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GAME DAY: Nashville

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (11-12-6) VS. PREDATORS (11-12-6)




Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards described the Nashville Predators as a team currently playing uncharacteristically, giving up goals and scoring chances they traditionally have been fairly conservative with.

And judging by the results of their past few games, it's hard to argue with the coach. Not only have they struggled on a recent swing through western Canada, but the Predators have not played well away from Bridgestone Arena all season. After a lackluster 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night, Nashville had dropped nine of its last 10 games on the road - the lone victory a 4-0 win in Dallas that kicked off their current road trip, which concludes tonight at Nationwide Arena.

Though the Blue Jackets and Predators enter tonight's game with identical records, they could best be characterized as two teams headed in opposite directions. Columbus is riding a franchise-best 10-game points streak (6-0-4) and coming off a 1-0 shootout win over Phoenix on Saturday night, while the Predators have fallen out of the playoff picture and are missing several key players due to injury. On top of that, No. 1 goaltender Pekka Rinne has fallen on hard times and has been pulled from two of his last three starts.

But the Blue Jackets aren't counting the Predators out, and in fact, Richards said he expects nothing but an A-game from their division rivals. With both teams scratching and clawing to get into the Western Conference playoff race and just two points from the playoff bar, desperate and passionate hockey should be expected at the bare minimum. Nashville will be trying to salvage some positives from an otherwise-disappointing road trip, and on the other side, the Blue Jackets want to keep accumulating points on home ice before embarking on a road-heavy final month of the regular season.

Up front, the Predators will be without leading scorer Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, face-off guru Paul Gaustad and Sergei Kostitsyn when the puck drops in Columbus. Wilson, Hornqvist and Gaustad are battling injuries and according to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Kostitsyn is slated to be a healthy scratch by head coach Barry Trotz. In Sunday's game vs. the Oilers, Kostitsyn turned the puck over allowing the Oilers to embark on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush, which resulted in a Lennart Petrell go-ahead goal that stood as the game-winner. Rather than back-check on the play and assist on the rush, Kostitsyn went for a line change - which did not sit well with Trotz, who called the incident "illogical" after the game.

The logical thinking is that Rinne will be back between the pipes against the Blue Jackets, and Sergei Bobrovsky is slated to make the start for Columbus.

- Bobrovsky was named the NHL's No. 3 star for the week ending Mar. 17 on Monday. He went 1-0-2 over the week, posting a goals-against average of 0.62 and a ridiculous save percentage of .982 along with his second shutout in a week. He's the first player in Blue Jackets history to receive a star award in consecutive weeks.

- The last meeting between these two clubs was opening night in Nashville, a 3-2 shootout decision for the Blue Jackets in a game that started as weird as it ended. The Predators scored on their first shift, but Bobrovsky bounced back and held strong in the shootout, allowing Derick Brassard to net the deciding tally on Rinne.

- Starting with tonight's game, Columbus and Nashville will meet four times in the final six weeks of the season and twice this week. The Blue Jackets complete a back-to-back set on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.

- Columbus was 2-for-2 in man-down situations on Saturday and now ranks fourth in the NHL with a PK% of 86.5. They have now killed off 32 of their last 33 penalties and have gone 13 games without allowing a 5-on-4 power play goal.

Gabriel Bourque
2013 STATS: 9-2-11, 27 GP

In the absence of several of their top players, Bourque has stepped up and provided an offensive boost for the Predators. He's the club's leading goal-scorer (9) and is playing higher in the lineup with Wilson, Hornqvist et al missing from action. A fifth-round pick (132nd overall) by the Predators in 2009, the 22-year-old native of Rimouski, Que. has developed into a solid top-nine player for Nashville and is giving them quality minutes along the way.

COLUMBUS: James Wisniewski (foot), on IR; Derek Dorsett (fractured clavicle), on IR; Derek MacKenzie (upper body), day-to-day; Adrian Aucoin (maintenance), day-to-day

NASHVILLE: Colin Wilson (upper body), out; Patric Hornqvist (upper body), out; Hall Gill (lower body), out; Paul Gaustad (upper body), questionable

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