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Blue Jackets look to overcome injuries, Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter

BLUE JACKETS (15-17-4) at HURRICANES (14-14-8)


Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1; Carolina 4-3-3

Season series: This is the first of five games between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, who face off for the initial time as Metropolitan Division rivals. With the Blue Jackets formerly in the Western Conference, this marks their first game against the Hurricanes since March 23, 2012, a 5-1 win in which RJ Umberger recorded a hat trick.

Big story: On the bright side for the Blue Jackets, they appear closer to getting forward Nathan Horton in their lineup for the first time. However, the return of forward Marian Gaborik lasted less than a period against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday before one of the NHL's more lethal scorers sustained a broken collarbone and ended up right back on injured reserve.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Good news first: Columbus bounced back from giving up five goals in the third period of a loss to the Flyers on Thursday to gain a split of the home-and-home with a 6-3 win at Nationwide Arena. Umberger scored twice, as did the on-a-tear Ryan Johansen.

One day earlier, Horton took part in an optional practice and he hopes to make his Blue Jackets debut at some point following the Christmas break. They figure to need his contributions even more after the unfortunate break sustained by Gaborik, who returned from an 18-game absence Saturday only to get sandwiched between a pair of Flyers while setting up Johansen's goal to open the scoring.

"You feel for him," coach Todd Richards said. "It's a big hole for our team. He worked hard to get back. He was excited to play. His game, up until he got hurt, he looked good and he had a step. He was energized."

Hurricanes: Only time will tell, but there's a distinct possibility only three teams from the Metropolitan qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Carolina, like its opponent Monday, is one of five teams separated by three points battling for third in the division at the moment.

Jiri Tlusty seemed to find some of his form from a dynamite 2012-13 season and scored twice Saturday in Tampa Bay, including a shorthanded goal, but the Lightning wiped out each of those deficits and eventually dealt the Hurricanes a 3-2 defeat on an overtime goal by Radko Gudas.

"If you want to score goals, you have to put the pucks at the net and I'm not doing that as much as I should," Tlusty said. "It's trying to establish the mindset and try to put the pucks at the net. And you know what, it went in the first time, and I just tried to keep doing the same thing."

Who's hot: Johansen has eight goals and eight assists in his past 13 games for the Blue Jackets. Umberger has three goals in as many games. … Eric Staal has six goals and 14 assists in his past 18 games for the Hurricanes.

Injury report: In addition to Gaborik, Columbus lost forward Matt Calvert (shoulder) in the game Saturday and he will be out 2-3 weeks. Horton remains on injured reserve along with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body) and forwards Cody Bass (hand) and Jared Boll (foot). … Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison (upper body) will be out of the lineup, while goalie Anton Khudobin (lower body) remains on IR but is about ready to return.

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