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Practice Report: Nutivaara's status remains in question for Game 4

Columbus thriving thanks to balanced scoring; fan festivities continue

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Will the Blue Jackets have Markus Nutivaara available tonight for Game 4 of their first-round series vs. Tampa Bay? 

It remains to be seen. 

Head coach John Tortorella said he had no update on the defenseman's status during his pregame availability Tuesday ahead of tonight's 7 p.m. faceoff. Nutivaara, who was on the receiving end of a hard hit in Game 2 that earned Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov a Game 3 suspension, did not play Sunday nor did he practice Monday or take part in an optional morning skate Tuesday. 

But he did take warmups ahead of Game 3, so it remains to be seen how things will go. 

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Even if he's not able to go, the Blue Jackets don't appear to be worried, which is a credit to such players as Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington and Adam Clendening who have stepped up in the absences of Nutivaara, Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid.  

Kukan, who played 25 regular-season games while spending most of the year as the team's seventh defenseman, stepped up in Game 3 and played 17:51 of action with David Savard. Meanwhile, Clendening was deputized after playing just four regular-season games and was solid in 9:16 of action while playing mostly with Harrington, who rotated in with Savard in the final moments with the Jackets clinging to a 2-1 lead. 

"They've done a great job," head coach John Tortorella said. "I think Kuks has found his game late in the year and is playing with a ton of confidence -- you could see him last night just as far as his puck skills. Harry is a guy that we all know just competes and plays and has been a big part of our team throughout the year here. 

"Clens, who has been going back and forth playing minor league games (with AHL Cleveland), coming back here, I did not realize that was his first (NHL playoff game) until someone said that last night. I thought he handled himself really well. He is not afraid." 

Video: GAME 4: THE JACKETS VS. LIGHTNING

Their ability to handle their roles allowed the rest of the defensive corps to excel in theirs. Seth Jones played 26:55, a high number but certainly not exorbitant, while Zach Werenski was in for 26:06 and Savard played 23:05. 

"It's great," Savard said of the increased roles and solid play of Kukan and Clendening. "It's not easy (for them) to come in at that time of year. The pace is going fast, and I think they worked hard all year to stay ready and you can tell it paid off. I think they came in and did a really good job." 

Balanced scoring: So far through three playoff games, the Blue Jackets have 12 goals, with 10 different goal scorers. 

That type of consistency is impressive, and a continuing factor from the end of the regular season. Columbus has 46 goals in its last 11 games going back to the regular season, with 16 different players getting on the board in that span. 

"If you're going to win hockey games, it's not going to be just one guy," Tortorella said. "I think when you get into series, teams, if it's just one guy they're worried about, I think you can neutralize people that way. I think if you have it spread, who are you going to check? What pair is going out against who? Hopefully we'll continue to try to have a balanced attack." 

Matt Duchene and Cam Atkinson are the two Blue Jackets with multiple playoff goals to this point. Going back to the regular season, though, the hottest player remains Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had eight goals in his last eight regular-season games then tallied the game-winning goal in Game 3. 

"He for the past two or three months has just played harder," Tortorella said. "His whole intensity of his game has just been harder, and I think he ends up with the puck more. He's playing his best hockey at the right time." 

On the whole, Columbus had seven players reach the 20-goal plateau, tied for the most in the NHL, and six of those players topped 25 goals. 

"It's been crucial for us," Atkinson said. "We have four lines that are going and the minutes have evened themselves out, and I think it wears teams down instead of using your first line or your first two lines where they're playing 20-plus minutes. Over the course of a series, you're going to get tired at some point (doing that)." 

A crowded room: Real estate has been hard to come by this spring in the Blue Jackets' locker room. 

The 23-man roster limit goes out the window after the trade deadline, and the Blue Jackets have not been shy about either adding players to the roster for depth or because of injury, or about bringing in new signees late in the season. 

At times, that has led to the addition of extra stalls into the locker room, but even that's sometimes not enough. Clendening, for example, dressed for Sunday's morning skate ahead of Game 3 on a folding chair in the middle of the room before getting a stall for the game. Tuesday, gear worn at practice by the newly called up Zac Dalpe and former Notre Dame defenseman Andrew Peeke was sitting in the middle of the room drying as fans whirred overhead in the room. 

As for Dalpe, he was brought up from Cleveland after a career year with the Monsters, putting in 33 goals in just 55 regular-season games to finish just one off the AHL's lead. That production helped Cleveland make the AHL playoffs, where they will begin play Friday at Syracuse. 

"We want to take a look at him," Tortorella said of the recall of a player who played one game with the Jackets this year and has suited up in 13 carer games with the CBJ and 141 at the NHL level. "They don't play until Friday, I don't think. We have some nicks here and there, so we brought him up to practice. I'm not sure where it all goes." 

In addition, the Blue Jackets signed 23-year-old Russian defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov on Saturday. The 2015 sixth-round draft pick has extensive experience, having played with the gold-medal-winning Russian team in the 2018 Winter Olympics and also boasts four-plus seasons at the KHL level. He will join the team after arriving from Russia once he receives his work visa. 

"I don't know much," Tortorella said of Gavrikov. "(General manager Jarmo Kekalainen) has talked to me about him. As I've said, Jarmo is one of the best talent evaluators I've been involved with, so he's given me a lot of information on him. He certainly comes with high credentials." 

Bring the noise: Much was made about the electricity in the air during Sunday's Game 3, and the Jackets expect the crowd to be similarly amped up Tuesday night with the team holding a 3-0 series lead. 

"I think it's going to be electric," Atkinson said. "Anytime we have made the playoffs, our fans show up, and we're going to need them to be even louder tonight and more into it, but I don't think I need to tell them that. It's pretty special. We can actually hear the fans in the locker room, that's how loud it is. It gives you the emotion and the adrenaline to get out there." 

Festivities will include a pregame party on the plaza at Front and Nationwide that begins at 4 p.m. as well as free T-shirts and rally towels on each seat in Nationwide Arena. In addition, a live pregame show featuring radio voice Bob McElligott and former Jackets Jody Shelley and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre will be available on the Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets Radio Network, on the arena big screen and at @BlueJacketsNHL starting at 6 p.m. outside section 119. 

Tampa update: The Lightning get back the NHL's leading scorer in Kucherov, who was suspended for a game for his hit on Nutivaara, but will still be without reigning Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman. Head coach Jon Cooper said Hedman, who had a 12-42-54 line in 70 games this year and was plus-24, will be out for the second straight game with an undisclosed injury. 

Former Blue Jackets defenseman Anton Stralman (2-15-17, plus-12 in 47 games) also will be out, while forward Alex Killorn, who has impressed this series, skated today after leaving Game 3 with an injury but will be a game-time decision. 

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