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Blue Jackets need bounce-back effort vs. Hurricanes

by Mike Battaglino

BLUE JACKETS (37-30-6) at HURRICANES (32-32-9)


Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1; Carolina 5-5-0

Season series: The Columbus Blue Jackets have lost the past two games after winning the first two against the Carolina Hurricanes. All have ended in regulation, with the Blue Jackets outscoring the Hurricanes 10-9 in their first season as Metropolitan Division opponents.

Big story: Columbus lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Friday to remain in a four-way tie for two Eastern Conference wild cards into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blue Jackets are 2-4-0 in the past six.

"We need to win," defenseman Jack Johnson told Fox Sports Ohio. "We're running out of games (nine) and everyone's in a tight race here. ... The more stressful the situation becomes, the more you have to pull together, and [when] everyone wants the same goal, and everyone wants to pull in the same direction, that's a tough team to beat."

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Goaltender Curtis McElhinney on Friday made his first start since Jan. 28, which was before the break for 2014 Sochi Olympics. Sergei Bobrovsky made 19 straight starts but could not play due to illness after leaving a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday after one period.

McElhinney will start again Saturday, with Bobrovsky likely the backup. Goaltender Mike McKenna, who backed up McElhinney against Pittsburgh, was returned to Springfield of the American Hockey League.

"I feel pretty good," McElhinney said. "Obviously the Detroit game (a 4-2 win) certainly gave me a little bit of confidence. ... I'm not sure what the situation is right now, so I'll just prepare to play and whatever happens, happens. But it would be great to see [Sergei] back in there if he is healthy as well."

Hurricanes: Carolina has paired centers Andrei Loktionov and Eric Staal on a line with Jiri Tlusty with some success. The line has combined for three goals and three assists in the past two games.

Loktionov has a goal and two assists in those games, and five points in five games after going scoreless in his first six after a trade from the New Jersey Devils.

"We've had some good chances to score," Loktionov told The News & Observer. "It's important for us forwards to play in the offensive zone and not in the defensive zone, so I hope we can keep playing better and better."

Staal takes most of the faceoffs (11 to Loktionov's one in a 3-0 win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday), then skates primarily as a wing.

"I can play both, depending on the situation and where we are in a game or where we are within a lineup," Staal told the newspaper. "I can play the wing too. Whatever can help us win, that's where I'm going to play. That's all I want to do."

Who's hot: Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski has a goal and three assists in the past two games. McElhinney has stopped 51 of 54 shots (.944 save percentage). … Tlusty had two goals Thursday and has four points in a three-game streak. Forward Jeff Skinner has a goal in two straight games; he has 28 this season, within range of his career-high 31, established as a rookie in 2010-11. Goaltender Anton Khudobin made 35 saves for the shutout Thursday.

Injury report: Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray (knee) is skating on his own. … The Hurricanes report no injuries.

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