For the second time in this seven-game first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They dropped the five-overtime opener, bounced back with a 3-1 win two days later then lost again, 3-2, on Saturday. John Tortorella’s team will hit the ice once again at 3 p.m. Monday for Game 4 of the series. But first, the coach and a couple of his players addressed the media on Sunday, updating everyone on the team’s standing.
Fatigue Catching Up
After Saturday’s loss, Tortorella deemed “the recap” of the game as Columbus playing arguably the best 12 minutes of the series followed by the team collectively hitting a wall.
His up-front attitude almost would have come off as an excuse for the players – if it weren’t for Tortorella being the speaker, of course. Sunday afternoon, he followed up his post-game comments, clarifying his words.
“We're always honest with the players,” Tortorella said. “It's not giving them an out. That's not what we're trying to do. I think sometimes people may perceive it that way. As hard as we push and as honest as we are at certain areas in what we want and the standard of play that we want, standard of practice that we want, we also need to be honest with them as far as where we think they're at as far as their energy level. We're honest about everything – good, bad and ugly – as far as what's going on with our team.”
Because he felt his team needed a break from skating, he canceled the scheduled practice on Sunday in order to “refresh ourselves to play the next game.”
“I’m not a doctor, but I do know at certain times, even when you go through the regular season, you look at some of the games, you look at some of the minutes. Sooner or later, it catches up with the body,” Tortorella said. “I don't have the equations or the analytics and all that stuff. I just judge by the athlete, and that's why what I said last night after the game I meant. When it's a group of men that looked, and to me it's not physically tired (but) mentally tired and some mental mistakes, that's when I have to start thinking maybe we hit a wall there.”
What matters now is Columbus getting past the fatigue wall to continue moving forward in this series. If it goes seven games, the Blue Jackets would play four games across six days.
Seth Jones shook his head. No, he said, he didn’t go over and give Emil Bemstrom a pep talk after the 21-year-old missed an open net off of a pass from him during a prime 5-on-3 scoring chance in the first period of Game 3.
“It's a good try, you know,” Jones said. “It's an open net. He gets great wood on it. I'm sure he'd like to have the shot back.”
Had Bemstrom found the back of the net, would the game have changed? Who knows. Jones said he doesn’t want to play the what-if game, and Tortorella sure seemed after the game that he didn’t imagine anything would’ve altered the outcome.
Still, though, it was a memorable miss that would’ve given the Blue Jackets ample momentum with which to work. Instead, it was somewhat deflating, keeping the game scoreless.
“He's still a young man trying to understand,” Tortorella said. “Now he's been bounced out of the lineup, comes back in. This is all part of a process for a young player. It's been a problem of Bemmer's really all year long as far as hitting the net. This is part of it. It's part of growing up, understanding what it is to play on this stage and to make those important plays at key times. So it's a good experience for him.”
A Bright Spot
Since signing with the Blue Jackets two years ago, Riley Nash hasn’t been one to put up monster stats. He’s not going to singlehandedly swing a series. In the regular season, Nash had five goals and nine assists with a shot percentage of 7.8 while spending 11:51 on the ice per game.
His counting numbers haven’t undergone a major uptick in the postseason, but his contributions haven’t gone unnoticed, either.
“He's played well,” Tortorella said. “I've had him at center. I've had him at wing. He's been in some checking roles. He's been a really good faceoff guy for us. He's a very intelligent player – has been since we've gotten him. It's just playing with the speed and tempo that we want him to play, and I think that's improved.”
Nash both scored a goal and added an assist in Game 3, marking his first two points of this postseason. He also ranks third on the team – behind Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nick Foligno – by winning 52.6 percent of his faceoffs.