Created on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky says he's over the disappointment of Russia's Olympic failure in hockey. Now he's committed to getting the Columbus Blue Jackets into the playoffs.
FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2014 file photo, Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky defends a shot by USA forward T.J. Oshie (74) during a shootout in a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. All of the Columbus Blue Jackets including Bobrovsky are back with the team and preparing for the NHL season's restart after a three-week respite. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
"Right now I feel pretty good. It's already behind us," he said. "Right after the games, I felt empty and I felt bad. But that's already past."
Bobrovsky and three Blue Jackets on the Russian team arrived back in Columbus a week ago and have had plenty of time to acclimate to their NHL club. The game Thursday night at New Jersey is their first after the NHL's Olympic hiatus.
Coach Todd Richards, an assistant to Dan Bylsma with fourth-place Team USA, is still catching up on lost sleep from the Sochi Games. He called it the experience of a lifetime, memorable for a warm welcome by the Russian people, great competition and an enjoyable three weeks.
"I walked into my fourth-floor apartment and our back balcony was a stone's throw away from the Black Sea," he said. "Everything was great. It was pretty impressive. It'll be something I'll be able to look back on throughout my career."
However, there will be reminders of the disappointment the Americans and Russians shared in Sochi.
When players first returned to the dressing room after Tuesday's practice, someone had rigged the sound system to blare, "O, Canada." Center Ryan Johansen, a native of the Canada that won the gold medal, may or may not have been the guilty party. Regardless, he was singing along, loudly and off key.
Now the Blue Jackets can focus on what's ahead. The club is fourth in the Metro Division, three points out of third and in the thick of the wild-card chase in the East.
With 24 games over the next 6½ weeks, they need a strong finish. They'll need a repeat of what they put together a year ago, going from last place to tying for a playoff spot by closing with a 19-5-5 flourish.
Chief scorer Marian Gaborik is back from surgery to repair a broken collarbone.
"We're right there on the bubble and we want to make sure we have a good start and an even better finish," said Gaborik, who didn't play for Slovakia in the Olympics because of the injury. "This group has done a lot to change since the start of the year. We're playing more consistently and hopefully now it's going to graduate to us playing better."
When the NHL suspended play for the Olympics, the Blue Jackets were playing some of their best hockey of the season. They had won 11 of their last 16 games, including a franchise-record eight-game winning streak.
"The carrot's sort of dangling right in front of us. We know what's at stake," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "If that's not incentive enough to bring that level that we need to have on a daily basis to win hockey games regularly, then this team wasn't meant to go far. But I believe we have the right guys in this room who will chase that carrot down."
It'll be a sprint to the finish. Anyone slow out of the blocks will get left behind.
"You can't be one of those teams that is trying to find its game the first three or four or five games," Richards said. "We're going to see how much this means to us based on when we come back, what type of shape are we going to be in physically, mentally and emotionally? If we're serious about it and this is something we truly want, well, words are easy to say. It's always about our actions."
So far, so good. Richards said Tuesday's practice might have been the best since he took over as head coach in May 2012.
The Blue Jackets will be without top-pair defenseman Fedor Tyutin for two to three weeks because of an ankle injury sustained while playing for Russia in the Olympics. But, fourth-line enforcer Jared Boll is close to returning and everyone else is apparently healed — physically and psychically — after the Olympics.
"We've had a couple of days off, and a couple of good nights of sleep," said Artem Anisimov, yet another Russian Olympian. "Now we're ready to get to work. We're ready to continue."