GAME 68: AVALANCHE (35-24-7) AT BLUE JACKETS (34-28-5)
Location: Nationwide Arena, 7 P.M., Tuesday
TV: Fox Sports Ohio/Fox Sports Go (Jeff Rimer, Jody Shelley); Altitude TV
Radio: 97.1 FM & BlueJackets.com (Bob McElligott)
If the Blue Jackets hope to win more than two consecutive games for the first time since November, they'll have to earn it against a Western Conference team in a similar spot.
They'll also have to do it without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for a second straight game. Bobrovsky, who was sick and missed the Jackets' 4-1 victory Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, will back up Joonas Korpisalo.
It's the second consecutive start for Korpisalo, who made 37 saves against the Golden Knights in a confidence-building rebound performance following struggles in four of his five prior appearances.
"It's great, for sure," Bobrovsky said. "It's great for everybody. It's great for him. It's great for [the] team. It's great for the organization. It was a huge two points and a huge game by him. It's nice to see him play confident, strong and win the game for the team."
Bobrovsky, who was unable to back up Korpisalo on Tuesday, participated in the morning skate at Nationwide Arena and said he feels better.
"I was sick, so that's what it is pretty much," he said. "It is what it is. I can't control that, and it makes no sense to [be] frustrated about that. That means I have to take care of my health at that time and make sure that I'm ready to go when I have a chance."
That chance could be against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, in the conclusion of the 16th of 17 back-to-backs this season for Columbus - and only one with both games on home ice.
"It wasn't too long," Bobrovsky said of his illness. "I got fluid back, I've got good meals and I'm ready to go. Got some sleep, for sure."
Like Columbus, the Avalanche are in a heated race to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sitting just outside the second wild card. They're tied with the Los Angeles Kings at 77 points, but the Kings currently hold the second wild card by a tiebreaker.
The Blue Jackets, after their victory Tuesday, have a slim lead for the East's second wild-card position. They're four points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, but just two points up on the Florida Panthers, who've played three less games.
If there is going to be postseason hockey in Columbus for a second straight season, the Blue Jackets likely need to string together more than just two wins at a time. If they can, the Jackets (73 points) can continue padding their lead and possibly catch the New Jersey Devils (76 points) for the first wild card.
That makes this game another big one.
"It's huge," captain Nick Foligno said. "We've had a little bit of a homestand here, so we need these wins. Let's be honest. We've got to be a good team at home. We've got to be a hard team to play against. I hope three [wins] turns into four, turns into five and we just continue to roll here."
2017-18 Season: (0-1-0). This is the finale of the two-game season series. The Avalanche won the first game, 2-0, on Jan. 4 at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
All-time (W-L-T-O): 17-33-1-5 overall; 8-15-1-3 at Nationwide Arena
Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in a six-game point streak that he extended with a goal Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks. MacKinnon, who centers the top line, also has points in seven of the past eight games.
Blue Jackets: Artemi Panarin has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in the past nine games, including three points (one goal, two assists) against the Golden Knights on Tuesday. It was his 11th game in the past 14 that he's recorded at least one point.
EYES ON: THE AVALANCHE
- Avalanche coach Jared Bednar is switching up his top two lines, looking to spark a little more offense than they produced in a 2-1 overtime loss against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at United Center. The trio of Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen had been one of the most dangerous combinations in the NHL, but Bednar is breaking them up by flip-flopping left wings. Tyson Jost will move up to the left side of the top line, playing with MacKinnon and Rantanen, while Landeskog will start out in Jost's vacated spot on the second line. MacKinnon, as mentioned above, is red hot. Rantanen also has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in the past 10 games. MacKinnon has 11 three-point games and 22 multi-point games this season, and has 78 points (32 goals, 46 assists) overall, tying him for fifth in the NHL in scoring.
- The Avalanche are starting to get healthier, even though a number of injured players will still miss the game in Columbus. Erik Johnson (upper body), Mark Barberio (lower body) and rookie Vladislav Kamenev (fractured arm) are all skating again but haven't been cleared to return. Goalie Jonathan Bernier, who had a 34-save shutout in Colorado's win against the Blue Jackets on Jan. 4, will back up Semyon Varlamov, who started the Avs' overtime loss in Chicago. Colorado will also get forward Sven Andrighetto back from a lower-body injury that cost him two months.
- Colorado has the youngest team in the NHL by average age on its active roster (25.4), which is a title the Blue Jackets had to start the season, prior to adding veterans around the trade deadline last month. … the Avalanche have had four five-point efforts this season, after going a span of 10 years without one. MacKinnon and Landeskog have accounted for three of those four performances. … Colorado has scored a power-play goal in five straight games (5-for-22), which is a season-high streak. The last time the Avs scored a power-play goal in five straight games was Dec. 19-31, 2015. … Colorado wins close to 80 percent of the time when scoring the game's first goal. The Avs are 29-6-2 when scoring first for a sterling .784 winning percentage.
EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS
- Defenseman Zach Werenski is starting to heat up again offensively, which would be a huge help to the Jackets' offense in the final 15 games of the regular season. It's been a season of learning for Werenski, who's battled through upper-body injury, off and on, since December. He went 25 games without a goal, from Dec. 29 to Mar. 1, but has relocated his scoring touch the past week. Werenski has four points (two goals, two assists) in the past four games, including a goal Tuesday against Vegas to break a 1-1 tie in the second period. It wound up being the game-winning goal and was Weresnki's 13th goal of the season, a new franchise record for goals in one season by a defenseman. He also scored it with a one-timer slap shot, which he almost never uses.
- Rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois has smashed through the "rookie wall" despite playing the longest season of his hockey career. Dubois has points in the past two games, including a career-high three points (one goal, two assists) against the Golden Knights on Tuesday. Dubois's goal, an empty-netter to seal the game, was his 15th of the season. His next goal will tie him with Boone Jenner for second-most goals in franchise history by a rookie and he's two goals away from tying Rick Nash in that category. Dubois, who centers the top line for Columbus, has 35 points and is now four points away from tying Nash (39) for most points by a Blue Jackets rookie forward and second-most by a Blue Jackets rookie overall. Werenski had 47 points last season to set the mark in rookie points. Dubois also had a goal against Vegas overturned because of a video review that showed the play entered the Golden Knights' zone offside.
- Coach John Tortorella said he likes the current defense pairings, which have been the same since veteran Ian Cole joined the mix at the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26. The top pairing of Werenski and Seth Jones has been together all season, outside of injuries, but the bottom four had gone through a lot of change until recently. Jack Johnson is now paired with Ryan Murray on the second unit, while Cole and David Savard have formed a steady, stout, defensive-minded third pairing. Cole has also chipped in offensively the past two games. He earned his first point as a Blue Jacket with a primary assist in the Jackets' 4-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, having a goal credited to Panarin, and then Cole scored his first goal with Columbus on Tuesday against Vegas. The goalie was his former teammate with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - Nail Yakupov
Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - Matthew Nieto
JT Compher - Dominic Toninato - Gabriel Bourque
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Samuel Girard
Duncan Siemens - Anton Lindholm
Others: Mark Alt, Colin Wilson (head)
Injured Reserve: Erik Johnson (upper body), Sven Andrighetto (lower body), Vladislav Kamenev (arm), Mark Barberio (lower body), Andrew Hammond (head)
Long-Term IR: Sergei Boikov (shoulder)
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Sonny Milano - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Boone Jenner - Alexander Wennberg - Thomas Vanek
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Mark Letestu
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Jack Johnson - Ryan Murray
Ian Cole - David Savard
Others: Scott Harrington, Taylor Chorney, Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen, Josh Anderson (knee)
Injured reserve: Dean Kukan (upper body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body)