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Practice Report: Blue Jackets ready to battle Bruins

Columbus will keep same lineup as last two games vs. Tampa Bay

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

If there was any intrigue regarding the Blue Jackets' lineup for Game 1 of their second-round playoff series at Boston, John Tortorella ended that Thursday morning. 

Speaking to the media before morning skate, Tortorella confirmed that neither Markus Nutivaara nor Vladislav Gavrikov would be entering the lineup against the Bruins.

That means the team will keep the same lineup, which includes defensemen Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington and Adam Clendening, as it used in the final two games of the first-round win vs. Tampa Bay. 

Video: Round 2, Game 1: Jackets vs. Bruins

There was hope for some that Nutivaara, who did not play in the final two games vs. Tampa Bay after taking a hit that earned Nikita Kucherov a boarding suspension in Game 2, might be able to return, and the second-pair defenseman did travel with the team to Boston. 

But Nutivaara will not return, while Gavrikov -- who joined the team after signing a contract after the conclusion of the Tampa series at the end of his season in Russia -- also will not make his debut in Game 1. 

Kukan, the Jackets' seventh defenseman for most of the season, moved up to the second pair in Nutivaara's absence and meshed well with David Savard vs. the Bolts. Harrington stayed on the third pair and was matched with Clendening, who played just four games with the Jackets this year and spent most of the year with Cleveland of the AHL. 

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

But Clendening has been impressive in limited duty, playing just 8:09 on average in Games 3 and 4 but earning an assist as well as a plus-2 rating. 

"He's played well in Cleveland," Tortorella said of the 26-year-old Clendening, who had 37 points in 45 games with the Monsters this year. "The thing I like about him is he has a swagger to him where the presence of the situation and how big it is, it doesn't bother him. 

"He gave us some good minutes (vs. Tampa Bay). We certainly are putting him in spots to help him have success in certain situations in the game, and that's part of our job as coaches until he really gets a full feel for it, but he gave us some good minutes when we needed it with all the injuries we've had in our back end." 

The Blue Jackets also continue to be without blueliners Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid, who have been out of the lineup since Feb. 18 and March 28, respectively, with upper-body injuries. 

Nash returns 

Riley Nash spent the past two seasons in Boston and was well-regarded in the organization before signing a three-year contract with Columbus this past offseason. 

GAME 1 HUB: Highlights, tweets, and news

Last year, Nash had a career-best season with a 15-26-41 line and played in nine playoff games with the Bruins before departing to the Blue Jackets. 

He knows a lot of the Boston players he'll be suiting up against starting tonight, but he doesn't expect to spend much time socializing given the importance of the situation. 

"I know a lot of those guys, but at the end of the day it's about this group this year," Nash said in the opposing locker room after practice. "I think every guy goes through journeys in their career where they are probably going to play for multiple teams, so they're going to have friends in the league. It's been a great journey with this group this year and hopefully we can keep that going." 

Nash got off to a slow start with the Blue Jackets but has come on of late. He had three goals and nine assists for 12 points this season, but eight of those points came in the last 35 games as he started to gain his footing. 

"It was definitely a slow start," he admitted. "Offensively and defensively just trying to find my way, adapt to the new system, let it be second nature for me instead of thinking so much out there. Once I found I stopped thinking as much and I just played and it was natural, things started turning around. After the new year, I thought I started playing a lot more solid, a lot better and just tried to build on it throughout the year." 

Tortorella has paired Nash with fellow forwards Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky so far in the playoffs and using the three as a defensive zone line, and the trio performed that job well in the first round. Nash also added a huge goal, scoring to stem Tampa Bay's momentum in the third period of what would become a 5-1 win in Game 2. 

"There were some struggles early on," Tortorella said. "I think the past two, three months, the way he reads the game, he is just a smart positional player. He has played really well, and we have found a really good spot for him. I think that line has played well. And he makes up for a little bit of lack of foot speed with how smart he is as player and has played against some top lines and has done really good job. He's really come on here at an important time of the year." 

Rest vs. rust 

The ultimate debate going into this series is which team has the advantage -- a Columbus team that has had more than a week to rest its bodies, or a Boston team that has been playing all the way through Tuesday's Game 7 win vs. Toronto. 

Tortorella gave one final thought on that during his morning press conference, and to the head coach, he feels Boston might have an advantage simply because it was able to keep sharp over the last week. 

"I do believe the nicks and just the pains and the soreness, I think in playoff hockey, that makes you more ready to play," Tortorella said. "So that's where you debate this rest vs. the Bruins coming off going through a seven-game series. These are elite athletes, so I don't think you can even bring into the equation that it's about being tired because I don't think they will be. 

"This isn't about a physical tired, this is about a mental readiness, as I've tried to talk about all along. That's where I think they have the advantage going into one here because we are not sore, we are not in that state of mind. You simply can't be when you have eight days off. Coaches try to make it happen, but you can't." 

So to Tortorella, just how quickly Columbus can return to the mental level needed will be the key. 

"You just can't simulate emotion, and I think that's what playoff hockey is about," he said. "It's not a lot of X's and O's, it's about playing in the areas, handling the surges, all different things that happen in the games. We're going to experience it early. I hope we're ready, but I can't guarantee how it is." 

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