COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -The Columbus Blue Jackets are anxious because of a three-game losing skid that has them outside the top eight teams in the NHL's Western Conference.
That's Michael Peca and other veterans are counseling the younger players to not panic. With 28 games remaining in what amounts to their first run at the playoffs, the Blue Jackets need to avoid pressing.
"At the end of the day, it's a game, we need to have fun," said Peca, who has played in 93 postseason games with Buffalo, the New York Islanders and Edmonton during more than a decade in the league. "We understand the importance of the games and the way scenarios play out for the playoffs and everything else. But if you're not having fun, the game becomes much more difficult."
Still, it's difficult not to grip your stick a little tighter when you've never experienced the weight of being in one pivotal game after another for the very first time.
The Blue Jackets, who have been outscored 12-5 in losses to Phoenix, Nashville and Minnesota in the last seven days, went into this week just three points behind Nashville, which has a tenuous hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
"Obviously, it's coming down to the wire here, so every point from here on out is so big," rookie tough guy Jared Boll said Monday. "We've got to start getting on a winning streak here and keep going."
Coach Ken Hitchcock has also been down this road lots of times before, first with the Dallas Stars and then in Philadelphia. He has taken teams to the playoffs in eight of his 10 full seasons heading into his first full year with the Blue Jackets.
"This is the first real bump for us," he said. "We were talking about it today. Every team goes through an extension of injuries or sickness, a loss of energy. The problem for us is that we haven't put money in the bank to afford it. So we've got to get this thing turned around right away."
Columbus hosts Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL's top goal-scorer, and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena. It is expected to be the Blue Jackets' second straight sellout.
Just like the fans, the players have taken notice of Ovechkin's impending arrival.
"Whenever you have a player of that caliber coming in, we're not going to revamp our whole game plan and our whole system to compensate for him," Columbus forward Manny Malhotra said. "He's obviously a huge part of their offense, a huge offensive threat. And we will pay special attention to him."
The Blue Jackets got more bad news on Monday. One of their top players, Fredrik Modin, went back on the injured reserve list with a hamstring problem. He had already missed most of the season with back problems. He's expected to be out a week or so.
In addition, leading goal-scorer Rick Nash left practice early with a bad chest cold - the same ailment which has hit just about everybody on the team. Nash is expected to play on Tuesday night, but several other teammates have been waylaid by sickness and the flu over the past few weeks.
Even though Peca, captain Adam Foote and other veterans are preaching patience, they also know that a loss is just another wasted opportunity that could come back to cost the franchise its first trip to the playoffs.
"We've seen all season long that if you win a couple, you're back in it. We're not out of this thing by any means," Peca said. "But certainly the way we've played as a team is of concern and needs to be addressed and needs to improve. But you win a couple and it could mean the difference."