BLUE JACKETS (22-16-8) vs. HURRICANES (27-12-2)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
BUY TICKETS (Military Appreciation Night presented by Elk & Elk; Camo hat giveaway for first 10,000 fans)
When you step back, what's happening in Columbus is pretty wild.
Through injuries, travel and whatever else you want to throw at them, the Blue Jackets have won 12 of their last 18 games and have points in 16 of them, earning a total of 28 points to get back in the postseason race.
They've won from ahead. They've won from behind. They've scored big goals and bounced back from giving up others. They've beaten the best teams in the league -- Boston and Washington twice to start -- and some of the lesser squads.
Like good teams do, the Blue Jackets have simply found a way to win.
"Good teams find a way to win this one," captain Nick Foligno said after Tuesday night's 3-0 blanking of the Bruins. "You come back after a long road trip and a successful road trip, and you're not satisfied. This group can't be satisfied, first of all. We're not in a position to be, and it's so crucial we make sure we have that hunger in what we're trying to do.
"I think it helps having guys here who are fighting for their jobs every day. It's allowed us to have that hunger every time we step on the ice."
Contributions from rookies, callups and surprising veterans have become commonplace, as Foligno said. With a goal against the Bruins, Swedish rookie Kevin Stenlund now has three power-play tallies on the season and four goals in 15 games since coming up from Cleveland. Fellow young Swede Emil Bemstrom joins Stenlund in having points in two straight games, while the ageless Nathan Gerbe had an assist against Boston to give him four points in the last five games.
Then, of course, there's Elvis Merzlikins, the goal who didn't earn a win in any of his first 10 appearances and has won six of eight -- including two straight shutouts -- since becoming the team's starter.
What will happen to those players as veterans come back into the lineup -- Cam Atkinson was activated from injured reserve Wednesday, and head coach John Tortorella said on his weekly radio spot Wednesday that Oliver Bjorkstrand might not be far behind -- remains to be seen.
At the very least, their contributions have helped create an identity for a team that was in need of one through the first 30 games. While it has seemingly been a different hero every night for Columbus offensively, the one thing that hasn't changed has been the team's commitment to defense, as Columbus has allowed just 1.78 goals per game over the past 18.
"I think you're starting to see the cohesion of us playing together for a little while now with this group," Foligno said. "Guys are starting to make plays, and (against Boston) I liked the way we worked with the puck. We had some really smart plays. I thought we put it in at the times we needed to and then made the plays that were there.
"We weren't trying to force things. It's amazing when yo do that, you just get more confident, and you can see that out of our team."
Know the Foe
It's been quite some time since the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes met, as the teams played twice in the first 10 games of the season, with Columbus winning 3-2 on the road and then 4-3 in overtime at home.
At that time, Carolina was off to a high-flying start and Columbus was trying to find itself, and more than two months later, the two are in the heat of a playoff race against one another with the Canes entering just two points ahead of the Jackets with a game in hand.
The Hurricanes have a plus-25 goal differential and are excellent when it comes to shot quality, placing second in the NHL in expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 with 2.57. It's a team that still uses its speed, talent up front and mobile defenseman to be as hard to play against as any in the league.
Up front, Teuvo Teravainen leads the way with 43 points thanks to nine goals and 34 assists, with the latter number ranking 10th in the NHL. Young 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov is having a breakout season with 18 goals - two of the lacrosse variety - among his 42 points, while Sebastian Aho is without a goal in the past six games but has 23 on the year to place 11th in the league.
Along the blue line, Dougie Hamilton is having one of the best years in the NHL, with a 14-26-40 line that places him second in the league in goals and fourth in points among blue liners. Former Blue Jackets forward Ryan Dzingel has an 8-18-26 line, while four other players - Erik Haula (11 goals), Martin Necas (10), Warren Foegele (10) and Lucas Wallmark (10) -- at double digits in goals.
In net, Petr Mrazek leads the team with 29 starts and is 17-11-2 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. James Reimer has resurrected his career in Carolina with a 10-6-0 mark, 2.60 GAA and .917 save percentage.
Special teams are also solid, as the power play (22.1 percent, eighth) and penalty kill (82.4 percent, 10th) each in the top 10 of the league.
3 Keys to the Game
Keep special teams special: The Blue Jackets have scored power-play goals in consecutive games and killed off seven PP chances for powerful Vegas and Boston power plays in the last two contests. Winning that battle can be huge.
Elvis is everywhere: The rookie goalie has been red-hot, with a fair amount of credit also going to a defense that has been strong in front of him. It's been a good relationship that will be tested by a powerful Canes team.
Score at key times: Columbus has been able to put the puck in the net at big moments in the last few wins, especially as teams have been trying to fight back into games late.
Just six NHL teams have points in at least eight of the last 10 games, and five are in the Eastern Conference -- Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Pittsburgh and the Blue Jackets. … Merzlikins has stopped 249 of 262 shots (.950 save percentage) in the past eight games. … Zach Werenski leads NHL defensemen with 15 goals, has 12-10-22 with a plus-13 rating in his last 24 games, and has tallied nine goals in 14 games since returning from injury. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 5-11-16 line in his last 16 games. … Tortorella is one win from 200 as Blue Jackets head coach. … The Jackets are 16-7-5 this year vs. Eastern foes. … The Blue Jackets have outscored foes 22-9 in their last seven home games while going 5-1-1. … Columbus is 24-6-2 in its last 32 Thursday games.
(Subject to change)
Emil Bemstron - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Nathan Gerbe - Alexander Wennberg - Kevin Stenlund
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Scratches: Sonny Milano, Adam Clendening, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)
Roster Report: The Blue Jackets made a number of roster moves Wednesday as well as two Thursday, with the major one impacting tonight's game being Atkinson's return from injured reserve. He goes in for Milano.