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GAME DAY: Vancouver

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (7-12-4) VS. CANUCKS (11-6-5)




The Blue Jackets waited 23 games into the season to play the Vancouver Canucks, and if once wasn't enough, they'll face each other twice over the next five days.

Following a 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena, the Canucks packed up and headed out on a three-game road trip that oddly includes two stops at Nationwide Arena. The third game of the trip takes the Canucks to Minnesota for a divisional showdown with the Wild, but not before getting 75 percent of their season series with Columbus out of the way -- three of the four meetings between the two clubs will take place between now and Mar. 26, when the Blue Jackets head out west.

As for the present, the Canucks have hit the skids a bit while the Blue Jackets are starting to warm up. Riding an 0-4-1 stretch after last night's shootout loss, Vancouver is engaged in a tight race with Minnesota for the top spot in the Northwest Division: entering tonight's game against the Blue Jackets, the Canucks are three points ahead of the Wild, have played the same number of games (22) and have the same amount of regulation/overtime wins (9). Outside of the Northeast Division where Montreal leads Boston by a single point, the Canucks' three-point lead over second place in their division is the slimmest in the NHL.

It's expected the Canucks will turn to Roberto Luongo tonight, despite Cory Schneider's success last year against the Blue Jackets. Schneider won his three starts vs. Columbus a year ago and often times was the biggest difference in those games, but with Luongo playing well and the team currently scuffling a bit, coach Alain Vigneault appears as if he will flip his coin and go back to Luongo.

On the Blue Jackets' end, Todd Richards will be hard-pressed not to start Sergei Bobrovsky against the Canucks. The 24-year-old netminder was stellar in relief in Tuesday's shootout win, stopping all 21 shots in regulation plus overtime, and adding two saves on Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky in the skills competition.

- Columbus was perfect on the penalty kill for the seventh straight game on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 in man-down situations in improving their 2012-13 PK percent to 85.2 (5th place in the Western Conference).

- Vinny Prospal extended his goal-scoring streak to three games on Tuesday, netting a power play tally in the opening frame. Prospal also assisted on a second period goal by Jack Johnson to record his second multi-point game of the season.

- In addition to scoring a goal, Johnson led all skaters with 26:53 TOI in his return to action after missing four games with an upper body injury. Johnson also had three blocked shots on the night – tops on Columbus.

- Nick Foligno skated in his 200th consecutive game on Tuesday night, a streak that began in March of 2010 when he was a member of the Ottawa Senators.

Jannik Hansen


2013 STATS: 6-6-12, 21 GP

Usually relied on as an energetic, checking forward, Hansen has picked it up offensively lately and has scored in three straight games for Vancouver. The 26-year-old Dane can play in all situations and can chip in on the offensive end, making him a valuable asset for Vigneault and the Canucks coaching staff.

Brandon Dubinsky (knee), on IR; James Wisniewski (foot), on IR; Nikita Nikitin (upper body), day-to-day

VANCOUVER: Kevin Bieksa (groin), day-to-day; Keith Ballard (lower body), day-to-day; Ryan Kesler (foot), on IR; Manny Malhotra (eye), on IR

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