Pre-game comments ahead of Sunday night’s game versus Columbus.
With all the back-to-backs, how different is it not having to hop on a plane last night, stay in a hotel, all that goes with it?
Babcock: Yeah, it’s good. I’d imagine back-to-backs are on a year-by-year rotation. If you have the most the one year, the next year you get the least. I assume that’s the way the league works. We’ll get that worked out. The other good thing about our situation – I think we’re owned by TV companies, so we should be able to get this sorted out in no time.
If there are no symptoms with Freddy, are you expecting him ready for game 1 of the first round?
Babcock: For sure. I expect him ready for practice tomorrow.
How do you refocus the group after such an emotional game where you clinched? This is an important game.
Babcock: We’ll be refocused. The other thing about us is some of the tension that we’ve had and some of the nerves that we’ve had will be gone and we’ll be ready to play again. I think it’s a good experience for our guys to go through it and understand that if you just do good things, good things happen. There is no issue that way. As we won game after game after game, you know you’re not going to win every night. It’s impossible in our league. You’ve just got to make sure when you get off it, you get back on it as quick as you can.
How much of a priority is it to try to move up in the standings?
Babcock: You come here and you do good things and you see what happens. What I’ve learned over time – I’ve been in the playoffs many, many times – is you just be careful about what you wish for. Be careful who you’re picking.
The nerves the team dealt with in the last week… how does that compare to the nerves in the playoffs?
Babcock: I think it’s a way different thing for our team. What happens is you have nerves when you win the President’s Trophy and you’re playing a real good team in the first round, or you’re a real good seed. That’s when it’s a totally different program. We’re so far away from that program, though. We’ve got two years left before that happens.
You’ve talked a lot about Connor Brown as a drive train-type of guy, someone who can really push the envelope in terms of intensity throughout the season. The game winner last night was his 20th goal of the season. How impressed have you been with his progression from the beginning of the year to today?
Babcock: For sure. Everyone talks about Marner, Matty and Willy, and they don’t talk about Hyman or Brown and Zaitsev. Do we have another rookie, or? And Kap, Sosh. Those guys haven’t been around as much. You talk about those other guys, but these guys, they bring it every single day. If you go through being a professional and doing it right and pushing your teammates and all that, they’re as good as anybody. Those guys are the guys that you need on your team to be successful. Ideally, the better players those guys are, the more impact they can have because they play in our top six. Really, we have a top nine. I don’t know what the difference is there. I think that makes them real good players. Bu, good for Brownie. You’re a kid in the league and you get 20 goals. It’s hard to get 20 goals. Just like for Auston – 40 goals? That’s unbelievable. Those are good numbers for those guys.
In terms of the rookies, at the beginning of the season, was it daunting to look at it on a piece of paper and say, “it’s not one or two. It’s seven. I’ve got to get them all on this page by whatever the date might be’”?
Babcock: I never thought much about that. I just thought that we have a good group here and we’re going to play our kids every night. If you go through our ice time, they all played around 16 minutes, and we just played them and played them and played them. When they made mistakes, we dealt with them without any question, but we kept playing them, too. We knew that was our mandate. No different than us having a mandate last year. We think they’ve made great strides. We have a lot of young guys on the team but we also think Nazem Kadri has grown a lot as a player. We think van Riemsdyk has grown a lot as a player. Bozak had a career year. I think it’s important to understand: It’s fun to talk about the kids because everyone thinks they’re going to get better, but we wouldn’t be here without good veterans leading the way. It’s all part of being on a team.
Obviously, everyone gets to take a deep breath, but there is a lot of work to do. The most fun time of year is right now. You want to be playing. We’ve earned the right to play. Now, let’s play well here today and get ready for the playoffs.
When you guys were a little bit tight earlier in the week and when you had some bad luck in that game, how much is a game like that and a reaction like that valuable to the development of young players in the program?
Babcock: I think it’s really good. When Lou is willing to spend the draft pick to get Boyler, it’s a lot. In saying that, for him to come in and stabilize us and help us get in the playoffs and be the kind of man he is, to me that’s a positive, positive thing. It gives you the opportunity to be in these games to grow your team. We talked a lot about that as it looked like there might be an opportunity. How far can we advance our program if we do get in? There are no guarantees you’re getting in. There are lots of good teams that are at home, but we think it’s important and we think this little stretch we’ve been through is important as well. In saying all that, that’s all over with now. Let’s get playing.
What was the mood like in the building last night?
Babcock: It was interesting. Everyone was telling me how loud it was. I didn’t, to be honest with you, hear one thing. I just knew I had to get the right people on the ice next. We had to finish the game. I was more focused on that than the energy. My wife told me it was spectacular. Great for our fans, and it’s exciting, obviously. But really good for our players.
The Blue Jackets have struggled of late but they’re still a good team. What sort of opponent are you expecting?
Babcock: I’m not too worried about where they’ve been or what their struggles are. There will be a game today and they’ll want to play good, we’ll want to play good. We both want to have a good feeling going into the playoffs. I expect they’ll be ready to play and we’ll be ready to play. Should be fun tonight.