Matt Calvert #11 of the Columbus Blue Jackets attempts to check Brian Dumoulin #8 of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Clean, but hard. Physical, not flagrant.
The Blue Jackets aren’t looking to make any friends in their first-round playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they don’t want to be on speed dial at the NHL’s offices, either.
“Every time you get a chance to get a lick on one of their top guys, you absolutely have to do it,” Blue Jackets veteran Scott Hartnell said. “Do it legally. You can’t get your stick up. You can’t get your elbows up. You don’t want to put your team down a man.
“But we want to skate, use our legs, get in on pucks and turn things over. They’ve got some banged-up defensemen, and we need to put some heat on them.”
The Blue Jackets had their best season — and finished fourth in the league’s overall standings — by being one of the most-difficult teams to play against, with a smothering forecheck, four relentless lines and a collection of players who don’t mind the rough stuff.
They can’t change now that the stakes are higher. If anything, they need to amp it up.
“It’s part of who we are,” coach John Tortorella said. “That’s a big foundation of this club, the physical play. We can play a lot of different ways. The addition of some of the youth from the Calder Cup team has added more skill to our lineup, but our heartbeat is our physical play. We work off of that, and that needs to be there.”
The Penguins have come unglued in seasons past when confronted by physical teams, but that changed last season when coach Mike Sullivan taught them to channel their frustration and helped guide them to the Stanley Cup.
But on the list of players loathed by the Penguins and their fan base, at least three Blue Jackets appear:
• Tortorella has called the organization “arrogant” and accused its star players of “whining.”
• Hartnell, who has always pushed black-and-gold buttons, was part of a huge brawl with Pittsburgh in 2012, when he played for Philadelphia.
• Center Brandon Dubinsky has shown Penguins star center Sidney Crosby no deference, playing him as physical as any other player.
Dubinsky might have moved to the top of the Penguins’ “hate” list in the last couple of years by fighting Crosby after they tangled in a corner and by drawing a one-game suspension for cross-checking Crosby in the back of the neck.
“We certainly want to be physical, but it has to be within the rules,” Dubinsky said. “We’re not trying to out-bruise them or run them out of the building ... but physical play certainly is going to be a big part for us to be successful. I don’t doubt that we’ll be ready for that aspect.”
The Penguins had the NHL’s third-best power play (23.1 percent) this season, and they had 49 more opportunities with a man-advantage than the Blue Jackets did (260-211).
So the Blue Jackets must be smart. Nasty, but smart.
Hartnell, 34, told teammates two weeks ago, with a devilish grin, that he was ready to “bring the old Hartnell back.”
There’s only one thing that feels as good as scoring a game-winning goal in your home rink, he said.
“When you have a big hit on one of their guys, or score a big goal ... to ruin somebody’s night, or a whole city’s night — especially (tonight) — it would be an unbelievable thing,” Hartnell said. “We have the personnel in here. We have a lot of grit, a lot of speed, a lot of skill and a lot of guys who are hungry. You can see it in their eyes."