BLUE JACKETS (39-28-3) vs. HURRICANES (38-24-7)
Friday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
When it comes to evaluating his team's game, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella can't always look at results.
"I've always told you guys I don't look at the team or coach the team based on the end result," he said recently. "I can't. It's not fair either way, positively or negatively, toward our team.
"You watch your team, how they play, and if you think they're playing the right way, you try to stay with it."
That's been the way the head coach has had to approach the Jackets' most recently stretch, which has included four straight games against teams that will be taking part in the postseason. Columbus is 2-2 in that span against those Eastern Conference foes, losing to Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders via shutout on the road but combining to down the Penguins and Boston by a combined score of 10-5 in Nationwide Arena.
But even through the pair of blankings, Tortorella likes the way his team has played - generally good defensively, seven minutes vs. Boston notwithstanding, and creating chances even if they haven't always gone in.
"As we've talked about, I think our game has been really good," Tortorella said after the 7-4 victory Tuesday night vs. the Bruins. "I think our game is improving, from the two Pittsburgh games right on through the Island. We just had to keep on trying to play and try to get a result, and we got a result tonight."
It's a strategy a coach has to have throughout the season for multiple reasons. First of all, it's the sport of hockey, where a hot goalie or some bad bounces can turn a strong effort into a loss or a mistake-filled game into a win.
It also helps keep the team on the right wavelength as it goes through the grind of an 82-game season, though the games certainly take on more of an importance this time of year. That's especially true tonight, as the matchup against Carolina pits the Hurricanes, who are two points ahead of the Blue Jackets for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, against Columbus for the last time this year.
"Every game is huge now," forward Oliver Bjorkstrand said. "We can't really afford to lose too many games. We just have to be ready for each game now, and it starts with Carolina."
While the victory against Boston lifted the team's struggles when it comes to goal scoring, the Blue Jackets still have to bring a consistent effort each night to get where they want to be.
"You're not where you want to be until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs," forward Matt Duchene said.
Know the Foe
The last time these teams met on Jan. 4 in Carolina, the Hurricanes were nowhere to be seen in the playoff race. The 'Canes entered that game in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, behind even the New York Rangers.
Fast-forward two months and the Hurricanes have been one of the stories of the second half in the NHL. Carolina beat the Blue Jackets in Raleigh that night and have been on fire since, posting a record of 22-7-2. That includes a record of 7-2-1 in the last 10, one reason Carolina has been able to pass the Blue Jackets in the Metro standings.
Defense continues to be a hallmark for the 'Canes, who give up 2.74 goals per game, sixth in the NHL, and Carolina allows 28.4 shots on goal per game, second in the NHL. With an active, mobile defense, the 'Canes are good at limiting opportunities and getting the puck up the ice, taking pressure off the goalie duo of Curtis McElhinney (17-8-2, 2.52, .914) and Petr Mrazek (18-12-3, 2.53, .908).
Where Carolina is a much different team than in January is on offense. Sunken by a woeful shooting percentage, the Hurricanes averaged just 2.45 goals per game when the teams met, but since then, Carolina has scored 3.68 goals per game to move up to 13th overall in the NHL with 3.00 goals per game.
The Finnish duo of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen has become downright lethal, with the All-Star Aho leading the way with a 30-47-77 line and Teravainen next at 18-47-65. Justin Williams is next with 20 goals and 45 points, while Michael Ferland and Andrei Svechnikov have 17 goals apiece and Nino Niederreiter has an 11-10-21 line in 23 games since coming over in a trade with Minnesota. Defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin have 30, 28 and 28 points, respectively.
A full game: Tortorella lamented the slow start that ended up dooming the team vs. the Islanders on Monday, and Boston's three-goal barrage Tuesday turned a laugher into a nailbiter. Columbus has to play 60 minutes, not 52, vs. a Carolina oozing with confidence.
Get pucks to the net: Carolina excels at preventing shots, one reason the defensive numbers have been strong, but the Blue Jackets have to keep getting to the front of the net, where the majority of the goals were scored in the win vs. Boston.
Get the crowd going: Columbus has won two straight home games, and with a weekend crowd ready to go, the Jackets have to keep the good vibes going.
This is the final game of the four-game season series. Carolina has won two of the previous three games, including the last contest Jan. 4 in Raleigh by a 4-2 score. … Columbus has killed 72 of the last 78 opposing power plays and has three shorthanded goals in that span. The Jackets also have killed 27 of the last 28 power plays when facing Carolina. … Columbus has scored four-plus goals in 32 of 70 games this season. … Carolina is 20-11-3 on the road. … McElhinney is the only former Blue Jacket on the Carolina roster.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Riley Nash
Brandon Dubinsky - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Adam McQuaid
Scratched: Markus Hannikainen Eric Robinson, Lukas Sedlak, Dean Kukan, Keith Kinakid
Roster Report: Each player on the active roster was present and accounted for at Wednesday's practice. Head coach John Tortorella said after morning skate the team would use the same lineup as the Boston game on Tuesday.