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Blue Jackets playoff success awakening passion of fans

More than 5,000 at Nationwide Arena for scrimmage while Columbus awaits second-round opponent

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Pierre-Luc Dubois saw the fans lined up outside Nationwide Arena when the Columbus Blue Jackets forward arrived for practice, which was his first clue that it wasn't going to be the normal work day.

The Blue Jackets said 5,500 people filled half the lower bowl to see 60 minutes of a scrimmage in preparation for the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Columbus next will play the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs. They play Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round series Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NESN).

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Columbus advances to Second Round

"I'm just shocked. … Does anybody work? Or is this a holiday?" coach John Tortorella said. "It's great for our guys to see the support."

It wasn't a holiday, but some schools are on Easter break. Nonetheless, the turnout shows the level of excitement for the Blue Jackets, who swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the best-of-7 first round to win their first playoff series.

"I had no idea how many would show up," Dubois said. "It's really fun to play when you know the city is behind you."

The blue-clad team (although the scoreboard read "Black") defeated the White 4-3 in a shootout. The game was played in two 30-minute halves with a running clock.

One player who didn't participate was goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He hasn't been on the ice with the team since making 30 saves in the 7-3 win against the Lightning in Game 4 on April 16; Tortorella said the goalie is taking a planned rest period. Bobrovsky did face shots from several of the reserve players after practice Saturday.

The fans did get their first look at Vladislav Gavrikov. The 23-year-old defenseman, a sixth-round pick (No. 159) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Gavrikov signed a two-year entry-level contract April 13. He played for White after practicing for the first time Saturday.

Gavrikov had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 60 games with SKA St. Petersburgh in the Kontinental Hockey League this season, and one goal in 18 KHL playoff games.

"It was fun for me," he said. "After one practice I'm tired out there but I feel comfortable."

The fun was supplied by the fans, who began "C-B-J" chants at 11 a.m. when the players took the ice.

"It was awesome," forward Cam Atkinson said. "We loved it, feed off it."

Atkinson said the players are anxious to see who they'll play next and when they'll start playing again.

"It was good to get the juices flowing today," he said. "It's obviously not like a playoff game, but the boys got a little bit out of it."

Tortorella said the aftermath of the Blue Jackets winning their first postseason series has been interesting.

Some fans came to his suburban home, with Tortorella noting the entry gate is far from the house and the land is fenced because his family has numerous dogs.

"They drove up to the gate and some people were so emotional talking about what they experienced in Game 4 and the series," he said. "That meant a lot. Some people would feel indignant about it. I'm not inviting everybody over to my house now, but it was emotional for me too to see how much they care.

"I'm just thrilled to be part of it and thrilled the people are behind us."

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