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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets begin last series of the season vs. Detroit

Columbus has finished strong with points in five straight games

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
BLUE JACKETS (17-25-12) vs. RED WINGS (18-27-9) 

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena 

Community Night 

TV: Bally Sports OhioCBJ app 

Radio: Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship) 

It all ends this weekend. 

The 56-game season comes to a close with a back-to-back, as Columbus and Detroit will play tonight and Saturday to finish things off. While the Blue Jackets have started to play better hockey, as the shock of the trade deadline has worn off and the depleted roster has meshed some during a five-game point streak, the team is still ready to put this season behind it. 

Sure, the front office brass has taken the chance to see some new faces in new situations down the stretch, and Columbus has played with pride in recent games against a pretty strong set of opponents. Yet being out of the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16 has made for a rough finish to the season. 

"It's miserable," head coach John Tortorella said. "We're irrelevant. I think every team, every organization wants to be in the hunt. I remember, a lot of years we sneak in. We're just banging away at the end of the year at this time trying to grab our way in. It's been miserable. 

"I don't use the word hard. I think there are a lot harder things to do in life than this sport and being out, but it's a miserable existence for athletes and an organization that wants to be part of the most important part of the year in playoffs." 

Through it all, there have been some ups with the downs in recent games. The standout play of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who has a .936 save percentage in his last eight games, has been one. The hat trick for Emil Bemstrom on Monday night was another after the young Swedish forward didn't score all year before that.  

Mostly, the team's battle level in recent games has been impressive. Monday, Columbus came back from a 3-0 hole after two periods to force overtime against a Nashville team battling to clinch a playoff spot. Wednesday, the Blue Jackets twice overcame deficits on the way to a 4-2 victory, just its fourth in the last 22 games. 

"I think everyone has tried in a difficult circumstance for a lot of people that are used to being in the hunt this time of year," Tortorella said. "I think for the most part we have pushed along. Haven't gotten the results that we'd like to, but we're still just banging away." 

Know the Foe  

This will be battle for draft position, as the teams enter the game battling for the last two spots in the Central Division. Columbus has 46 points, the fifth-worst points percentage in the league, one spot above Detroit with 45 points. 

Both teams are banged up entering the contest, with the Red Wings without standout forwards Dylan Larkin and Todd Bertuzzi as well as dependable forwards Robby Fabbri and Bobby Ryan. 

Larkin is tied for the team lead with 23 points (9-14) in 44 games, while Fabbri had a 10-8-18 line in 30 contests and Bertuzzi had five goals and seven points in nine games before his season came to an early close. Ryan also chipped in 7-7-14 in 33 games, including three goals vs. Columbus. 

Without that offensive thrust, Detroit is led by defenseman Filip Hronek, whose 2-21-23 line ties him with Larkin atop the team chart, the lowest total for a team leader in points in the NHL. With Anthony Mantha (11-10-21) traded to Washington, Adam Erne is the team's only double-digit goal scorer on the year that is slated to play, as he has 11 goals among his 20 points. Since joining the team in the Mantha deal, Jakub Vrana has been red-hot, posting six goals and seven points in nine games. 

In net, Thomas Greiss leads the team with 33 games and 28 starts, going 7-15-8 with a 2.73 GAA and .914 save percentage. He hasn't allowed a goal in each of his last two starts and is boasting a 5-0-3 record in his last nine appearances with a .953 save percentage in that span. Jonathan Bernier has added 24 games (23 starts) and is 9-11-1 with a 2.99/.914 mark.  

3 Keys to the Game  

Want to: With both teams playing out the string, whoever wins this game will likely come down to whichever team delivers the most effort. 

Limit chances: The last game between these teams April 27 saw the teams trade chances in a 1-0 shootout result that featured much more offense than the score would indicate. The team that plays the best defense will likely win this one. 

See some new faces: The Blue Jackets might change things up on defense and in net in this one, and it is a good chance to get one last look at some players before the campaign ends.  

Of Note 

Coming of a three-point night in his 300th NHL game Wednesday, Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team in all three major statistical categories this year with a 17-25-42 line plus three shootout goals in four chances. ... Cam Atkinson notched his 400th career point in the game Wednesday, while Jack Roslovic scored his 100th. … With a hat trick Monday, Bemstrom has three goals in the last two games ... Max Domi has posted 3-8-11 in his last 15 games played. … Tortorella has 672 career wins, tied with Mike Keenan for 12th place in NHL history. … Columbus has stopped 51 of 57 power-play chances against (89.5 percent) in the last 23 games, third in the NHL. … CBJ have scored the first goal of the game on 31 occasions, tied for sixth-most in the NHL. … Columbus is 3-2-1 this year vs. the Red Wings, including a 2-0 mark in Nationwide Arena. 

Projected Lineup presented by Blue Technologies 

(Subject to change) 

Oliver Bjorkstrand - Max Domi - Cam Atkinson

Mikhail Grigorenko - Jack Roslovic - Emil Bemstrom

Liam Foudy - Kevin Stenlund - Patrik Laine

Nathan Gerbe - Ryan MacInnis - Eric Robinson

Michael Del Zotto - Seth Jones

Vladislav Gavrikov - Scott Harrington

Gavin Bayreuther - Andrew Peeke

Matiss Kivlenieks (confirmed starter)

Elvis Merzlikins

Scratches: Yegor Chinakhov, Stefan Matteau, Kole Sherwood, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Mikko Lehtonen

Taxi squad: Adam Clendening, Daniil Tarasov, Cam Johnson 

Injured: Alexandre Texier (lower body injury, day-to-day), Zac Dalpe (lower-body injury, out for the season), Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out for the season), Zach Werenski (sports hernia, out for the season), Boone Jenner (broken finger, out for the season), Joonas Korpisalo (lower-body injury, out for the season), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR). 

Roster report: Columbus had to make two late changes to the lineup Wednesday with the injuries to Texier and Dalpe, but the forward group will stay the same in this one. Kivlenieks will start while Peeke and Harrington go into the lineup for Kukan and Lehtonen.

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