying to get back into the game and we can capitalize on catching them. As a team, we want to make sure we come out with a lot of energy and get the fans behind us. Getting that first goal will only add to that momentum."
You kind of get the feeling the Blue Jackets consider scoring the opening goal of the game a top priority on Tuesday. The question is, does it need to be?
"I think we've been a bit over-hyped to start the opening two games and, sometimes, when you get that energy and competitiveness, you're in the wrong spot on the ice and when you're playing a team like Detroit, you're going to be exposed and that's what happened to us," Columbus center Michael Peca said. "(Detroit) is going to find the open ice and use your momentum and over-exuberance against you.
"We've over-pursued pucks and they've been able to come up the ice with speed through the middle, which is to their strength," Peca continued. "In the defensive zone, we've gone for the big hit at the wrong time and put ourselves in a vulnerable position to take penalties, which have actually led to them being successful on the power play."
The Red Wings have produced 4 power-play goals on 14 chances in this series. The Blue Jackets haven't scored a power-play goal in 7 opportunities.
"We have to be more controlled in our emotions and in our work and, if we do that, we should be able to get back to our game and that's when we frustrate the opponent," Peca said.
Umberger feels it is possible to get back to that style of game that enabled the Blue Jackets to earn the seventh seed in the Western Conference and a playoff date with the Red Wings.
"I think we've been trying to work so hard that we've gotten ourselves out of position," Umberger said. "We're running around and they're too good. We've seen a lot of video and I think we've shored up a lot of things and I expect a better structural game from us -- kind of the way we've played all year."
"We haven't played to our potential and I think (Detroit) knows that, so if we can come out and play our type of game and give them the first staggering punch, maybe it'll put them on their heels a little bit." -- Blue Jackets forward R.J. UmbergerWhile that's all well and good, Columbus fans are also hoping that Umberger, who led the club with 9 power-play goals and ranked second on the team with a career-high 26 goals for the season, can rediscover his scoring touch in the NHL's second season.
Before that can happen, however, Umberger and his mates must gain those difficult spots on the ice in front of Detroit goalie Chris Osgood. It hasn't been easy.
"Scoring is all about confidence and gaining a little momentum in the game," Umberger said. "Right now, we've got to do some simple things, like getting the puck on net and challenging (Chris) Osgood. We're too much on the outside and all five of their guys are swarming us right now. We need to get inside the middle and start penetrating and make them respect us in front of the net. That's when you'll start to get those tipped goals and those rebounds."
Who said an ugly goal can't build confidence?
"Lots of teams have come back from 0-2 deficits and it's tough, but you have to simplify your game and play smart," Williams said. "Especially against the Red Wings, who don't make many mistakes. You've got to bear down and get those second and third opportunities. We have to make Osgood work a little more; he's basically had one period of work in two games and we've made it pretty easy on him. That has to change."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.