Blue Jackets feeling confident heading into Game 3

Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen (left) is congratulated by left wing Matt Calvert after scoring...

Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen (left) is congratulated by left wing Matt Calvert after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period of Game 2 of their first-round playoff series on Saturday. (Reuters)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:04 AM ET

There wasn’t a day when the light suddenly went on for Todd Richards.

The Columbus Blue Jackets coach can’t point to one game during the 2013-14 regular season and label it as the night he knew that his youthful players would have the chops to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But that’s fine. For Richards, it meant the Jackets, usually the youngest group in the National Hockey League, consistently was learning as it went.

“There was not any defining moment that it hit me that our young guys were ready,” Richards said on Sunday. “There were (regularly) moments in their games where they showed me and the rest of the coaching staff that they were ready for this.

“There was a little bit of a question coming into the playoffs about whether we were ready, and I think the guys have answered that.”

The Blue Jackets certainly have done so in the second playoff appearance in franchise history, winning Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins and taking an emotional advantage into Game 3 at Nationwide Arena on Monday night. The players expect their home building to border on bedlam, and it should be, considering it will be just the third playoff home game since the Jackets became standing members of the NHL in 2000-01.

It’s a good bet that forward Nick Foligno will be in uniform for the Jackets after recovering from a knee injury, as he has been medically cleared, but Richards would not give an update on defenceman Fedor Tyutin, who was hurt in Game 2. Nick Schultz or Dalton Prout would take Tyutin’s place.

In Pittsburgh, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said forward Brian Gibbons, who also left Game 2 with an injury, was day to day. Forward Marcel Goc, out with a foot injury, skated again on Sunday.


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While the Jackets were backed by the solid goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky during the regular season and had guidance from veterans such as Brandon Dubinsky and James Wisniewski, the youth shone.

Centre Ryan Johansen blossomed in his third year in the NHL with 33 goals; rookies Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray demonstrated they will have long, solid careers; and others such as Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson settled into comfort.

It could be that the Penguins ­— who don’t yet have a playoff goal from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or James Neal — get a hold of themselves and put their potential, which the Jackets can’t match, to use. If that happens, the Penguins will be off to the second round.

But Columbus, with an enthusiastic spirit and a forecheck that has given the Pittsburgh defenders trouble, won’t lie down.

“We’re not looking at any age right now,” Jenner, 20, said. “You can say we are a young team, but we play hard and we play physical. We know we are a good team and that’s all that matters.

“It’s good that we have learned together.”

Said Wisniewski, speaking to the maturity of Jenner, Johansen and Murray: “I almost feel like playoff hockey is really Boone’s cup of tea, and how big and strong Ryan has become over the last two or three seasons, he is really showing his potential to be a world-class player. Ryan (Murray) is that steady-Eddie type, a smooth-skating guy who does not get rattled.”

Few across the NHL would have cocked an eyebrow had the Jackets trailed off following the Olympics, unable to shoulder the mental load that comes with competing in playoff-type games before the post-season starts.

Instead, the Jackets were 14-8-2 in their final 24 games.

Where did the resolve come from?

“Some if it might have been the youth being really naive, and I mean that in a good way,” Richards said. “We have all been 22 and 21, and it doesn’t seem like a lot bothers us. I think that was part of it.

“Some of it was leadership, the confidence that comes with how to play the game, and when you have that, there is a belief. You have sound structure, that always leads to confidence.”


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