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Blue Jackets chase new win streak against Panthers

by Brian Hunter

PANTHERS (21-26-7) at BLUE JACKETS (27-23-4)


Last 10: Florida 4-5-1; Columbus 7-3-0

Season series: This is the first of three games between the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets. They haven't faced each other since March 30, 2012, when Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin scored twice and assisted on an RJ Umberger goal in a 4-1 win against Florida at Nationwide Arena.

Big story: Following a streaky month of January that saw Columbus win a franchise-record eight in a row and then lose its next three, the Blue Jackets open February trying to string consecutive wins together after a key 5-2 victory against the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Keeping the puck out of its own net has been an issue throughout the season for Florida, 27th in the NHL with a 3.06 team goals-against average, but the defense and goaltending have been particularly porous on this four-game road trip which ends Saturday. The Panthers have given up 16 goals and dropped two straight after rallying to beat the Detroit Red Wings.

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson was a healthy scratch for the third straight game in a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and forward Tomas Fleischmann, a 27-goal scorer two seasons ago who has just five this season in 52 games, also found himself out of the lineup.

"I didn't expect it," Fleischmann said in the Miami Herald. "I always try to do what I can to help the team win, but it didn't work last game. … Obviously, I'm supposed to score goals."

Blue Jackets: This is the only home game Columbus will play in February. The Blue Jackets head into the Olympic break on a three-game road trip that starts Monday and their next four games overall will be away from Nationwide.

Columbus won 10 of 14 games in January to surge from seventh place in the Metropolitan Division into third, pending results Friday night for the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, who were each one point behind the Blue Jackets. Ryan Johansen scored twice and Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves in the slump-busting win against the Capitals.

"You know, when you lose three in a row, it's going to happen. … You start gripping the stick a little bit, and doubt creeps in," forward Derek MacKenzie, who scored the game-opening shorthanded goal, said in the Columbus Dispatch. "But the coaching staff has done a pretty good job of preparing us and reminding us that when we do the right things, we're a pretty good hockey team."

Who's hot: Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has goals in consecutive games and four in his past seven. Forward Sean Bergenheim has three goals and two assists during a five-game point streak. … Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson has consecutive games with a goal and an assist.

Injury report: Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic (upper body) and forward Aleksander Barkov (knee) are on injured reserve. … Columbus defenseman David Savard (illness) could return after missing the past four games. Forwards Jared Boll (foot) and Marian Gaborik (collarbone) are on injured reserve.

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