Zach Werenski's first foray into the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended abruptly when he took a puck to the face against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017.
His second trip to the playoffs ended in six games...after the Blue Jackets won the first two on road in Washington, D.C.
Now, Werenski and the Blue Jackets have a shot at redemption. After dominating at times over the past couple of seasons, the former University of Michigan defenseman is looking to focus in and find his game. It hasn't been an easy third season in the NHL for Werenski, who battled through inconsistency earlier in 2018-19 but has ramped it up since the trade deadline, forming one-half of a defense pairing that will need to lead the way for the Blue Jackets against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blue Jackets went 7–1–0 leading into the playoffs and played some of their best hockey, and that stretch came after a series of bad losses (think: Edmonton) and subsequent soul-searching. Werenski believes it brought them closer together.
And the trade deadline additions – of which there were four – have assimilated into their new dressing room and pitched in to get the Blue Jackets into the playoffs.
"I think we have some chemistry now," Werenski said Tuesday. "I think right after the trade deadline, it's hard to get that chemistry. (There's a) little bit more pressure on us (to) make the playoffs. Now that we're here, anything can happen."
As part of that chemistry, the Blue Jackets needed to find a way to work together as well. The hard work that got them to that point was a pivotal part of it. They aren't going to match skill-for-skill against the Lightning, a team that boasts three 40-goal scorers and 62 regular season wins. Columbus' recipe for success involves a less sexy style of game.
"We have to be the hardest working team on the ice to win games," said Werenski. "That's our identity, that's how we have to play. At the deadline, we might have shied away a little bit. And our record showed it."
Werenski will play plenty and as part it, he will need to lead by example. The buck stops with Werenski and players of his ilk. An unsung hero may emerge, but the best will need to be the best for the Blue Jackets to have a chance – and maybe, it'll take a bit more than that.
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