You can't replicate game situations.
For the last two-plus weeks, the Blue Jackets have practiced. And they've practiced.
Oh, and they've practiced some more.
The last time they played a real game, it was snowy and rainy in Columbus and they were trying to get back on track and stay in the playoff conversation. While it feels like eons ago, the time between Phase 3 and Phase 4 feels comparatively shorter.
They get one opportunity – tonight against the Boston Bruins – to acclimate to the "bubble" setup inside Scotiabank Arena and prepare for Sunday's Stanley Cup Qualifiers opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs. You can bet that John Tortorella's checklist for the exhibition game is detailed.
He wasn't thrilled with their practices earlier in the week, but things got more business-like on Wednesday.
"On the ice (Wednesday), I thought it was probably our best practice since we started up again," Tortorella said. "I thought we had a really good, sharp practice today. I’m glad we’re playing an exhibition game. Having said that, it’s an exhibition game and these guys want to play games. Coaches want games to be played, too. We need to. It’s been a long time.
"As much as we missed it and we get back and we spend these two or three weeks, this has been a long camp for these guys, because they want to play some games that mean something. And you can see the focus building up as we’re getting closer to that.”
Tortorella won't say much about how he's getting his team ready for game situations (but did you expect anything else?), however, the Blue Jackets have been a focused, lunchpail team under his direction.
Ramping up to the game situation, and eventually, what amounts to a playoff game on Sunday night, is the No. 1 goal for Columbus right now. It won't be easy, especially considering a four-month layoff between the pause and the start of Phase 3. And the fact their next game is a rather important one.
“I think it’s very tough for players to really get to the level of playing that real game," Tortorella said. I think it’s a little bit different here, because we just haven’t played a game in so long, so I think it will put a little bit of an edge into the game, (because) all they’ve been doing is practicing.
"Everybody’s sick of practicing. You can talk to any of the other coaches. I’m sure that everybody is just sick of practicing, and they want to play the game. So this will get us closer. I just don’t think you can ever simulate what is needed in a playoff or a play-in game here with an exhibition game.”