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At the Rink: Wild at Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The number 500 has significant meaning for the Columbus Blue Jackets going into their game against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday in Nationwide Arena.

A 10th victory in 12 games in December for the Blue Jackets (15-16-3) would put them at .500 for the first time since Oct. 26, when Columbus was 4-4-0.

"It's been a good month but we had to have a month like this because basically we dug ourselves a huge hole the first two months of the season," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "We've put ourselves back in a decent position. I wouldn't even say a good position or a great position."

Columbus enters play Wednesday nine points behind the New York Rangers for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The game against the Wild also will be the 500th in the regular season for Columbus left wing Nick Foligno, who made his NHL debut Oct. 3, 2007, at the Toronto Maple Leafs while playing for the Ottawa Senators.

"I'm proud of the milestone," he said. "It's something I take very seriously. I work very hard to play in this League. It's one thing to get here; it's another to stay here."

Foligno is on his way to his best season with 17 goals in 33 games, one goal shy of his career high he set with the Blue Jackets last season in 70 games. He also had 17 goals in 81 games for the Senators in 2008-09.

"He's got a ton of confidence right now," Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson said. "He's skilled enough to make the great plays. He's going to those so-called dirty areas and scoring right around the crease."

Playing 500 games puts Foligno almost halfway to reaching his father, Mike Foligno, who played 1,018 games for the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers from 1979-94.

"I'd like 500 more," Nick Foligno said. "That's something that's in the back of my mind."

His immediate attention is on the Wild (17-13-4).

"My focus is to see us get to .500 and then take off from there," Foligno said. "It's a great benchmark for us right now."

Minnesota is coming off a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday that ended an 0-2-3 stretch. The Wild trailed 2-0 but scored three straight goals in the second period; they're also 10-6-4 now in one-goal games this season.

The Wild on Wednesday activated goaltender Niklas Backstrom after he recovered from a stomach virus that caused him to miss three games. Goalie John Curry was returned to Iowa of the American Hockey League.

However, Wild left wing Jason Zucker will miss his third straight game because of illness.

Here are the projected lineups:


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter - Charlie Coyle - Thomas Vanek

Matt Cooke - Tyler Graovac - Justin Fontaine

Brett Sutter - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Carter

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Christian Folin

Nate Prosser - Stu Bickel

Darcy Kuemper

Niklas Backstrom

Scratched: Erik Haula

Injured: Keith Ballard (head/face), Jonas Brodin (upper body), Mikael Granlund (wrist), Jason Zucker (illness)


Scott Hartnell - Ryan Johansen - Jeremy Morin

Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Corey Tropp

Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Jack Skille

Adam Cracknell - Michael Chaput - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Kevin Connauton - James Wisniewski

Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout

Sergei Bobrovsky

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Jordan Leopold, Cody Goloubef, Sean Collins

Injured: Nathan Horton (back), Ryan Murray (knee), Mark Letestu (groin), Artem Anisimov (torn triceps), Brian Gibbons (knee), Boone Jenner (back), Cam Atkinson (shoulder)

Status report: Brodin is expected to play Friday against the Maple Leafs. He did not play Monday. … Collins was recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League for the second time in five days after Atkinson was injured against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. … Bobrovsky will start after missing the game Saturday because of illness.

Who's hot: Scandella was a plus-3 against Winnipeg and scored his fourth game-winning goal of the season. … The Columbus penalty kill has been successful 23 straight times and 41 of the past 45 man-down situations (91.1 percent).

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