Riley Nash

Blue Jackets look to Swedish players for scoring punch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to Sweden to help fill the scoring void left by departed star forward Artemi Panarin.

More specifically, the Blue Jackets are relying on a quartet of Swedes – two of them rookies who haven’t played in North America before – for some scoring punch as they open the season Friday night against Toronto at Nationwide Arena.

Twenty-year-old Emil Bemstrom and 26-year-old Jakob Lilja played together on the same Swedish elite league team last year, and both made the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster out of coach John Tortorella’s notoriously rigorous training camp.

Bemstrom, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2017 draft, was a scoring machine in Sweden. Lilja was signed as a free agent and impressed the Blue Jackets in the prospects tournament in Michigan. Both could end up skating together on the fourth line on either side of veteran Riley Nash.

”It’s a really different game,” Lilja said. ”Smaller ice, so like if you lose the puck in the wrong places it’s creating scoring chances right away. The players are really skilled, so you don’t want to lose the puck to them. Overall, it’s like a high-speed game. Even at the pro level in Sweden it’s really defensive. So just better players and smaller ice, so everything goes a little bit faster.”

The other two members of the Swedish coalition will be expected to bear more of the burden as the Blue Jackets try to return to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Center Alexander Wennberg, 25, will try to fulfill the great promise he showed three seasons ago when he put up 59 points for Columbus and seemed poised to break out. Veteran Gustav Nyquist is a solid top-six forward who was signed as a free agent after registering 60 points last season with Detroit and San Jose. The two are slated to skate together on the second line.

Rookie Alexandre Texier is expected to take Panarin’s place on the top line with center Pierre-Luc Dubois and winger Cam Atkinson . Team veterans including captain Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson all will have to step it up to compensate for the loss of Panarin’s team-leading 87 points a season ago.

No worries about the blue line, though.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones continue to make up one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and there is some good depth behind them.

Joonas Korpisalo will be given a chance to be the everyday goalie after the free-agent departure of Vezina Trophy-winning stopper Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now with Florida. Rookie Elvis Merlikins also will see time in the net.

Last season was filled with drama surrounding the pending departures of Panarin and Bobrovsky. Tortorella said none of that is hanging in the air anymore.

”I think as the season begins here and all the questions start coming our way, I think there’s an inner camaraderie about the definition of guys wanting to be here,” he said. ”I think that’s really important, to have a team that’s going to try to be competitive in this league and stay competitive, is people wanting to be here. We have that. I think they’re rallying around that. This will grow as the season goes on.”

Marchand ramps up Bruins – Blue Jackets trash talk

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The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs feature a downright dizzying array of upsets, so in this time of uncertainty, it’s comforting to see some constants. And is there really anything more constant than Brad Marchand stirring up some drama?

The superstar-agitator was in playoff (and by no means “rare”) form after the Bruins managed a 3-2 OT win against the Blue Jackets in Game 1, trading barbs with former teammate Riley Nash, and possibly riling up Cam Atkinson.

Hits keep coming

David Krejci is considered day-to-day after being shaken up by a couple of hits, most notably one by former teammate Nash:

Marchand had a fun line regarding Nash, via The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa.

“I don’t think he had a hit in two years with us,” Marchand said.

People seemed to agree with Marchand’s sentiment, but to be fair to Nash, that comment carries some (gasp) hyperbole. Nash averages a bit more than a hit per game during his career, including 86 during 76 games with the Bruins in 2017-18.

Perhaps Marchand should start chirping scorekeepers for counting up Nash’s hits? Marchand averages ever-so-slightly fewer hits per game, although some of his hits have drawn the ire of the Department of Player Safety.

Tip: Marchand might be better off mocking Nash for his lighter scoring, particularly after Marchand wrapped up his first 100-point season. Just saying.

Another tip: Don’t ask Marcus Johansson about Marchand’s hitting abilities.

Shenanigans

In an odd exchange during overtime, Marchand stepped on Atkinson’s stick, or as Marchand explains it …

Atkinson gave Marchand a bump after that moment, and following Game 1, Atkinson said he would “go toe to toe” with Marchand, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline. Given some time to rest on it, Portzline indicates that Atkinson’s tone became more bemused than truly annoyed, but who knows?

This rivalry figures to build as Round 2 goes along, even if it doesn’t devolve into fisticuffs and ill-advised penalties. So far, Atkinson’s most common even-strength forward adversary has been Marchand. While Columbus managed to keep the Bruins’ most potent scorers from producing in Game 1, the possession numbers and eye test both argue that Marchand was getting his chances, and Boston obviously won. It remains to be seen if Atkinson & Co. can improve as the series goes along, or if John Tortorella might want to get away from that matchup when the Blue Jackets get the last change when the series shifts to Columbus.

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It’s tempting to wonder if Atkinson might be able to distract/”get Marchand off his game,” but honestly, it seems like Marchand thrives on this kind of gamesmanship. And hey, trash talk doesn’t exactly make things dull like Marchand’s skate blade, either.

The Bruins hope to build on their 1-0 series lead against the Blue Jackets in Game 2 at TD Garden at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday (NBC; stream here).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blue Jackets’ magic hasn’t run out, pushes Bruins to Game 1 OT

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For a while there, the story of Bruins – Blue Jackets Game 1 seemed to boil down to Columbus failing to take advantage of a Boston team that came off a lengthy, challenging series against the Maple Leafs. But, instead of rest vs. rust, the focus is on Columbus pulling off another “did that really just happen?” moment.

The Blue Jackets hadn’t been able to get a goal past Tuukka Rask for most of Game 1, while Sergei Bobrovsky managed to keep Columbus in it when the team seemed to be shaking off rust (or simply getting outplayed by the Bruins).

It was only a 1-0 lead for Boston, though, and that flip-flopped to a 2-1 advantage for the Blue Jackets, as Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin scored two goals just 13 seconds apart. Check those goals in the video above.

The Bruins didn’t collapse after that stunning spree, though, as Charlie Coyle buried the 2-2 goal after a nice Marcus Johansson pass.

Round 1 provided hockey fans with 10 overtime games, and the first Game 1 of Round 2 now pushes it to 11. You can stream that game here; meanwhile, Blues – Stars Game 1 can be streamed via this link.

Shocker: Blue Jackets blow out Lightning 5-1 to take 2-0 series lead

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The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to pull off a stunning comeback to capture Game 1. Going up 2-0 in the series against Tampa Bay was a far cleaner affair as the Blue Jackets cruised to a 5-1 victory Friday night.

After winning a record-tying 62 games in the regular season, Tampa Bay came into this game with something to prove, but the Lightning didn’t play like a team that just got a rude wake-up call. Instead, Columbus carried its momentum from Game 1.

Cam Atkinson managed to squeak one through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 5:05 minutes into the game. Rather than answer back, Ondrej Palat took a hooking call at 11:40 of the first that led to Zach Werenski almost immediately scoring on a rocket.

Trying to spark his team, Lightning forward Brayden Point fought with Werenski. It certainly wasn’t a likely matchup, but it didn’t end up being a turning point in the game.

Matt Duchene scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period to put the Blue Jackets up 3-0. Werenski got an assist on that marker to earn the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay a sign of life 5:00 into the third when he made it 3-1 and soon after that, Nick Foligno took a tripping penalty to give the Lightning the man advantage.

Tampa Bay had the best power play in the league during the regular season, but the Blue Jackets managed an impressive kill to drain whatever momentum the Lightning had built. From there it was just adding insult to injury as Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin each scored to turn what was already looking like a decisive win into a blowout.

The Blue Jackets spent the final 4:26 minutes on the power play because of Nikita Kucherov‘s boarding major. We’ll have to see if the league feels that one warrants further discipline.

“This is a five-alarm fire. We are facing adversity. Sometimes that’s good to face adversity,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game, per Pierre LeBrun.

What you’ll be hearing a lot about now is the fact that Columbus also started its Round 1 series against the Capitals with back-to-back wins in Washington last year. Of course, the Capitals won the next four games and went on to win the Stanley Cup. For Lightning fans, that’s a reason to remain hopeful. For the Blue Jackets, it’s a reminder that nothing has been decided yet.

Lightning-Blue Jackets Game 3 from Nationwide Arena will be Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Blue Jackets get huge win; Torts calls Shaw hit ‘ridiculously suspendable’

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Since going all in at the NHL trade deadline the Columbus Blue Jackets have been … confusing.

Honestly, that is probably the only way to describe the past month as they have failed to consistently play up to the expectations they created with a flurry of blockbuster trades and have been unable to make any kind of a significant move in the standings.

Their game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night was probably the most significant one remaining on their schedule, simply because this is one of the teams they are directly competing with for a playoff spot. A regulation win would result in a four-point swing in the standings for one of them.

It was the Blue Jackets that ended up coming out on the positive side of that swing.

They managed to shake off an ugly first period performance and stormed back for a 6-2 win that brought them even with the Canadiens in the standings at 90 points and, for now, gives them possession of the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are also now just one point back of the Carolina Hurricanes, who lost again to the Washington Capitals on Thursday, for the first Wild Card spot.

Oliver Bjorkstrand was the biggest offensive star for the Blue Jackets with a pair of goals, while Artemi Panarin, Brandon Dubinsky, David Savard, and Riley Nash also found the back of the net.

The other big story in this game was a hit by Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw that knocked Blue Jackets defender Adam McQuaid out of the game. Have a look.

Shaw was given a two-minute minor for interference during the game, but the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is already looking at it for potential supplemental discipline.

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who went absolutely ballistic on the bench after the hit, called it “Suspendable. Ridiculously suspendable” in his post-game press conference.

Shaw was announced as the Canadiens’ nominee Masterton Trophy earlier in the day. He has 18 goals and 43 total points in only 57 games has been one of the Canadiens’ most productive forwards this season.

With Paul Byron already injured as a result of his fight on Tuesday night the Canadiens could find themselves without two key forwards at a pivotal point in their season.

Given that their remaining schedule is absolutely brutal (their final four regular season games are against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets — four teams that are not only playoff teams, but are also legitimate Stanley Cup contenders) the timing of all of that could not possibly be worse.

UPDATE:

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.