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Blue Jackets can clinch top wild card against Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Columbus Blue Jackets will know by the time they step on the ice to face the Florida Panthers for their regular-season finale Saturday night whether they still have a chance to finish third in the Metropolitan Division.

The Philadelphia Flyers have a chance to clinch third place in the division with a regulation or overtime victory when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins at 3 p.m., four hours before the start of the Blue Jackets-Panthers game.

"You don't want to get ahead of yourself," Richards said Saturday afternoon. "You're thinking, well, let's get through this game and get ready to go, we can't have that mentality. We've got to come in and be prepared to work and play and do the things we've done all year to have success."

Finishing third in the Metropolitan Division means a matchup against the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs instead of having to face a division champion, either the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming into Saturday, the Blue Jackets had a chance to finish anywhere from third in the Metropolitan to being the second wild-card team in the Eastern Conference, which would mean a first-round matchup against Boston. The Blue Jackets would clinch at least the top wild card spot regardless of the Flyers' outcome with a victory against the Panthers, and thus avoid the Bruins.

Columbus and the Detroit Red Wings, who are idle Saturday before finishing against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon, are tied for the first wild-card spot with 91 points. The Blue Jackets hold the tiebreaker against the Red Wings by virtue of a higher number of regulation and overtime victories (37-33).

After losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 Friday night, the Blue Jackets did not have a morning skate Saturday. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start after Curtis McIhinney played against Tampa Bay.

Bobrovsky likely will face Roberto Luongo, who stopped 27 shots in a 4-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, two nights after he was a late scratch for a game against Philadelphia.

The Blue Jackets will have a couple of other lineup changes, both on defense. Dalton Prout and Nikita Nikitin will go into the lineup and replace Nick Schultz and Ryan Murray. Richards said Murray was being kept out as a precautionary measure and would be available for the start of the playoffs.

Forward Nick Foligno will miss his sixth consecutive game because of a lower-body injury, but Richards said Foligno should resume skating Sunday.

Here are the projected lineups:


Boone JennerRyan JohansenBlake Comeau

Matt CalvertBrandon DubinskyCam Atkinson

Derek MacKenzieArtem AnisimovJack Skille

Corey TroppMark LetestuJared Boll

Fedor TyutinJames Wisniewski

Jack JohnsonDalton Prout

Nikita NikitinDavid Savard

Sergei Bobrovsky

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Nick Schultz, Ryan Murray, Matt Frattin

Injured: Nathan Horton (abdominal surgery), Nick Foligno (lower body), R.J. Umberger (upper body)


Sean BergenheimNick BjugstadBrad Boyes

Tomas FleischmannVincent TrocheckScottie Upshall

Jonathan HuberdeauDrew ShoreJesse Winchester

Quinton HowdenBrandon PirriJimmy Hayes

Brian CampbellDmitry Kulikov

Ed JovanovskiErik Gudbranson

Dylan OlsenColby Robak

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Scratched: Scott Gomez, Krys Barch

Injured: Tom Gilbert (sports hernia), Aleksander Barkov (knee), Tomas Kopecky (upper body), Alex Petrovic (upper body)

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