From "Soccergate" scandal to 8-1 drubbing on Nov. 10 to
loss of Oshie to injury, fireworks expected tonight at Scottrade Center
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues wake up this morning, they will go about their normal routine for a game day.
A team meeting and a skate in the morning, then they reconvene for lunch and maybe an afternoon nap before heading back to the arena to begin preparations for a game.
But this isn't going to be just another game night.
It's the Columbus Blue Jackets, who invade Scottrade Center for a 7 p.m. drop of the puck (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Why would this be an extenuating circumstance? Well, consider the train-wreck the Blues encountered when they faced the Jackets in Ohio on Nov. 10.
And it all began before a second ticked off the clock of the ice surface at Nationwide Arena.
It started with Blues players, going through their ritual of playing a game of circle soccer prior to the game. For whatever reason, Jackets winger R.J. Umberger -- claiming the Blues were invading space not designated to them while he was warming up -- decided to crash the game, angering those Blues players involved. The most vocal was goalie Ty Conklin.
It then spilled onto the ice, a game in which the Blues were humiliated 8-1, a game that began a 0-4-1 slide after a franchise-best 9-1-2 start.
Play was chippy, to say the least, throughout the game, and near the end, it was more than costly for the Blues, who lost winger T.J. Oshie to a broken ankle after a senseless scrum with the Blues down by seven.
So as the Blues (13-9-4) get set to tangle with those same Jackets (15-10-1), they do so with added emotion; a chip on their shoulders.
It's not easily forgotten to lose a game by a wide margin but be humiliated in such fashion.
"We all know that game was a pretty bad game from our perspective," said winger B.J. Crombeen, who scored the lone Blues goal. "We really didn't have our game. Any time you lose a game like that, it definitely hurts. We're just focused on being ready for tomorrow and playing our game for a full 60. Obviously, they're a team that if we're not (ready), they can bury us pretty quick.
"You can definitely take it as a little motivation, but you can't be too worried about that or thinking about that too much. I think we've got to focus on playing our game. If we do that, things will take care of themselves."
There were 23 penalties and 92 penalty minutes handed down in the game, 82 of them in the third period, the same third period that saw the Blues lose Oshie for at least three months, if not longer.
"We're mad because we lost the game," winger Cam Janssen said. "We didn't have a good game last time against them and they embarrassed us in their building. We're not going to accept that. If we did, we wouldn't be a good, hard team to play against. That is definitely in the back of my mind. I was playing in that game and I was completely embarrassed by it afterwards. It was a bad, bad game for us. We've been waiting for this game to come back in our barn. It's a divisional rivalry. You know what, let's go at it and let's have a good game. But don't think that we're not going to come out flying because we are."
Translation: be in your seats by the drop of the puck.
"I'm going to be moving my feet," Janssen said. "I hope everybody else is because if we are, that's just the way we need to play. That's the way we've always played. That's the reputation we have: hard-nosed, in-your-face, 100 miles an hour and not looking back. That's how we win games and that's what we're going to do tomorrow night.
"Just like they did to us. It's time for us to set the tone. We don't want to get over-carried away or anything like that, but we need to play our game. That's what our game consists of. I'm not saying anything differently. We're not going to do anything differently. We're going to go play our game. That's 100 miles an hour, back-check, fore-check, details. If that's what we're doing, we're going to be successful against them."
Of course, Blues coach Davis Payne is downplaying all the hoopla surrounding the game. He's more focused on the task at hand and continuing what the Blues were able to do Sunday night in Vancouver.
"I don't think last game has much to do with tomorrow other than the two points on the line, within the division, within the conference against a team that has made the statement that they're going to be there in the picture," Payne said Wednesday. "That's the whole story to us.
"We didn't like the way it went (in Columbus). They were on, we were off. That happens. The four-point swing in a divisional game, a conference game is a big one for us."
Can Payne see this one getting chippy and being played out differently than any other Blues-Blue Jackets game?
"I don't think so. I think there's enough history there," Payne said. "There's enough familiarity with each other that the carryover's going to be there from the last couple seasons. Even with the last game, we know what this game means. We know how hard-fought these games are. We intend to be ready for it."
As for "Soccergate," Umberger, who ran through the Blues' game at the time that angered players, expects a bulls-eye on his back tonight.
"Probably," said Umberger, who may wind up doing his pre-game warm-up outside if the Blues have anything to do with it. "... Whatever. It's not going to change the way I play.
"I expect a real competitive game from them in their building, where they're usually pretty good against us. They'll be fired up and wanting revenge, so we should expect their "A" game tomorrow night."
Included in that "A" game, could there be a message sent to Umberger himself?
"With that situation? No. I think the message was sent that his teammates didn't back him up," Janssen said. "We're not worried about it. We're trying to get warmed up for the game and if he's going to do that, he's going to do it. ... I remember when I walk in, any time I see an opposing player after the game, before the game, outside of the game, I try to be nice and respectful and have as much respect for the guy. I even go out of my way to be overly nice to them because that's the way I am. That's the way everyone should be. Leave it on the ice. Don't do that, especially if you're not going to back it up."
For fans, it's advisable not to be late. It should be a wild ride from start to finish.