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First-Round practice notes: Jackets keep it loose, embrace playoff fun

Tortorella wants Columbus to be excited, relaxed for Game One vs Washington.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Get out of their way, so you can find your way.

It's not the approach John Tortorella has always taken with his teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's the way he's going into this postseason. As the Blue Jackets gear up for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series on Thursday (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM), their coach is determined not to overload them with too much information.

"I used to do it that way," he said. "I'd have books on their desks [Monday]. I just think, it's just too much. I'd give them all the information and then they'd go out there and they can't even move, because they're paralyzed with so much information. So, I think it's the evolution of a coach, that you need to get out of their way and I think you'll have a much better opportunity to find your way."

VISIT THE BLUE JACKETS STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB

Columbus desperately wants to find its way, this season, but the Jackets don't want to let that drive become too much of a burden or mental block.

They didn't rattle off an 18-6-3 record in the last two months of the season, including a season-high 10-game win streak, by playing uptight. They did that by keeping a narrow focus, game to game, and just enjoying the daily push to make the playoff field.

After making it into the postseason, now the goal is to enjoy the ride.

"I think the way we're entering, I think we can be a dangerous team if we don't overthink this," Tortorella said. "You can't overthink this. Go play and allow yourself to play. I think we can be a dangerous team if we can get that straightened out."

If the mood at practice Tuesday was any indication, they're well on the way to getting it straightened out. There was a lot of hustle and the battle level was solid, but there were also smiles all over the ice.

Sergei Bobrovsky decided to get a drink at one point, while a drill was still going, and wound up making a couple nonchalant pad saves while leaning on the crossbar - helmet cocked back, revealing a smile.

Artemi Panarin played the role of Alex Ovechkin during the Jackets' simulation of the Capitals' power play, lifting a couple high shots into the chest of his center Pierre-Luc Dubois - laughing as the 19-year rookie shot a look back his way.

"It's the time of year to be loose," captain Nick Foligno said. "There's no pressure other than just playing well. Really, that's the only pressure we feel. We're a team that's going to have a lot of fun with this. That's been the message here and that's been the feeling here. We've toothed-and-nailed it [all year]. This is the time to come together and have fun with it."

So, that's what they're doing. The heavy lifting of the regular season is done. Now, it's time to savor the playoffs, like everybody else.

"I want our guys to have fun," Tortorella said. "It's such a grind and it's so hard to get into the playoffs. I don't think people realize how hard it is to get into the playoffs. When you do that, I think you need to stop and say, 'OK, this is supposed to be fun now.'"

Get out of their way, so you can find your way.

"This is the players' game, especially this time of year," Tortorella said. "We kick 'em, bark at 'em, grind 'em, get [mad] at 'em for six, seven months of a grind of a regular season. This is their time. This is where they make their career, their legacy … not in regular seasons. So, we're going to try to direct 'em [as coaches]. We're going to try to prepare 'em as best we can, without overthinking this, and then allow them to play. I do not want to be in their way … this is the players' time and they're the most important people."

News & Notes

Video: Tortorella on team's depth and dynamic playmakers

ALL GROWN UP

Tortorella was asked about Dubois and reiterated that he no longer thinks of the 19-year old top center as a rookie.

"I think he carries himself right on the line of knowing he's a really good player, but also has the humility to know that he's still a first-year guy in this league and he doesn't talk on the ice, when I see so many young kids in this league yapping on the ice, to me, acting the wrong way," Tortorella said. "I've always put him and [Zach Werenski] in the same category. They're really good pros, beyond their years of understanding what it is to be a pro. And I think that's helped [Dubois] progress. So, are you kidding me? I don't look at him as a rookie right now. He's turned into a young man here, before our eyes, in such a short season."

FOCUSED INWARD

Tortorella said it doesn't change much from a preparation standpoint that Capitals coach Barry Trotz has named Philipp Grubauer his starting goalie for Game 1.

Braden Holtby started all four games in the season series against the Blue Jackets, but was pulled in the fourth game, Feb. 26 at Nationwide Arena. Holtby allowed four goals on 16 shots in the first period and Grubauer replaced him. He stopped all 18 shots he faced.

"No, it doesn't change how we go about our business," Tortorella said. "We're just concerned about our game. We did a little special teams today, as far as what to expect on their power play. We'll have our power-play practice with respect to their penalty-killing. Odds and ends, that's a little bit more than regular season, as far as tendency of the team - because it is a two-week series - but when it comes to goalies and all that, no. We're just going to go about our business."

DYNAMIC 'BREAD'

Tortorella was asked whether Panarin is the kind of game-breaker the Blue Jackets were missing, prior to the trade that sent forward Brandon Saad back to the Chicago Blackhawks last summer to get him.

"Well, we're going to find out," he said. "When we traded 'Saader,' because I want to make sure when we talk about 'Saader,' … he's a really good player. 'Bread's a different-type player, because 'Bread' can make a special play to win a game. 'Saader' is just a really good player. I just think 'Bread's' more dynamic."

Panarin got off to a bit of a slow start with Columbus this season, but as he felt more comfortable with his new surroundings and teammates, he flourished. Panarin had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) and set new franchise records in single-season points and assists. He passed Rick Nash's 79 points in 2008-09 and Ray Whitney's 52 assists in 2002-03.

"I think for you to get through and find your way to be a better playoff team, you need to have some players that are dynamic, that you're not coaching it," Tortorella said. "They just see something, they seize a moment and they win you a game or make a huge play to get you back in the game and maybe you win it in another way. That's what he brings."

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