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Preview: Blue Jackets look to keep momentum going against Kings

Third straight win would help Columbus cushion lead in wild-card race

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

GAME 64: BLUE JACKETS (32-26-5) AT KINGS (35-24-5)

Location: Staples Center, 10:30 P.M., Thursday

TV: Fox Sports Ohio/Fox Sports Go (Jeff Rimer, Jody Shelley); Sports Net 1, Fox Sports West

Radio: 97.1 FM & BlueJackets.com (Bob McElligott)

There was no mistaking the energy level for the Blue Jackets on Monday night at Nationwide Arena.

Hours after the NHL Trade Deadline passed, and Columbus had added three veterans in positions of need, the Jackets came out flying in what turned into a 5-1 rout of the Washington Capitals, the top team in the Metropolitan Division.

"On the bench, it was a different bench," coach John Tortorella said Wednesday, after practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif. "This is our team right now. I'm not sure how guys felt. Maybe some guys wanted to be moved. Maybe some guys didn't want to be moved. I don't poll them before the deadline, as far as how they feel, but right now our concentration and my concentration is putting the best guys out on that ice to win each and every game."

Now comes the tricky part.

The Blue Jackets need to do it again, on the road, against the Los Angeles Kings - who fighting for their Stanley Cup Playoff lives just like Columbus. The Kings are currently in third place of the Pacific Division with 75 points, but the Anaheim Ducks (74 points) and Calgary Flames (73 points) are right on their heels.

It's similar to the Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference, who currently hold the second wild card by just four points over both the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes.

Neither team inside Staples Center on Thursday should be flat, which could make for another high-intensity effort for the Jackets - who now have a healthy competition for ice time with 22 healthy skaters on the roster.

"There's going to be some tough decisions, and it's not always going to be that typical guy that's out," Tortorella said. "We're going to go on total merit, as far as what's going on each and every game, as we go down this last 19 games. No feelings. No worrying about feelings. We're going to play as hard [as we can] and try to play the right way to try to get some wins here."

Joonas Korpisalo will start in net for the Blue Jackets, making his first NHL appearance since Feb. 14 in Toronto. Jonathan Quick will start for the Kings.Jonathan Quick is expected to start for the Kings.

SERIES RECORD

2017-18 Season: (0-1-0). This is the finale of the two-game season series. The Kings won the first game 6-4 on Oct. 21 at Nationwide Arena.

All-time (W-L-T-O): 23-27-1-5 overall; 9-16-1-2 at Staples Center

WHO'S HOT

Blue Jackets: Artemi Panarin has six points in a five-game point streak (three goals, three assists), after chipping in a goal and assist against the Capitals on Monday. He has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in the past 10 games.

Kings: Anze Kopitar has nine points (four goals, five assists) in the past six games, including six points (two goals, four assists) in his current three-game point streak.

EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS

  • Captain Nick Foligno returned to practice Wednesday at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif., and was activated off injured reserve afterward. Foligno, who missed four games with a lower-body injury, skated at right wing on the second line with center Alexander Wennberg and newly-acquired forward Thomas Vanek. Foligno got a new spot on the power play, playing in the middle of the Blue Jackets' 1-3-1 setup on the second unit. "It's just nice to be back with the guys, honestly," Foligno said. "I never like watching, especially this time of year. I'm feeling good. It's a fun time of year to be playing hockey."
  • After greeting his teammates as they arrived at the team hotel Tuesday, Vanek got right to work in practice Wednesday. He's start out at left wing on the Blue Jackets' second line and in the middle of their 1-3-1 power-play setup for the first unit. In that spot, Vanek will be positioned between the circles, between Artemi Panarin on the left and Cam Atkinson on the right. Vanek said he would roam around a bit but would also be looking to become a passing option for either of the wings. Vanek said he played mostly on the second power-play unit with the Vancouver Canucks prior to the trade.
  • Foligno and Vanek entering the lineup should help offset the loss of Josh Anderson, who sprained a knee in the victory Monday against the Capitals. Anderson is expected to miss up to four weeks, which could amount to as many as 13 games if the full four weeks are required to recover. Anderson sustained the injury after he tried to cut inside Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov after crossing into the Washington zone. Orlov delivered a hip check with 1:47 left in the third period that sent Anderson into the air and dropped him hard on the ice. "We're hoping to get him back as quickly as possible," Tortorella said. "We'll miss him, but we'll have people that need to fill in and we just need to move by it."

EYES ON: THE KINGS

  • Los Angeles did something in its past two games that might've stunned the rest of the NHL. The Kings swept a home-and-home, back-to-back set against the Vegas Golden Knights this week, which moved them into third place in the Pacific Division. It was an impressive feat, consider the Knights, a first-year expansion franchise, are tied for second-most points in the league (87). The Kings won 3-2 on Tuesday at Staples Center, and then pulled off a 4-1 victory Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights were 24-5-2 before the game. Los Angeles needed those wins, after losing their previous two.
  • Kopitar is having another great season centering the Kings' top line. Aside from six points in his three-game point streak, he's put up 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in his last 25 games, bringing him to 70 points (27 goals, 43 assists) for the season. The Kings have 18 games left and Kopitar is just 11 points off his career-high of 81 for a season, which he set in 2009-10 with 34 goals and 47 assists).
  • The Blue Jackets are one of the best teams in the NHL this season when games need longer than regulation to decide the winner. The Kings are the best in the NHL since the introduction of 3-on-3 overtime in 2015-16, winning 31 of 43 games they've played that have ended in OT. That's a 72.1 percent winning percentage in games decided by 3-on-3 OT, which is less than one percent ahead of the Calgary Flames, who've won 25 of 35 for a 71.4 percent success rate.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS

Forwards

Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson

Thomas Vanek- Alexander Wennberg - Nick Foligno

Sonny Milano - Brandon Dubinsky - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Boone Jenner - Mark Letestu - Matt Calvert

Defensemen

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - Ryan Murray

Ian Cole - David Savard

Goaltenders

Joonas Korpisalo

Sergei Bobrovsky

Others: Scott Harrington, Taylor Chorney, Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen, Josh Anderson (knee)

Injured reserve: Dean Kukan (upper body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body)

KINGS

Forwards

Alex Iafallo - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown

Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli

Tobias Rieder - Adrian Kempe - Nate Thompson

Kyle Clifford - Mike Amadio - Torey Mitchell

Defensemen 

Derek Forbort - Drew Doughty

Dion Phaneuf - Alec Martinez

Jake Muzzin - Christian Folin

Goaltenders

Jonathan Quick

Jack Campbell

Others: Andy Andreoff, Paul Ladue, Kevin Gravel

Injured Reserve: None

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