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The 5th Line Report: Jackets must finish strong in December

by Martin Poston / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets ride a two-game winning streak into their third match-up with Metropolitan Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, before a four-day Christmas break followed by some much-needed rest before a two-game road trip to Florida.

A players-only meeting after a rough loss against the Stars in Dallas seemingly lit a fire under the team, who ended a five-game losing streak with a seven-goal outburst in Glendale en route to a 7-5 win against the Arizona Coyotes. They followed that with a 3-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and the first win for minor league call-up Joonas Korpisalo.

The Jackets are now prepared to face a Pittsburgh Penguins team that has lost five straight (0-4-1). Additionally, their captain, Sidney Crosby, is being evaluated for a lower-body injury and could be a game-time decision.

Following the four-day break, the Jackets will travel to Tampa to play the Lightning on Dec. 26.

The Bolts have been climbing again, after floating around .500 for much of November and early December. They're currently the first team out of a playoff spot after winning three of their last four, beginning with their win at Columbus a week ago. Ben Bishop was responsible for two of those three wins last week. Meanwhile, team captain Steven Stamkos has found his scoring touch again, tallying three goals in his last two games.

The following night, on Dec. 27, the Jackets will play the Florida Panthers in second game of the back-to-back weekend.

The Jackets find themselves once again facing a hot Florida team, this time on the road. The Panthers have again won four straight (and could make it five against Ottawa on Tuesday). Al Montoya has been getting more action as of late, but coming back from a long Christmas break, fans may see Roberto Luongo in net versus the Jackets.

During a critical December that has not gone as well as hoped, the Jackets are looking to ride the momentum they've gained from two straight wins, and pick up valuable points before the new year.

The midpoint of the NHL season is quickly approaching, and the margin for error is getting thinner. Getting wins now is all the more important, with the Jackets’ current goaltending duo of Curtis McElhinney and Korpisalo getting their first wins and gaining confidence in the absence of Sergei Bobrovsky.

Every point is critical, and continuing to gain ground in the standings in these next couple of weeks – combined with a healthy Bobrovsky – can set up the team for the second half of the season.

Here’s to a successful road trip ahead, and a wonderful holiday break for you and yours. We’ll see you next week, 5th Line.

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