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Practice Report: Nutivaara getting closer to return for Blue Jackets

Defenseman skates with team ahead of Game 2

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

There was a welcome site on the TD Garden ice Saturday afternoon for the Blue Jackets. 

Markus Nutivaara skated with the team for the first time since Game 2 of the team's opening-round series with Tampa Bay, joining the squad for an optional practice ahead of tonight's game vs. Boston. 

Nutivaara said he's not yet ready to return to the lineup, but his return to the ice for practice suggests he's getting closer to playing. 

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"It's amazing," he said of being back on the ice with his teammates. "You want to be on the ice all the time, so I'm happy to go on the ice and pass the puck, shoot the puck and be with the guys." 

But, he added, "You gotta get in shape. The games are hard and long games, so you gotta be ready when you step in." 

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Nutivaara declined to say what was injured when he was sent into the boards late in the team's Game 2 win over Tampa Bay by Nikita Kucherov. The hit earned Kucherov a suspension for Game 3, and Nutivaara said he couldn't avoid seeing it given the high-profile nature of the situation. 

"It's hard to watch, and it was all over (the place)," he said. "It looked way worse than it was." 

Still, he has been unable to play since the hit. He warmed up before Game 3 against Tampa Bay but couldn't play, saying, "I just wanted to play so bad. I wanted to give it a shot." 

Instead, he watched Games 3 and 4 from the locker room instead of the Nationwide Arena stands. 

"I couldn't watch," he said. "It makes me want to play so (badly), so I watched those games on the TV. It's hard to watch. You want to play these games so bad. I'm just trying to get in shape now." 

Nutivaara played in 80 regular-season games, totaling five goals and 16 assists.  

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Special teams key 

The Blue Jackets in Game 1 vs. Boston saw the special teams perform as though they did during the regular season: The penalty kill was strong but the power play left something to be desired. 

Columbus had to kill just six penalties in the entire opening-round sweep of Tampa Bay but was shorthanded four times in the opener vs. Boston. The Blue Jackets' PK finished 4-for-4 on the kill, a continuation of a season in which the Jackets finished second in the NHL in PK. 

Still, the team will hope to be on the kill less against a Boston team that topped 25 percent on the power play during the season and was at 43.2 percent in their first-round win vs. Toronto. 

"It's huge," captain Nick Foligno said. "They feed off their power play. Obviously they are pretty dangerous. We really trust our penalty kill, but you don't want to be using those guys all night. It's going to be a crucial part of this next game is making sure we keep ourselves in check and get our legs moving and eliminate the (penalties) you can." 

PLAYOFF CENTRAL: Your one-stop location for news, notes, videos, and more

On the power play, Columbus was 0-for-4 in the opener after going 5-for-10 in the series win vs. Tampa Bay. Stealing goals on special teams will be key considering Boston was second in the NHL this year in allowing just 128 5-on-5 goals. 

The Blue Jackets said rust and an aggressive Boston penalty kill contributed to the 0-fer in Game 1, but they expect to be able to create some success as the series goes on. 

"I think they were aggressive up the ice," said Zach Werenski, who is on the CBJ's No. 1 power play. "That was tough for us. They're a fast team. They are a team that plays on instinct. It's hard to pre-scout them because you don't really know what they are going to do. Guys like (Brad) Marchand and (Sean) Kuraly, they're going to chase you behind the net they're going to buzz up ice. Sometimes they'll come, sometimes they won't.  

"We just have to be sharp. I think if we move the puck well, sharp and quick, it creates pressure moving forward. We just have to move the puck faster than they can skate." 

Atkinson vs. Marchand 

It was one of the memorable moments of Game 1, and it led to a memorable back-and-forth - with tongues planted in cheeks - from Cam Atkinson and Marchand on Friday. 

As the two lined up for a faceoff in overtime of the opening game, Marchand lifted his leg and put it down on Atkinson's stick, snapping it at the blade.  

Luckily for Atkinson, the linesman didn't drop the puck, and he was able to call attention to the situation and go to the bench to get a new stick. 

It was the kind of play that makes Marchand one of the league's top agitators, and he pleaded a bit of mock innocence Friday when asked about the situation. 

"Yeah, I think he was trying to dull up my blade there, send me to the room to get it sharpened. It's kind of rude of him to do," Marchand told the Boston media. 

Atkinson, of course, was asked for a response after the Jackets' practice and had one. 

"He owes me $300, so you can tell him that," Atkinson said, referencing the cost of a stick. "I'm expecting that." 

When asked if Marchand owed Atkinson or the team, he had a quick response amid laughter.  

"Me," Atkinson said. "It's my property. It says Atkinson on it." 

Later, when asked how Marchand could pay him, another quick retort: "Cash. Straight cash." 

It remains to be seen whether Marchand will hand Atkinson three hundred dollar bills on the ice -- what a moment that would be -- but Atkinson said he's not going to try to let the incident further boil 

"I'm not going to go out there and be like, 'Oh my god, he's on the ice. I have to go break his stick,'" Atkinson said. "I think he feeds off of that. He's been doing these sorts of things for a long time. That's what makes him successful.  

"Would you love to have a guy like that on your team? Absolutely. He's a hell of a player. But I'm not going to go out there and go, 'He broke my stick.' I'm going to say, 'You broke my stick and you owe me a new stick and you owe me money.'" 

D responds 

Werenski and Seth Jones comprise the Blue Jackets' top defensive pair, and both were on the ice for the game-tying and game-winning goals by Charlie Coyle late in Game 1. 

Both also owned up for mistakes they thought led up to the goals. For Jones, that meant not being in position to break up a nearly rink-wide pass from Marcus Johansson that led to Coyle's tying tally. 

"It's a 2-on-2, he has his guy and I have my guy. It's a play I make all the time defensively," Jones said. "The whole game isn't entirely on that goal, but we were in the driver's seat there up 2-1." 

Werenski was also in the spotlight after his play on Coyle's overtime winner. It was a weird play, as a puck was lofted into the neutral zone and Danton Heinen and Werenski battled for it as it landed near the blue line. In doing so, Heinen barely was able to keep his skate onside as he took control of the puck, and Werenski for a split second threw his arm in the air to signal he thought the play was offside. 

Then, as he was caught in between, that allowed Coyle to speed by him to the backdoor to slam home Johansson's feed for the winner. 

"Obviously I'm (upset) at what happened," said Werenski, who also suffered a bruised hand when he was hit by a puck in the third period. "It sucks. You never want to make the mistakes that ends up in the back of your net. Unfortunately for me, that's kind of how it went (in Game 1). I just have to move past it and try to help this team win." 

Werenski said looking back, he should have been more aggressive in slowing down Heinen at the blue line whether the play was offside or not. 

"It's a tough play because it's a high flipper, and you never know how those are going to bounce," he said. "I think if I'm more aggressive on the start of it and take Heinen away right away, they don't set up." 

The Boston side 

Boston forward David Krejci left Game 1 after taking a late hit from Riley Nash but appears ready to play in Game 2. In addition, Boston skated this morning with David Pastrnak as the third forward on a line with Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron, which would unite the Bruins' three top scorers. In addition, former Blue Jackets defenseman John Moore appears to be out again for Game 2 after missing the opener with an upper-body injury. 

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