Blue Jackets interim head coach Todd Richards described the situation thusly: there is never an “ideal” time to face a team like the Chicago Blackhawks.
Following a 60-minute practice at the OhioHealth Ice Haus this morning in which the Blue Jackets saw Brett Lebda and Nikita Nikitin take part, the focus shifted to tomorrow afternoon’s opponent and how they can have success against a team that’s no stranger to it.
In addition to Nikitin and Lebda, the players absent from Wednesday’s practice – Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, Derek Dorsett and Fedor Tyutin – were all present today. The Blackhawks broke out of a long funk last night at Madison Square Garden, defeating the NHL-best New York Rangers by a 4-2 final. It was Chicago’s first win since Jan. 20 vs. the Florida Panthers, and snapped a nine-game losing streak that stirred up all sorts of speculation.
“I think they’re a dangerous team regardless (of when you play them),” Richards said. “They’re too talented, well-coached and it’s a team that’s won…so you know there’s a lot of pride over there. They have great leaders, and honestly, when you play the Chicago Blackhawks, I don’t know if it’s ever a good time to play the Chicago Blackhawks just because I have so much respect for their game.”
Chicago scored four goals in the first 10 minutes of the game and chased Rangers goaltender Marty Biron from the net, and didn’t let up despite having more than a comfortable cushion early in the game. The Blackhawks did not play the part of a team whose confidence had been running on fumes.
“Watching the highlights and seeing the goals - and how quickly they scored them – it was a highly-motivated group last night,” Richards said.
A MUCH-NEEDED BREAK
Richards and several of the Blue Jackets players took a break from their hockey schedules to participate in the Black Tie Blue Jackets style show last night at Nationwide Arena. The event raised money to benefit pediatric cancer in conjunction with the Blue Jackets Foundation.
As usual, it was a spectacular event that told the courageous stories of several pediatric cancer heroes and gave them the opportunity to share the runway with Blue Jackets players. Richards said that more than anything, the event helped put things in perspective – especially during a hectic time of year on the hockey side.
“I think the function we had last night really puts it in perspective,” Richards said. “The questions that I deal with and the stresses the players have to deal with…it’s nothing compared to what we had to experience last night.”
UPDATED 2:30 P.M.: BACK IN ACTION
The Blue Jackets activated Lebda off injured reserve this afternoon, a strong indication he is ready to return to the lineup tomorrow against the Blackhawks. Goaltender Curtis Sanford, who has been dealing with an upper-body injury the last few games, was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 9.
“In talking with (Lebda) on the ice, he says he feels good, so he may go into the lineup tomorrow,” Richards said. “That would probably be the only change. Nikitin’s not ready to go…I’m just talking about the guys who were off yesterday, but there were no issues with those guys. So our plan would be to keep our same forward group.”