Blue Jackets' Markus Nutivaara and Other Series Newcomers Shift Balance of Game 4

By Sam Blazer on April 19, 2017 at 9:30a
Markus Nutivaara rides Patric Hornqvist into the boards.

Russell LaBounty - USA Today Sports

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Entering an elimination game with nothing to lose is an uncommon situation to be in. It's only made stranger when you're a rookie in the NHL. Both Markus Nutivaara and Lukas Sedlak went into Game 4 with little to no expectations, and both are now series mainstays.

After the offensively and defensively weak performances delivered by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first three games, the lineups had to change. It wasn't just change for change sake either; multiple decisions were made before the series started that were outside of the team's norm.

Nutivaara was one of the most relied upon names throughout the season and come playoff time was missing in action. He was spurned in favor of a player that had played less than a dozen NHL games in Gabriel Carlsson and a depth defenseman in Scott Harrington.

Head coach John Tortorella has brought up multiple times that speed was going to be at a premium in the series. It explained why Kyle Quincey wasn't playing, but didn't give an answer to why Nutivaara was out of favor.

Nutivaara has shown his worth 10 times over in Game 4. By scoring a goal and a assist in a 5-4 win, he more than made up for the missing offense that Zach Werenski provided. His shot differential numbers more than made up for the punch Werenski gave the team as well: Nutivaara finished with a +16 Corsi last night to put him at 78.5% during even strength play. 

Markus Nutivaara slides the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4

A masterful performance from an unlikely name - his combination of skating and offensive awareness was just what the Blue Jackets needed. His wasn't the only name that surprised when drawing into the lineup.

Sedlak, returning from injury after weeks off, didn't reinvent the game but provided reliable minutes in his time. Similarly, Quincey, who had been pinpointed as an issue defensively because of his speed, used his other tangible attributes to change the game. That includes a bone-crunching hit on Jake Guentzel that set the tone for the entire game. 

Kyle Quincey crushes Jake Guentzel into the boards in Game 4

Quincey earned an assist for all of his troubles but his play only highlighted a part of this team that has been underrated all year long.

No matter whose named is called in any situation, they step up when the moment calls for it. That's what made the Blue Jackets tick all year long, and the playoff version of the Blue Jackets came together (if only for one night) in Game 4.

Key pieces of the puzzle have now been found, and Game 5 will tell us if it came too late.

 

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