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GAME DAY: San Jose

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (16-16-7) VS. SHARKS (20-11-7)




The Blue Jackets know that their road to the playoffs can't contain any more speed bumps, which makes tonight's game worthy of a big red circle on the calendar. If they want to get into the dance, they know the margin for error is finite and they cannot come up empty-handed in their remaining games.

And while Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild was a significant bump and one that set them four points back of eighth-place Detroit entering tonight, the only way to make up ground is to keep doing what they've been doing: accumulate points, play with confidence in one-goal games and get solid netminding from Sergei Bobrovsky. Their opponent in game 40 - the San Jose Sharks - know all about consistency and sustaining their momentum. The Sharks have endured a roller coaster of a season, starting red-hot then tapering for a bit before rebounding into playoff position with three weeks to go.

San Jose arrived in Columbus late Sunday and will be a rested, eager bunch after blowing a two-goal lead on home ice to the Dallas Stars and losing a point in a shootout loss. That shootout defeat was even more frustrating for the Sharks because it was the only blemish on a near-perfect home stand; San Jose wrapped up a pivotal seven-game stretch at HP Pavilion with a 6-0-1 record that could not have come at a better time for a club needing to solidify its position among the top eight teams in the Western Conference.

The Sharks have been an interesting watch since moving star defenseman Brent Burns to right wing, and despite being subject to criticism at the outset, it's turned out to be an effective move. Burns scored one of the Sharks' four goals on Sunday and has four points in the last three games, putting him among San Jose's hottest offensive players in the last couple of weeks.

Remember old friend Raffi Torres? The combative winger was a trade deadline pickup for GM Doug Wilson and the Sharks, who were looking for someone to play a top-nine role and add some secondary offense. Torres provided that in his Sharks debut against Dallas, picking up a pair of assists and throwing his weight around as he's been known for over the years.

This game between the Blue Jackets and Sharks should be tailor-made for a guy like Torres, especially after the last meeting at Nationwide Arena. Columbus exploded for six goals and it was a tough night for the Sharks defense, which turned the puck over early and often and didn't provide much help to backup goalie Thomas Greiss, who got the start in place of Antti Niemi.

With two more coveted points on the line, expect to see Niemi go up against Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes.

- The Blue Jackets may get a boost on the back end tonight as a couple of players are nearing returns. Tim Erixon, who has been out the past four games with an upper-body injury, practiced the last two days and is a possibility to dress against San Jose.

- Nikita Nikitin, who left Friday's game against St. Louis early, is considered questionable to play tonight.

- Marian Gaborik played 21:44 on Sunday vs. Minnesota and registered four shots on goal in Columbus' 3-0 loss. Since coming over from the New York Rangers, he has a goal and two assists including the game-winner vs. Nashville.

- Ryan Johansen (lower body) could miss tonight's game after getting dinged up on Sunday, so the club recalled Michael Chaput from Springfield on Monday. If Chaput - acquired in a 2011 trade with Philadelphia - were to play vs. the Sharks, it would be his NHL debut on his 21st birthday.

Joe Pavelski
2012-13 STATS: 12-12-24, 38 GP

The Sharks have a ton of talent in their top six, but they always seem to be another level of dangerous when Pavelski is on a hot streak. He adds a different, north-south dimension to the Sharks attack and is never shy about shooting the puck - something he does often when patrolling the point on the power play. Pavelski, a Wisconsin native, is a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL and represented the United States at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

COLUMBUS: Tim Erixon (upper body), questionable; Jared Boll (lower body), out; Ryan Johansen (lower body), questionable; Nikita Nikitin (upper body), questionable

SAN JOSE: Scott Hannan (upper body), out

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