That’s one of the buzzwords floating around the Blue Jackets locker room as the team prepares for its final two games of the regular season. It’s the word that forward Ryan Johansen used to describe the team’s play throughout a successful road trip that earned the Jackets eight points in five games and positioned them as the eighth seed in the race to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We keep surprising ourselves,” Johansen said after the team practiced yesterday at Nationwide Arena. “We look around the room, and there’s always guys stepping up for us, taking charge, and then everybody jumps on.”
Johansen has been one of the players taking charge in the wake of injuries to Artem Anisimov and the always-tenacious Matt Calvert. He scored the game-winning goal against the San Jose Sharks with 97 seconds left in regulation to put the Blue Jackets up 4-3 after Joe Pavelski tied the game at three apiece earlier in the third period.
“For myself, that was the biggest goal of my hockey career,” Johansen said.
Johansen’s game-winner is just one example of how this team has battled through adversity and found ways to win. To him, the relentless hard work of the team is the reason why they can weather the ups and downs of every game despite the ever-changing lines and steady stream of injuries.
The argument can be made that no one works harder than Calvert. The 23-year forward is loved in Columbus for his gritty, energetic style of play. Calvert doesn’t just work hard, he refuses to give up.
Whether it’s a battle along the boards, or a scuffle in front of the net, Calvert plays with the same level of intensity, and his resilience has earned him a new two-year contract extension that was announced Tuesday by the Blue Jackets.
Calvert is also not a stranger to adversity, and in many ways, his story of perseverance mirrors the Blue Jackets’ own journey to the playoffs.
“I was never expected to make it to junior hockey, so I think that gave me a chip on my shoulder, and it just makes me want to go and prove myself every night,” Calvert said after his morning work out yesterday.
While Johansen said it was the team’s resilience has earned them their current position in the standings and the opportunity to make the playoffs, Calvert gave credit to the Blue Jackets’ system and the development of players who play for the club’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.
“We got everyone buying in,” Calvert said. “It just shows the depth in our system, and guys want to be here and guys want to earn a spot.”
Calvert mentioned Dalton Prout’s solid play as an example of the team’s depth and commitment to their system. Prout, who was called up to play for the “big squad” in the beginning of March, has been a consistently calm force on the blue line. While Prout has kept his focus on keeping the puck from getting behind Sergei Bobrovsky, his dedication paid off in a more obvious way against the LA Kings last Thursday. Despite the loss, Prout scored his first NHL goal to put the Blue Jackets on the board and tie the game in the second period.
Whatever the reason for it, the recent success has put the team in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Still, nothing is guaranteed, and for Vinny Prospal, that fact is more important than anything else at the moment.
“We’ve proven people wrong, but it’s not done yet,” Prospal said. “We are at the point right now where we haven’t really achieved anything.”
While Calvert and Johansen credited the team’s resilience and commitment to the system established by coach Todd Richards and the coaching staff, Prospal was quick to point out that the turnaround in the team’s performance was also helped by learning how to compete in (and win) close games.
“We learned how to win these one-goal games,” Prospal said. “That’s really the difference between good teams and bad teams – the good teams, they find a way to win these one-goal games.”
With those wins came something else, something that could be the most crucial factor of a team’s success in any sport: confidence. Without confidence, no one believes. According to Prospal, this team’s confidence has not only grown, it has snowballed.
They say success is 90 percent attitude and 10 percent aptitude. Hockey may be a little more complicated than that, but the various reasons that Calvert, Johansen, and Prospal attribute to the team’s success with battling adversity and finding a way to win provide a clear message that transcends the game on the ice:
Work hard, believe, and good things will happen.