The swarm of media in the Blue Jackets
locker room following this morning’s skate was just a glimpse of the buzz surrounding tonight’s sellout game at Nationwide Arena
that will determine whether the Jackets continue their season as a Stanley Cup contender. Still, the players insist that this game is just like any other.
“We’ve been in this position pretty much every game for the past month,” Marian Gaborik said. “We’re just going to take it shift by shift.”
Shift by shift, period by period, game by game. That has been the mentality for the Blue Jackets this season. According to Vinny Prospal, that mentality has not changed heading into tonight’s game, saying that they’re not worried about the playoffs or how Detroit and Minnesota play tonight.
“You don’t worry about the outside stuff – you worry about the game you have to play,” he said. “We’re looking at tonight’s game as the most important game of the season for us.”
That's old news if you've been following the team over the past couple of months. Head Coach Todd Richards insisted on calling every game the "next most important game." It was a sentiment that the players have echoed after every morning skate, every win, and every loss since the beginning of March.
With so much riding on the outcome of tonight's game, the players admit that emotions will play a role - especially with the building being sold out. Jack Johnson said he expects the crowd to be the "best atmosphere" that's he has experienced as a Blue Jacket.
According to Gaborik, part of staying focused is knowing how to manage the emotions.
“Everybody knows the importance of this game, but we have to think out there as well,” he said. “We can’t just go out there and put our heads down… we just have to keep going like we have been for a while.”
For Johnson, the key to managing the emotions of tonight’s game is focusing on what they can control – how they play on the ice.
“We have enough guys that have been around a long enough time, this isn’t going to derail anyone’s focus,” he said.
As veteran players, Gaborik, Johnson, and Prospal might be familiar with playing in games where the pressure is immense and the stakes are high. Yet, even the younger players seemed calm and composed after a lively morning skate.
“The emotion has been there within this dressing room for the last month,” rookie defenseman Dalton Prout said. “The emotion outside the dressing room has built up to where it is.”
He has a point. After all, the team has already faced a “must-win” game when they played the Dallas Stars on Thursday. They left with a 3-1 victory, and the chance to play another “must-win” game in front of the home crowd.
“That was a do-or-die road trip,” Johnson said. “I don’t think the guys are approaching it any differently.
“We know what’s at stake. We’ll be ready to go tonight.”