In search of a playoff berth, the Columbus Blue Jackets need solid production as they play their last eight games in 12 days.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the midst of a tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference, but in order for them to clinch their second-ever postseason berth, they have to play well over the next two weeks.
Over the next 12 days, the Blue Jackets will play eight games, three back-to-back series and four of the last seven away from the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena.
"These next eight games will feel a lot like the lockout did last year," said veteran center Derek MacKenzie said. "There wasn't a lot of time, and at this point in the season, sometimes, it's nice to finally tune some things, but rest will be a huge part of this."
Coach Todd Richards added, "You look at our last week, and we've got five games. Even in the American Hockey League, when, sometimes, you're playing five in six, but generally, you get some days off after that. I have not seen anything like this."
This final stretch of games starts at home tonight against the Colorado Avalanche, who have totaled 100 points and are in second place in the Central Division.
"They've got some talented players and you've got to give their coach (Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy) a lot of credit," Richards said. "You're seeing some guys really turn their games around this season, especially Erik Johnson on the back end. I had a chance to watch him leading up to the Olympics because he was a guy that we were watching closely, and I'd go in and watch his shifts. He's a guy that had a big impact in their games.
"They're a talented team. They've had the players there. They've drafted well, and that's why I say you've got to give the coach a lot of credit because he's come in and obviously, done something or some things to get that group to trust and believe, go out and execute and do it."
Although Richards feels it will be a difficult stretch of games, which includes five against teams who would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today -- the Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning -- he is confident the players will have fresh legs because of the four-line system he utilized early in the year.
"It's paid off all year, and as a coach, in the back of your mind, you are coaching the game to win that game," Richards said. "You've got to coach in that moment, but you're looking at where you're going to be the next night, or what you've got ahead.
"We're playing eight in 12 and that's present. Going into the games, it will be about trying to spread the ice time around. You've got to be careful about giving somebody, a forward, 20 to 22 minutes if you're going that high because there's just no time to recover now. The guys have done their work and guys are in good shape, but still, when you're playing eight in 12, if you overextend somebody, it might hurt them later on."