The Columbus Blue Jackets have played the equivalent of six hockey games in six days, and Nick Foligno said they’re ready for more.
To be precise, they’ve played 362:01 of hockey, a little more than 18 periods, since Aug. 6.
No problem, the Blue Jackets captain said Wednesday.
“We obviously would not like to play that many periods but we’re very capable of handling that load and look forward to the opportunity after a tough one yesterday,” Foligno said. “We’re a team that always seems to be able to look forward to the next one and really looking forward to that challenge.”
Foligno had a bit of a swagger when he made those comments. At no time did he exhibit a hint of frustration or devastation one day after a 3-2 defeat in five overtimes to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round.
Brayden Point‘s goal at 10:27 of the fifth overtime gave No. 4-seeded Tampa Bay the win in the fourth longest game in NHL history, and the lead in the best-of-7 series, which resumes with Game 2 on Thursday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, SUN, FS-O) at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern hub city.
Fogilno said he is confident No. 5-seeded Columbus can handle the physical and mental toll of such a quick turnaround, even after playing so much hockey recently.
“I just think the standard of strength and conditioning for our team is so high,” Foligno said. “Obviously (coach John Tortorella) mandates it in his training camp. The way we play we have to be able to handle the physical conditioning because of the style we play.
“So I don’t think it’s that hard.”
That doesn’t mean the players weren’t feeling the aches and pains on Wednesday. Each team cancelled scheduled practices but did have workout sessions with their respective training staffs in order to avoid stiffening up.
“We woke up a little sore, sure, but today’s all about recovering and trying to get better,” Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said.
If anyone knows how the players on each team are feeling, it’s Keith Primeau. The forward scored at 12:01 of the fifth overtime for the Lightning in a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinal on May 4, 2000, ending the third longest game in NHL history.
“In a game like that, once you get into the second or third overtime, the adrenalin and emotion does play a part,” Primeau said in a phone interview Wednesday. “You come off a shift and you tell yourself you have to recover and regain energy quickly because you are going to go out there for your next shift very soon. After that, if you’re not sore, you are going to be extremely fatigued.”
Primeau watched the entire Lightning-Blue Jackets game at his New Jersey home and said he was “mesmerized” by the drama.
“For the players moving forward from here, it becomes a mental challenge,” he said. “Today’s going to fly by for those guys. And then they have to go out and do it again tomorrow. It happens so quick. And when you’ve played the equivalent of almost three games in one night, you have to tell yourself you have to reenergize and refocus in a short period of time.”
The Blue Jackets have shown a penchant of doing exactly that during their heavy workload of the past week, which has been a wild roller coaster of emotions.
In Game 3 of their series against Toronto, Columbus won 4-3 in overtime on Aug. 6 after trailing 3-0. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored the winner at 18:24 of overtime.
One night later, the Blue Jackets surrendered a three-goal lead and lost 4-3 when Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews scored at 13:10 of overtime, forcing Game 5.
The Blue Jackets responded with a 3-0 victory in Game 5 Sunday to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After suffering a gutting defeat to Tampa Bay Tuesday, they will try to rebound again.
“We believe in ourselves,” Foligno said. “Things are going to go wrong in games. We just want to have the right response whether it’s between the ears or physically. You look around the room and I see that in every guy. Whether we falter one game, I know we’ll be ready to go the next.
“We’re really proud of this group and we’re excited to show that on this stage.”