Bruce Boudreau knows the Blue Jackets' situation all too well.
When he was called up from the Hershey Bears to coach the Washington Capitals in 2007 after former coach Glen Hanlon was fired, there wasn't a whole lot of conversation about the postseason in the nation's capital. The Capitals didn't have much confidence and their star players were struggling mightily, but shortly thereafter, they caught a spark.
By the time they stormed their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs and instantly became the NHL's feel-good story, Boudreau was in the Jack Adams conversation (an award he eventually won) and the team won its final seven games to capture its first Southeast Division title in seven years.
The Capitals were 6-14-1 when he took over, losing close games, lacking consistency and not at all unlike the Blue Jackets' 5-12-2 record this season before they embarked on this thrilling run that has them entrenched in the playoff hunt.
It's a do-or-die situation every single game, making for intense competition on a nightly basis and a sense of desperation that comes only with a team's season in the balance.
Entering tonight's pivotal game against Boudreau's new team, the Ducks, the Blue Jackets (47 points) are equal with eighth-place Detroit - which plays tonight in Calgary.
“The situation for them is dire," Boudreau said after the Ducks' morning skate. "They need to win. It’s a situation that I’m familiar with because my first year in Washington, we had to win the last seven games to make the playoffs on the last day. I know it can be done, and I know they believe it can be done.
"That makes today’s game so important, especially them coming off an emotional win (in Colorado). I’m sure they totally believe...it’s going to be as tough a game as we’ve played."
"No matter how much coaches preach, as players, you know when that sense of urgency hits." - Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau
The Blue Jackets, winners of four straight, have managed to find different ways to get two points in each of those games - but tonight's will be their toughest to date. Anaheim has not played well at the Honda Center of late, losing five of its last eight on home ice and will no doubt be hungry to solidify its not-yet-cemented second seed in the Western Conference.
They'll also get their first look at Viktor Fasth, the Ducks' 30-year-old "rookie" goaltender who started with a sizzling 8-0-0 record and has won 14 of 20 decisions. But regardless of who's in net or who's in or out of either lineup, the Blue Jackets know that their focus has to remain on what they need to do.
"We know that these guys are one of the top teams in the conference, so we have to make sure that we have our best," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "It starts with a good start and a good first period, which I think has been lacking the last couple of games. They have a lot of high-end forwards over there, so we can't give them opportunities by turning the puck over.
"We're running out of games and running out of points to get, and we have to try and get every single one of them."
Such is the task at hand for a team in the Blue Jackets' situation, but as Boudreau said, urgency is often the easiest way to get a team's best game.
There are no other options than to leave it all on the ice, or else it will be a long offseason come April 28.
"No matter how much coaches preach, as players, you know when that sense of urgency hits," Boudreau said of the stetch run. "Watching (the Blue Jackets) play a lot lately, when their goalie's playing well as he is, it's going to be a tough game."