The Anaheim Ducks are hoping to win the first division title in franchise history. Losing games to the Columbus Blue Jackets is only going to make that task more difficult.
The first-place Ducks (45-20-12) are four points ahead of Dallas and San Jose in the Pacific Division, and trail Nashville by just three points for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Anaheim plays its final regular-season home game against the Sharks on April 4 before closing the season at Dallas and Columbus on April 6 and 7, respectively.
While the Ducks have 31 points more than the Blue Jackets (32-37-7), that disparity has not been evident in the season series. Columbus has two one-goal road wins against Anaheim this season, most recently a 5-4 shootout victory on March 14. The Blue Jackets have won four of the last five meetings overall between the clubs and are 7-3-0 at home in the all-time series.
Anaheim improved to 1-1 on its four-game road trip Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over last-place Chicago, as rookie Dustin Penner scored twice in the second period.
It was just the second win in five games for the Ducks, who had gone 8-0-2 in their previous 10.
Penner - third among NHL rookies with 28 goals - had played just two shifts in the final two periods of Anaheim's 3-2 overtime win over Dallas last Friday.
"I've been riding the individual to the point where I'm going to have to quit or he's going to get better," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "Tonight, he got better."
Penner, who had only two goals and two assists in nine games prior to Wednesday, said he benefited from Carlyle's wakeup call.
"Whenever you get benched, it's for a reason, so you have to take a look in the mirror, step back, refocus and see where you faltered," Penner said. "I would never had guessed I'd be in this situation (successful in the NHL), but I've got to stop thinking like that. I know what I have to do to play at this level."
With backup Ilya Bryzgalov making 20 saves Wednesday, Jean-Sebastien Giguere is expected to be back in net for this game. Giguere is 8-1-2 in his last 11 games against the Blue Jackets.
Although they will not make the first playoff appearance in their history, the Blue Jackets are finishing this season strong with victories in their last four contests.
Fredrik Modin scored twice and Fredrik Norrena stopped 19 shots Tuesday as Columbus completed a home-and-home sweep of St. Louis with a 4-1 victory.
The Blue Jackets have outscored opponents 15-5 during their four-game run. Columbus, which won a season-high five straight games Dec. 2-12, needs four points in its final six games to surpass last season's franchise record of 74.
Modin and Norrena have played the biggest roles during the current streak. Modin has five goals in the last four games, while Norrena has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his last six starts.
"I'm playing well, I'm playing with confidence," Norrena said. "It's nice."
Modin has two goals and two assists in this season's two meetings with Anaheim.
- Associated Press