T-shirts have been placed on the Nationwide Arena seats with care, and a raucous atmosphere should be rocking the building in downtown Columbus tonight as the Blue Jackets return home up 2-0 in their playoff series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It's up to the Jackets to keep that atmosphere alight with their play in Game 3, and head coach John Tortorella hasn't shied away from the fact the team hasn't always been great at home this season.
Columbus was 20th in the NHL in home points this year with 46, with the team amassing a 22-17-2 record at Nationwide Arena. That was buoyed by the fact the Jackets won five of their last six at home.
Whether the Jackets found something or whether it was just happenstance that the team finished strong on home ice remains to be seen, but the team is excited to return home to play in front of their fans.
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"It's going to be awesome tonight," defenseman Zach Werenski said. "Obviously we're all excited. We can't change what we're doing because we're back on home ice. We have to keep playing the same way. The building is going to be rocking and the fans are on our side this time so it should be fun."
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Columbus will also have the last change, which could be huge, especially if the team is without defenseman Markus Nutivaara, who did not skate this morning with the team and was on the receiving end of a hard hit by Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov that earned the Lightning forward a one-game suspension for boarding.
Should Nutivaara not be able to play, Adam Clendening would be deputized for his first NHL game since Oct. 13. Clendening was scoreless in four games for the Jackets this year but has been an offensive force at the AHL level, posting four goals and 33 assists in 45 games.
Either way, the Blue Jackets are excited to play tonight in front of the home fans.
"I'm expecting great support from our fans on Sunday, and it's another opportunity for us to win a game in this series," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "It's going to be a tough game coming up for sure. We know how good the team is we're playing against. We just have to be ready on Sunday and hopefully great the great support from our fans and play well in front of them."
Texier's debut: Alexandre Texier will be in for a new experience on Sunday night: Playing in front of the home fans in Nationwide.
The 19-year-old French forward was called up with two games to go and played those games away from home, debuting in New York's Madison Square Garden and then playing in the season finale in Ottawa. Then, the first two games of the playoffs have been at Tampa Bay.
Texier couldn't help but smile this morning when asked about the chance to make his home debut.
"That's pretty nice," he said. "I've never played here, so it's going to be crazy tonight."
After scoring his first NHL goal at Ottawa, Texier has been kept off the scoresheet this far by the Lightning but is plus-1 in his two postseason games.
"I think it's a little bit different, yeah," he said of the playoff experience. "The game is more physical and you have to be ready every game. You cannot go out there and just have fun, you have to be ready to play."
As the defense turns: There was a welcome sight at the Ice Haus this morning as two Blue Jackets blue liners were on the ice. Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid, who have been out with upper-body injuries since Feb. 18 and March 28, respectively, skated with the team's scratches.
The team also awaits the arrival of Vladislav Gavrikov, the 23-year-old Russian and 2015 sixth-round pick who signed a two-year deal Saturday.
In the first two games, the pairing of Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington has been solid, though, with both of them at plus-1. Kukan has played an average of 10:35 thus far while Harrington has played 13:00 per game.
"I always say, when there's an injury, there's an opportunity for somebody else, and I think guys like Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington have handled the opportunity great," Kekalainen said. "Dean Kukan hasn't played a lot this year, Harry played most of the games all year, but Kukan to be has been tremendous now that he's gotten the opportunity to play full time.
"It's another proof of the opportunity that you need before you can show what you can do, but we believe in our defensive corps here. We like what we have, and if we get Gavrikov, we'll add a little more depth so it so we're in good shape."
Tampa update: The Lightning will enter Ryan Callahan into the lineup with Kucherov suspended. Callahan, a 33-year-old 13-year veteran who played in New York with Tortorella, has seven goals and 10 assists this season in 52 games but was banged up at the end of the season.
"Ryan, first and foremost, he brings outstanding leadership to the room," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "He's an energy player. He has filled that role for us multiple years now since we've acquired him. We've had success with him in the lineup."
In addition, Cooper said defenseman Victor Hedman, last year's Norris Trophy winner who is minus-2 thus far, is a game-time decision with injury. Cooper said Hedman, who did not practice Saturday, has not been "100 percent confident in his ability to be physical."
As for Kucherov being out, Tortorella was direct when asked about it.
"Nothing changes in our game," the Jackets head coach said.