PITTSBURGH -- James Wisniewski, a veteran NHLer and one of the Blue Jackets' leaders, probably said it best this morning: "this is going to be about four levels above (the regular season). Hockey on steroids is the best way to put it."
For many players on a very young Blue Jackets team, this is going to be their first exposure to Stanley Cup playoff hockey. The only player with a Stanley Cup ring on their roster is Nathan Horton, and he's slated to miss six weeks after abdominal surgery. But the Jackets are determined and committed enough that a lack of experience won't stand in their way, and they know a strong start to this series is of utmost importance.
"We don't have to go out of our way to 'up' the physical play or the speed of play," center Mark Letestu said this morning. "That's what the regular season is for, and you want to prepare for the postseason. We've played a certain way, molding our game for this moment and for these games.
"The regular season has been a tune-up, and hopefully, we've done enough to prepare for this moment."
Almost every player in the room agreed that tonight's Game 1 is a huge test, and they know the Penguins want to get out to a fast start and get the crowd involved. Staying focused and getting through the first 10 minutes is something you often hear from road teams in the playoffs, and for the Blue Jackets, it's a similar game plan.
They've also turned the page from the regular season, Letestu said, and aren't paying much attention to anything that's transpired up to this point.
"As far as we're concerned, this is Game 1 and it's 0-0," Letestu said. "You take whatever happened in the regular season and throw it out, because it's a race to four (wins) now. It's a big opportunity for us to get up one game tonight."
Other notes from today's morning skates:
- Evgeni Malkin, who's missed almost a month with a foot injury, will return tonight for Game 1. He practiced this morning centering a line with James Neal and Jussi Jokinen, and also quarterbacked the Penguins' No. 1 power play unit.
- Marc-Andre Fleury and Sergei Bobrovsky are your starting goaltenders.
- The Blue Jackets will go with a lineup much like they used in practice yesterday. Forward lines: Jenner-Johansen-Skille, Calvert-Dubinsky-Atkinson, MacKenzie-Anisimov-Comeau, Tropp-Letestu-Boll. Defense pairs: Murray-Wisniewski, Tyutin-Johnson, Nikitin-Savard.
- The extra defensemen tonight are Nick Schultz and Dalton Prout.
- A good sign on the injury front for Columbus: both RJ Umberger and Nick Foligno took the ice at the end of today's morning skate, and then went through a lengthy practice along with goaltender Jeremy Smith and a couple other players. Todd Richards said Tuesday that there's a chance one or both guys could be ready for Game 2 this weekend.