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Murray could return to lineup this weekend

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets held a light, optional practice at Nationwide Arena today before departing for Philadelphia. One of the participants was defenseman Ryan Murray, who will be making the trip with the team this afternoon.

It's a very good sign for Murray, who has been out of the lineup since suffering a knee injury on Mar. 3 in Toronto. He's missed the Blue Jackets' past 14 games (they are 7-6-1 in that stretch) and has been forced to watch as his teammates battle for points in an ultra-competitive playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Murray was injured early in the Jackets' 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre when he got tangled up with Phil Kessel in the right wing corner. He limped off the ice and down the runway to the dressing room and did not return, halting what has been a terrific rookie season for the Saskatchewan native.

Murray is closing in on a fourth week of a projected four-to-six week rehabilitation period for his injury, and all signs point to an imminent return.

Blue Jackets
coach Todd Richards said Murray could possibly get back in the lineup either Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, or Sunday afternoon when the Jackets take on the New York Islanders at Nationwide Arena.

"He's very close," Richards said after practice today.

Another day of hard skating and conditioning work for Murray yielded positive results, he said, and he's felt better with each day back on the ice. He has been skating for approximately at week, beginning in a track suit and progressing to full gear as recently as this week.

"It's been good to work on the lungs and conditioning," Murray said. "Just getting the legs back and stuff. I feel good, we'll see how it goes (in the next few days)."

The Blue Jackets needed help on defense at the trading deadline with injuries to Fedor Tyutin and Murray, and they acquired Nick Schultz to add depth on the back end. With Tyutin back and Murray on the verge, the Jackets are close to full health on the blue line for the first time in months.

However, they will be without Nikita Nikitin tomorrow night, Richards said. Nikitin suffered a lower body injury during Tuesday's overtime loss to Colorado and will not make the trip to Philadelphia. Richards said either Schultz, who last played Mar. 28 vs. Pittsburgh, or Tim Erixon will take Nikitin's place in the lineup.

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