BLUE JACKETS (18-20-4) at RANGERS (21-20-2)
TV: FS-O, MSG
Last 10: Columbus 4-5-1; New York 6-3-1
Season series: This is the third of four games between these Metropolitan Division rivals, who play again March 21 at Columbus. The road team has won each game so far, with the New York Rangers winning 4-2 Nov. 7 at Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets winning 4-2 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 12.
Big story: Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is back from a groin injury and starts for the first time since Dec. 3. The spotlight may not be as bright as when former Rangers forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov returned to New York for the first time in December. But the stakes are definitely higher Monday; New York sits just four points ahead of Columbus in the division standings, although the Blue Jackets have one game in hand.
Blue Jackets: After winning four of their past six games, Columbus couldn't have started much better when they faced off on the road against one of the NHL's top teams, the St. Louis Blues, on Saturday. Anisimov and Mark Letestu opened the scoring to stake the Blue Jackets an early 2-0 lead. But things flipped in the second period, when the Blues outshot Columbus 17-6 and outscored them 3-0.
Patrik Berglund opened a three-goal third 14 seconds into the period. St. Louis finished off a 6-2 win with six unanswered goals in the second and third periods.
"There's no excuses. We just didn't have an answer for it. They came hard," Letestu told the team website. "To the D's credit, they held the fort as long as they could. As a group of forwards, we didn't support them enough. It wore our D down and you saw the results there in the third."
The game was the second of the season for offseason acquisition Nathan Horton, who missed the first three months of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. It also opened a crucial stretch for Columbus. Over the next four weeks, the Blue Jackets will play nine of their next 13 games at home. A number of those games will be against division opponents, including two matches with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rangers: After closing out a franchise record nine-game homestand Dec. 23 with a 3-4-2 record, the Rangers went 3-2-0 on a five-game road trip that concluded Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. While New York suffered division losses on the trip to the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, it ended the trip with a 7-1 win against the Maple Leafs, marking the first time all season the Rangers scored more than five goals in a game.
Six different Rangers scored in Toronto. New York received first-period goals from Carl Hagelin and Dominic Moore and didn't look back. With the win, Cam Talbot improved his record to 9-3-0 and lowered his goals-against average to 1.66.
"The guys played great in front of me," Talbot said. "Scoring the first goal and getting the lead was important."
Who's hot: Dubinsky has 11 points in his past 14 games. … Benoit Pouliot has six goals and 11 points in his past 14 games after going pointless in 14 games for New York. Derick Brassard has nine points in his past nine games.
Injury report: Columbus is without Cody Basss (thumb), Marian Gaborik (collarbone), Jared Boll (foot), Matt Calvert (upper body) and Jack Skille (upper body). Forward Derek MacKenzie is also serving a suspension for a hit on Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes. … Derek Dorsett is out 4-6 weeks for New York with a broken leg.
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