There are a number of hurdles for the newly minted Blue Jackets to deal with in the coming days. Fresh off the first playoff series win in team history, the Jackets find themselves in the position of interested spectators while they await their second-round opponent.
Friday, it was back to the ice for the first time since Tuesday night’s 7-3 win against Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Coach John Tortorella was on the ice, barking out orders as shots were taken, bodies were slammed into the glass and laps were skated.
According to Tortorella, the biggest challenge in all of this going forward, though, is mental.
“Are we willing to put the work in now in the off days and making sure we are ready, but also understanding that we do have a few days here to lick our wounds?” he said. “But then when the series starts, it gets ramped up even more. The mental part is huge during playoffs. I think we crossed a hurdle, but there are many other mental hurdles in front of us here.”
The Jackets entered the postseason among the league’s hottest teams, winning six of their final seven games to clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They carried that over, sweeping the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning, giving them wins in 10 of their past 11 games.
But now they sit, awaiting the winner of the Boston-Toronto series that continued Friday night.
Different players had different opinions about the Bruins-Maple Leafs game Friday night. Matt Duchene said he would absolutely be watching it. Nick Foligno said he might not. Josh Anderson described this as “the best time of the year” but didn’t commit to necessarily watching that specific game.
“I’m more worried about our group,” Foligno said. “That’ll all shake out and we’ll prepare for whoever we need to prepare for, but I’m more concerned about our group and how we’re going to go about our business. I’m not ignorant to the fact that they’re playing and what’s going to go on, but for me it’s in this room, guys feeling good, guys making sure we’re dialed in so whenever we do find out we’re hitting the ground running.”
The time away from game action could conceivably help a few players dealing with injuries. Defenseman Markus Nutivaara, who missed the last two games of the series after a hit from Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov that earned him a one-game suspension, did not practice and Tortorella had no update on his status.
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Boone Jenner were both absent as well, with Tortorella saying both players were given maintenance days.
Alexander Wennberg skated with the team. He was a healthy scratch for the final seven games of the season and did not appear in the Tampa Bay series.
“I think when you go into playoffs you’re looking to get to the end goal, which takes a couple of months,” Tortorella said. “I think when you have a shorter series mixed in, it helps you in those (injury) situations, certainly us. We have some guys who are nicked up, some guys that even practiced today (Friday) that that’ll help. It’s a big challenge for the coaching staff as we move forward here just to make sure some guys haven’t been involved in this situation before. It’s a big job for us as coaches to make sure we do this the right way to get prepared for the next round.”