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Second Round

Gavrikov could make NHL debut for Blue Jackets in Game 1 against Bruins

Rookie may get chance to bolster Columbus with three defensemen injured

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Vladislav Gavrikov could make his NHL debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said during a teleconference Wednesday he must weigh inserting the 23-year-old Russia-born defenseman, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract April 13, against the play of his defensemen in sweeping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

The Lightning, the highest-scoring team in the NHL during the regular season (3.89 goals per game), scored eight goals in the series, five in the final 11 periods.

Video: Blue Jackets sweep Lightning for first series win

"We'll see where it goes," Tortorella said. "The six defensemen that played in the series against [Tampa Bay], I liked what went on there."

There may be an opportunity for Gavrikov because three of Columbus' top six defensemen each is out with an upper-body injury.

Ryan Murray has missed 28 games and hasn't played since Feb. 18, Adam McQuaid has missed nine games and hasn't played since March 28, and Markus Nutivaara missed the final two games against the Lightning after being boarded by Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov in Game 2.

None of the three has practiced in the past week or is expected to be available for at least Game 1.

Replacement defensemen Scott Harrington (seven), Dean Kukan (four) and Adam Clendening (two) have a combined 13 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. 

Video: Blue Jackets look to stop Bruins' stellar top line

Gavrikov (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 60 games this season for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League, and has 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 222 KHL games and 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 57 KHL playoff games.

He helped the Olympic Athletes of Russia win the gold medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and also played for Russia at the IIHF World Championship in 2017 and 2018.

"Playing for Russia, it's the biggest games for me," Gavrikov said. "It always helps [with experience]."

Tortorella said he has relied on Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen for a scouting report on Gavrikov.

"I trust Jarmo as far as the information he gives me on a player," Tortorella said. "This guy can play. We know he can play."

Gavrikov practiced with the Blue Jackets for the first time Saturday and played in a scrimmage Monday. 

"I have no idea when he comes into play, if he does," Tortorella said. "He's only been on the ice twice with us. You can certainly see he has a nice awareness as a defenseman in our scrimmage. He has some bite to him that he couldn't show in a scrimmage game playing against his teammates."

Gavrikov did not practice Tuesday to take care of immigration matters that Tortorella said shouldn't affect his status for Game 1.

Tortorella is not afraid to use players with little or no NHL experience in the playoffs. France-born Alexandre Texier, a 19-year-old forward, came from Liiga, the top league in Finland, and played seven games with Cleveland of the American Hockey League before playing in the Blue Jackets' final two regular-season games and all four games against the Lightning; he had three points (two goals, one assist) against Tampa Bay.

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