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Blue Jackets, Hurricanes renew acquaintances in Columbus

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

A regulation loss on Tuesday night to Buffalo may have sealed the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff fate.

They’ve hung around all season long and got as close as two points to the playoff bar in the Eastern Conference, but their play has tapered a bit lately and they find themselves seven points back of eighth-place Philadelphia with nine games remaining. It doesn’t look good for the Hurricanes, but coach Bill Peters has his group playing hard – and they’re always a tough matchup for the Blue Jackets.

Carolina let a 2-0 lead slip away against the Sabres and it resulted in its fifth straight loss (0-2-3). Prior to this recent dip, the Hurricanes went 3-0-1 to climb a little closer to a wild card spot, but time is running short and the margin appears to be too large to overcome.

On the bright side, though, the Hurricanes are getting a close-up look at the future of their team, particularly on defense. Their current roster features five defensemen age 24 or younger, led by Justin Faulk, who figures to be a big part of Team USA’s blueline at the World Cup and is considered a favorite to the Hurricanes’ next captain.

The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes have not seen each other since Jan. 9 at Nationwide Arena, a game that marked the tail end of a back-to-back, home-and-home series between the two clubs. Carolina won the first game the night before at PNC Arena (which was Seth Jones’ Blue Jackets debut), and Columbus nearly pulled off a crazy comeback in the second game.

After falling behind 3-0 in the second period, the Blue Jackets put their rally caps on and it was Cam Atkinson who got it started, scoring a shorthanded breakaway goal late in the second period to give Columbus a lift heading into the third period.

Goals from Alex Wennberg and Josh Anderson – the latter’s first career goal – brought the Blue Jackets even at 3-3 and forced overtime, but one mistake led to Carolina’s winning tally. Jordan Staal led a 2-on-1 with Noah Hanifin up the ice, and then beat Joonas Korpisalo stick side to win the game in OT.

Doesn’t it feel like Jeff Skinner has been around forever?

Well don’t be too worried because it has been six seasons in the NHL for the 23-year-old, who broke into the league in a big way in 2010-11. He scored 31 goals as a rookie for the Hurricanes and was named to the NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh that year, capping off a crazy and productive debut campaign for the No. 7 overall pick in 2010.

It hasn’t been all rosy for Skinner in the years since and he’s unfortunately battled injuries, but this season has been a welcome reminder of how talented he is. He’s scored 25 goals this year, but perhaps more importantly, shown flashes of the form he displayed earlier in his career and the Hurricanes hope this form is here to stay.

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