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Game 6 Practice Report: Changes could come to Blue Jackets' lineup

Hannikainen practices with main group; Gavrikov reflects on NHL debut

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

There was a new, smiling face on the ice as the Blue Jackets prepared Monday morning for Game 6 of their playoff series vs. Boston tonight. 

Markus Hannikainen skated with during this morning's full team skate, a sign that the Finnish forward could return to the Blue Jackets lineup for the game.  

Head coach John Tortorella has said he's not commenting on lineup decisions during the playoffs, but Hannikainen's presence on the ice suggests he could play for the first time this postseason and the first time overall since a March 24 game at Vancouver. 

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It would also seem the game fits his style, as the 26-year-old who had four goals and seven points in 44 games this year brings speed, aggressiveness and a physical nature to the game in a series that has been all three of those things in spades. 

"You said it -- that's the way I play, so that's what I want to bring to the table," he said after practice. "I've loved to watch the series. It's physical, it's fast -- everything I want to do myself, so let's hope (I get in the lineup)." 

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During the playoffs, the Jackets have been skating in two groups - those most likely to play in the upcoming game, and those who have practiced separately to stay sharp but not clog up the ice as the Jackets go through drills.  

Hannikainen, in large part, has been with the latter group, which also features injured players trying to work their way back to health. 

"It is difficult (to stay sharp), especially when you don't play," said Hannikainen, who is yet to play in a postseason game in his four-year NHL career. "You just try to stay ready. We have a good group of guys and we have good coaches to help us with that. I think every single guy that is out there is ready to play." 

Alexander Wennberg did not practice with the main group today, suggesting he could be the odd-man out among the forwards. Wennberg has played in the past four games for Columbus, with zero points or shots on goal in 10:29 per game, though he did force a turnover and have a nice feed to Cam Atkinson for a scoring chance in Game 5. He's also been a penalty killer for the Jackets. 

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Alexandre Texier was also on the ice after being a late scratch in Game 5. Forward Riley Nash (upper body) and defenseman Markus Nutivaara (upper body) did not practice with the full unit. 

Boston will skate with the same lineup as Game 5, with David Backes in at forward.

Gavrikov's debut: Columbus chose to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen during Game 5, paving the way for the debut of defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. 

The 23-year-old Russian slotted in and played 14:17, all but one second at event strength. He said he needed a few shifts to feel comfortable in his surroundings but felt like he turned in a solid effort. 

"It's amazing," he said of making the debut. "I was a little nervous before the first faceoff, but after the puck dropped, I just tried to do my best." 

Gavrikov finished minus-1 and was on the ice for the last two Bruins goals, though one was a 4-on-1 in which he was the only man back. On the late winner, he had to pick between two Bruins to cover, and Artemi Panarin's backcheck couldn't reach David Pastrnak in time as the Boston forward slid the puck into the net. 

Still, Blue Jackets brass was impressed by the performance of Gavrikov, who played for the gold medal-winning Russian team at the 2018 Winter Olympics and spent most of this season in the KHL.  

"You never know how the guy is going to do," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "Despite the fact that he has great experience with the Russian National Team, the KHL, Olympics, and World Championships, etc., still your first NHL game is your first NHL game. I think it was a great way to get him into the lineup and give an opportunity for the coaching staff to bounce some of the hot forwards around on different lines. 

"I thought he played great. We're really excited about him as part of our future. I think he's going to be a real solid NHL defenseman, and he looked like he had played in the league for a while right from his first game." 

Gavrikov said getting used to playing on a smaller rink, where there's more action than the international size, has taken an adjustment but that he prefers the style. He also credited the Blue Jackets staff and his teammates for helping him feel comfortable both on and off the ice. 

Now, he hopes to stay in the lineup going forward for the Jackets.  

"I can play better, and I will try," he said. 

Dents in the armor: For Tortorella, the best thing that happened for his team in Game 5 that it can take to Game 6 is the offensive explosion in the final 10 minutes of the third period. 

The Blue Jackets scored thrice in a 3:25 span, turning what was a 2-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie before Boston's late winner. And to Tortorella, that was a needed thing because the Blue Jackets had just one goal in the preceding six periods of play. 

Just like Sergei Bobrovsky had a bit of an air of invincibility shattered as Boston scored four goals in Game 4 after just six in the first three games, the Blue Jackets now know they can get to Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, whose save percentage for the series was nearing .950 before the offensive breakout. 

"I think one of the biggest points in our last game in Game 5 is that we dented their goalie," Tortorella said. "I think that was very important. I think they dented our goalie, we dented their goalie in that third period, which was very important going into Game 6." 

Boston has made it tough on the Blue Jackets to score goals the entire series, with Columbus potting just 11 so far. Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nick Foligno have yet to get on the board, but Tortorella sees a way the Jackets can create more. 

"We're playing against a team that checks pretty well," the head coach said. "We just need to not lose ourselves, and I think we have the past couple of games at certain times of the game, in some situational patience. But when we talk about patience, it does not mean we shouldn't be aggressive. I think we need to push it a little bit here -- not so much making east-west plays, tic-tac-toe plays because they're not going to be there. The Bruins are going to be in the middle of the ice. 

"It's about pushing it behind them and getting to work there. I think in some of the good minutes of our last game, that's where we were finding our offense." 

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