GAME 69: BLUE JACKETS VS. PANTHERS
NATIONWIDE ARENA, 7:00 P.M.
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO / FOX SPORTS GO
RADIO: 97.1 & BLUEJACKETS.COM
The Florida Panthers are in town to face the Blue Jackets Thursday. Like most of the final 14 regular season games that lie ahead for the Jackets, they face off against a team that is desperate for points and playing accordingly.
The Panthers, who are six points out of the final Wild Card spot, come to Columbus off a 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday. But before that, the Panthers had been struggling of late. They've gone 2-7-1 in their past ten, and recently lost defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a concussion this weekend and goaltender Roberto Luongo is out due to a hip injury. James Reimer has made five consecutive starts in the interim.
Overall, this is a healthier team than the Jackets saw during their last matchup, and after a dominant performance like the Panthers had in Toronto, they are hoping to go on a run. That wouldn't be out of the question. The last time the Panthers put up seven goals it was against Nashville and the win kicked off a 5-0 road streak.
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"They have some pretty dangerous players," Cam Atkinson said. "I saw last night that they laid a pretty good beat down on Toronto, and I'm sure they have a lot of confidence coming into our building. It's going to be tight going into the last little stretch so you focus on what you can focus on and take it each day at a time."
Here are five things to watch for:
"Total concentration on our team right now."
The Jackets opponent on Thursday may be the Florida Panthers, but the team's focus is squarely on themselves and "one day at a time" right now. They know the race within the Metro Division is tight, and they know every team they face is motivated to get wins and points now more than any other time in the season.
"We're taking it one game at a time, and we'll see where we go," John Tortorella said. "I'm not too interested in forecasting, we just have to worry about tomorrow night's game and go from there. We have Total concentration on our team right now."
A healthy lineup.
Lukas Sedlak was back on the ice Wednesday for his first skate with the team since suffering an oblique injury. He did not skate in line rushes at practice, but his return brings the Jackets forwards group to full strength and gives Tortorella a deep offensive corps with options.
"It's a good problem to have," Tortorella said. "As you go through the last part of the year, everybody's going to get an opportunity."
Video: Torts on the CBJ lineup getting healthier
Clean up coverage in the Jackets end.
In an hour-long practice, Tortorella had the team skate through drills that were focused on better play in the Jackets' own zone. It's something the team definitely needs to be better at Josh Anderson said after practice.
Just one more level for Cam Atkinson.
Cam Atkinson broke the 30-goal barrier for the first time in his career last week and added two more scores in Monday's win over Philadelphia. As a player that Tortorella calls upon not just at even strength but in special teams play, that's a good sign for the Jackets to see the 27-year-old's career year continue.
"Cam's game has gotten better and it's going to have to get better as we keep playing here," Tortorella said. "You see how I use him, it's a lot of different situations in the game. So he has to keep concentrating on his game."
Cashing in on confidence.
On Monday in Philadelphia, the team found a way to overcome a penalty-riddled second period and come back from a goal down to win off a Brandon Dubinsky power play score. The Jackets are 7-2-1 in their last ten games, and these kinds of wins are reinforcing the belief this team has in themselves.
"We just have to play our game and we'll be fine," Atkinson said.
Video: Cam on his personal accomplishments this season
PROJECTED CBJ LINEUP: