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Blue Jackets chasing top-8 spot against Oilers

by Matthew Mankiewich

BLUE JACKETS (13-13-7) at OILERS (12-13-7)

TV: FS-Ohio, SNET-West

Last 10: Columbus 6-1-3; Edmonton 4-4-2

Season series: Rubber match of the three-game set; the opener went to the Edmonton Oilers in February, but the Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-3 shootout win at home March 5 was their second straight in what would become a season-turning five-game winning streak.

Big story: Both teams are outside the Western Conference top eight but are lurking. The Blue Jackets had to go on a monumental tear to get where they are, securing points in 13 of 14 games. They have 20 points in March; the previous time they did that was in 2009, their only Stanley Cup Playoff season. With 10 of their final 15 games on the road, however, the Blue Jackets have to find a way to improve on a 3-9-2 record, third worst in the NHL.

Goaltending has been the mainstay for both recently, the Blue Jackets riding red-hot Sergei Bobrovsky and the Oilers getting a boost from Nikolai Khabibulin, who shut out the St. Louis Blues 3-0 Tuesday.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: When your offense is still the worst in the League, the only way to win is to make sure the other guys don't score. So when the Blue Jackets score 2.15 goals per game, Bobrovsky's 1.23 goals-against average in March certainly helps explain an 8-1-3 record. All three of his career shutouts have come in his past nine starts, including a 1-0 shootout loss at the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.

"He was by far our best player out there, he gave us a chance to maybe win in overtime," top scorer Vinny Prospal said. "We don't score enough goals as it is and today I don't think we really played that hard as a team."

Oilers: Goalies can also stop losing streaks. Going into longtime house of horrors Scottrade Center Tuesday night on an 0-2-1 slide, the Oilers looked to Khabibulin to put on the brakes. The 40-year-old turned in an epic 43-save performance in the win, his first shutout since 2011 and his first 40-save shutout since 2002.

Jordan Eberle had two goals and an assist, Taylor Hall had a goal and two assists, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins chipped in two more helpers as part of an offense that managed 19 shots on goal.

"I actually thought this was our most complete game from a compete level, from the goalie on out," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said in the Edmonton Journal.

"To take this game going forward with us is going to be important. We're going to work very hard at maintaining this kind of hockey."

Who's hot: The Oilers have won four straight against the Blue Jackets at home and are 17-4-1 in Rexall Place, including a 3-0, 22-save shutout by Devan Dubnyk in the Blue Jackets' previous visit, March 14, 2012. Hall's three-point game on Tuesday gave him points in six of eight.

Injury report: Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) has not played since last Tuesday and remains day-to-day. Oilers forward Eric Belanger (groin) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

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