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Columbus Begins Home and Home at Nashville

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The streaking Nashville Predators look to solidify their hold on first place in the Central Division when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night in the opener of a home-and-home series.

Nashville has won all three meetings with the Blue Jackets this season and has dominated its division rival in the seven seasons Columbus has been in the NHL. The Predators (29-11-3) have won eight of the last 10 games against Columbus and have only four losses in 16 home matchups. The Blue Jackets have won only 11 of the 32 all-time meetings.

It likely won't be any easier for Columbus to win Friday. Nashville has won three straight and 11 of its last 14, and its 61 points are second in the Western Conference.

The Predators beat Anaheim 5-4 in overtime Tuesday in the second game of a three-game homestand. The victory marked the return of Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who missed 21 games after tearing a ligament in his left hand Nov. 23.

"It was hard, no question," said Vokoun, who made 27 saves. "It obviously wasn't one of my greatest games, but thank God we pulled it out at the end. Like I said, it wasn't pretty, but we got two points. At least I can stay positive from that. It's not going to be easy to get back, but that is what the situation is. I'm going to try and get better as I go along."

Nashville has recorded points in 17 of 20 home games this season, and the Predators have won five of their last six at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Steve Sullivan scored the winner for Nashville on Tuesday, while Paul Kariya had a goal and an assist.

"In big games your leaders step up," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought Paul Kariya was outstanding. I thought Kimmo Timonen was great. He was fantastic out there. And Stevie Sullivan. I mean, he scored the winning goal. He was solid today. So our leadership group really stepped up when it counted and guys rallied around (Vokoun) in his first game back."

Kariya has 21 points in his last 14 games and the Predators have won all 13 games that he's scored a goal in this season. The left wing recorded a point in eight of his last nine games against Columbus.

The Blue Jackets (16-22-5) lost 4-3 in a shootout to St. Louis on Tuesday and have dropped three of their last four games.

"We played a really good hockey game and we made two mistakes down low, and they both ended up in our net," said Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, 11-9-3 since taking over in November.

The Blue Jackets were missing forwards Rick Nash and Sergei Fedorov, their second- and third-leading scorers. Both are listed as day-to-day - Nash with a lower-body injury and Fedorov with an upper-body injury.

Columbus has lost six of its last seven games on the road. The Blue Jackets' seven wins away from home are tied for 24th in the NHL. They trail the Predators by 25 points in the division.

The teams meet again Saturday in Columbus.


-- Associated Press

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