Hurricanes Record: 19-16-9 (47 pts.)
Blue Jackets Record: 19-20-4 (42 pts.)
It's been eight years - EIGHT - since the Carolina Hurricanes logged a win against their new Metro division rival Columbus Blue Jackets (December 15, 2005, to be exact). When the two teams met in Raleigh on December 23rd, with five minutes left in the third period and a 3-2 lead for the home team, it appeared that long losing streak would finally be over, until two late period goals from the Jackets threw yet another lump of coal into the Christmas stockings of Canes fans.
A lot has happened over the last few weeks.
The Blue Jackets have seen the return of two important cogs in their machine. Offseason free agent acquisition Nathan Horton started his Columbus career with shoulder surgery, and finally debuted in the line-up three games ago, on January 2nd, where he immediately made his presence known by scoring the game-winning goal against the Phoenix Coyotes. And Bob's back. Reigning Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky returned from a groin injury Monday night and made 40 saves for a 4-3 shootout win against the New York Rangers, and he'll be in net tonight.
The hard-working and opportunistic Blue Jackets are 3-3-0 since their win against the Canes on December 23rd. They return home tonight after a four-game road trip that ended Monday, and not having played since then, their team will be rested. Tonight is Horton's home debut at Nationwide.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, continued the downward spiral for a few games before a miraculous third period turnaround on New Years Eve set them on a path for a five-game winning streak, the most recent last night's 6-1 home dominance of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The momentum has allowed the Canes to jump back into playoff contention, as they currently hold on to fourth place in the Metro division and eighth place in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the second wild card spot.
A bizarre travel week which included the postponement of Tuesday's game against the Buffalo Sabres due to weather has the Canes heading into this back-to-back situation a bit more rested than normal. After making the quick trip to Columbus last night, they won't hold a full practice this morning, although there will be media availability around noon.
There are no known line-up changes coming out of last night's game. Jordan Staal's line will certainly be left intact. Elias Lindholm, fresh off his World Juniors Championship with a goal and a three-point effort last night, may move up in the line-up and Tuomo Ruutu may move down. Mike Komisarek, who was a healthy scratch last night, may see time if there are any dings in the defensive ranks. All signs point to Anton Khudobin in net again because why not. Khudobin is 6-0-0 with a .943 save percentage (let that sink in).
Injuries include Eric Staal (lower body, missed two games), Cam Ward (IR, lower body), Riley Nash (IR, lower body) and Jiri Tlusty (IR, appendectomy).
Depth chart (from last night's game):
Tuomo Ruutu - Jeff Skinner - Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Drayson Bowman - Manny Malhotra - Radek Dvorak
Zach Boychuk - Brett Sutter - Elias Lindholm
Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore
John-Michael Liles - Ryan Murphy
There may be a few tweaks in the Blue Jackets line-up today, as forward Blake Comeau appeared to be injured in practice yesterday. If Ryan Craig is able to play, he may slot into the line-up, otherwise head coach Todd Richards has indicated he may go with seven defensemen. Matt Calvert returns after being out of the lineup since December 21st, and Dalton Prout has been cleared to play.
Derek MacKenzie will not be eligible to play as he is serving a three-game suspension for boarding Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the game played against Phoenix on January 2nd. Marian Gaborik (collarbone) and Jared Boll (ankle tendon surgery) remain on injured reserve.
Blue Jackets depth chart (from Thursday's practice, subbing Craig for Comeau):
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner - Artem Anisimov - Nathan Horton
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - R.J. Umberger
Ryan Craig - Mark Letestu - Corey Tropp
Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson
Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski
Nikita Nikitin - David Savard
Happy Birthday to veteran Canes radio broadcaster and Hockey Hall of Famer Chuck Kaiton! We'll have the game thread ready to go at 6:30 pm. See you there.