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GAME DAY: St. Louis

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (17-16-7) VS. BLUES (22-14-2)




Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said earlier this week that he would start Brian Elliot on Thursday night against Minnesota, and rookie goaltender Jake Allen in Columbus on Friday.

We're a ways away from the morning skate at Nationwide Arena, but Hitchcock might have something to think about with Elliot on a hot streak to challenge all hot streaks, one that has the Blues on the brink of being a solid pick to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. With a 2-0 win over Minnesota, the Blues have won six straight games and Elliot - part of the Jennings Trophy-winning netminding tandem with Jaroslav Halak last year - has recorded three consecutive shutouts and the puck must look like it's a basketball.

It's been one week since the Blue Jackets went into Scottrade Center seeking two crucial points in the standings, 24 hours removed from a 3-1 win in Nashville on the strength of Marian Gaborik's game-winner. The intensity was palpable right from the get-go, and "playoff atmosphere" was the only way to describe a 60-minute battle between two division rivals jockeying for positioning in a clustered conference standings picture.

The Blues got the upper hand in a game that was determined by a bizarre nine-second stretch in the second period. Columbus got the equalizer a few minutes after St. Louis opened the scoring, but on the very next shift down the ice, the Blues forged ahead as David Backes scored while falling to the ice - and that goal ended up being the deciding tally in a 3-1 game. Many of the Blue Jackets said they felt they had played well enough to get the win, but that second-period sequence befuddled them on the flight home.

Here we are again: a huge game, two points on the line and the standings getting even more crowded and discombobulated as the days move along. At the end of Thursday's games, the Blue Jackets sat three points behind eighth-place Detroit with eight games remaining - meaning they can ill afford to let opportunities slip through their grasp.

First and foremost, the Jackets must defend their home ice and they have two dates left at Nationwide Arena. As we've said so many times before, tonight is the next "most important game of the season."

- If Allen starts tonight for St. Louis, it would be his second in a week against the Blue Jackets. He was very solid in the last meeting, making the saves he had to make (and a few he shouldn't have) to keep the Blues in good shape. The rookie goaltender has been very strong when Hitchcock has called his number.

- Bobrovsky made 30 saves in recording the fourth shutout of his season on Tuesday. Bobrovsky is now 10-3-5 with a 1.72 GAA and a .943 SV% at Nationwide Arena in 2012-13.

- Gaborik recorded 1-1-2 against San Jose and has now tallied 2-3-5 in four games played since joining the Blue Jackets last Wednesday.

- Vinny Prospal skated in his 1,100th career game on Tuesday and assisted on a second period goal by C Ryan Johansen. Prospal has now tallied 1-4-5 in his last six games.

Vladimir Sobotka


2012-13 STATS: 8-9-17, 39 GP

When the Blues acquired Sobotka, a seldom-used center during his time in Boston, the move didn't exactly make hockey headlines but it has proven to be one of St. Louis' most useful pick-ups. Sobotka can play all three forward positions, contribute on the offensive end, and play the role of agitator as the diminutive Czech isn't afraid to finish his checks or stir up the emotion.

COLUMBUS: Brandon Dubinsky (illness), probable; Jared Boll (upper body), probable

ST. LOUIS: TJ Oshie, on IR; Jaroslav Halak (lower body), week-to-week; Jamie Langenbrunner, on IR

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