John Tortorella constantly harped on the need to come out of the gates as quickly as possible in the three weeks leading up to Sunday night’s series opener, and his team abided such a request.
The Columbus Blue Jackets topped the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0, in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Qualifying series. The victory set them up to need only two more wins versus Toronto to earn a playoff berth.
Tortorella and a couple of his players spoke to the media on Monday evening less than 24 hours ahead of Tuesday’s second game of the series. Here are three things to know from their interview sessions.
All About Discipline
Contained in the bubble, it’s not like Columbus players and coaches have a lot of options when considering how to spend their time. The NHL beginning play in the Qualifiers on Saturday gave them something to do.
On that first day of the postseason, a television-watching Tortorella saw the number of penalties called, and understanding Toronto’s offensive firepower he made it a “point of emphasis” to stay disciplined.
“We want to give ourselves the best chance and stay out of the box that way, with a good power play over there,” Boone Jenner said. “Just try to check with our legs, keep our sticks down and stay disciplined that way.”
The Blue Jackets, after averaging the second-fewest penalty penates per game in the regular season (6.54), stayed out of trouble on Sunday. They were only called for one penalty, with Cam Atkinson spending two minutes in the box. Every other team involved in the postseason had more penalty minutes in their first game returning to action, and six teams were given more than 16 penalty minutes in their respective openers.
“I thought the refs for both teams did a great job in letting the teams play,” Tortorella said. “I thought that's why it was such a good game, because both teams were allowed to play. Both teams had surges. We find a way to score a goal. We're going to continue to try to be disciplined and just try to play the right way.”
In order to keep up their winning ways, it’ll be important for the Blue Jackets to heed those words.
Gav 'N Sav
Among Columbus’ defensmen, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski get the majority of the headlines. That fact is unavoidable, even to them.
But it’s worth highlighting the play of David Savard and Vladislav Gavrikov, both of whom were on the ice for at least 18 minutes, delivered multiple hits and blocked numerous shots. Savard – who Gavrikov recently deemed “Mr. Blocker Shots Machine” – recorded five blocks.
“I think our whole team appreciates what they do for us in terms of blocking shots, being heavy down low, just how they play the game, how they shut other teams' top lines down,” Werenski said. “They might not be as talked about as a guy like Seth Jones, but they do so much for our team. We really appreciate them and everything they do for us, especially on the penalty kill late in games when we're up one or two and they have a goalie pulled. Those guys will stand in front of any puck and block any shot.”
Tortorella has reiterated that the Blue Jackets won’t intentionally match any of their players up with Toronto’s, meaning Savard and Gavrikov will face any and all Toronto players who take the ice. That doesn’t concern him whatsoever.
“They play well off of one another,” Tortorella said. “They've been paired for quite a while. I just think they're in sync. They're very good defensemen underneath the hashmarks and very underrated as far as what they can do up the ice offensively.”
Last In The Door
A few days before the five-game series opened, Tortorella tipped his hand. He touted Dean Kukan’s improvement over the recent years, noting how little he was discussed two or three seasons ago. It sounded like he had the edge to earn the final spot in the lineup, and such a thought was proven correct on Sunday.
Kukan, who was competing with Markus Nutivaara throughout July’s training camp, lined up beside Ryan Murray on the third pairing of defensemen. He played 13 minutes versus Toronto, which included four shots on goal.
“Kuks outplayed (the others),” Tortorella said. “For me, it was coming down to Kuks and Nuti – (Scott Harrington) also. Harry's given us some good minutes during the year. But we just thought Kuks played better than the others. (Andrew) Peeke gave us some good minutes when we had injuries. It all happens with the injuries when you get to see your players play. But the decision, everybody was all for it as far as the decision we made, as far as that sixth guy.”
After a shutout in Game 1, there’s no reason to think Tortorella’s reconsidering placing Kukan in the lineup.