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Blue Jackets-Predators Preview @NHLdotcom

With several teams fighting for positioning in the Western Conference, it's not surprising that the Columbus Blue Jackets made a deal at the trade deadline to strengthen their postseason chances.

For the Nashville Predators, meanwhile, getting to the playoffs may only require them extending their recent surge.

The Blue Jackets hope to have newly acquired center Antoine Vermette available as they head to the Sommet Center looking to halt the Predators' season-high five-game win streak.

Columbus (32-26-6) hasn't reached the playoffs since entering the league in 2000. But it is currently sixth in the tightly packed West with 70 points, four behind Vancouver and two ahead of Nashville (32-28-4), which is tied with Edmonton and Anaheim for eighth.

While the Predators stood pat at Wednesday's deadline, the Blue Jackets dealt injured goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick in this year's draft to Ottawa for Vermette, who has 80 goals and 167 points in 359 career games - all with the Senators. He has just nine goals and 19 assists after establishing career highs in both categories with 24 and 53, respectively, last season.

Vermette's status for Thursday's game is unclear, but he's eventually expected to join captain Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius on the first line.

"I'm very happy to be a part of it right now," Vermette told the Blue Jackets' official Web site. "It's a good challenge and to look at the roster - young guys, a lot of energy. ... They have some good players and they are young. So it's all good points."

Among those young players is goaltender Steve Mason, who stepped in when Leclaire and backup Fredrik Norrena were injured during the first few weeks of the season. The rookie has since compiled a 25-15-3 record and a 2.20 goals-against average to go along with his league-leading eight shutouts.

Mason, though, hasn't been as sharp lately with seven goals allowed in his last two starts. He did finish with 22 saves Tuesday night in a 5-4 home victory over Los Angeles that improved Columbus to 8-3-1 since a three-game slide from Jan. 31-Feb. 6.

Nashville, meanwhile, has been receiving outstanding goaltending lately from Pekka Rinne, who boasts a 1.78 GAA and two shutouts during his team's five-game streak - its longest since reeling off six straight from Jan. 5-15, 2007. The Predators have outscored opponents 24-9 in their current stretch.

Rinne stopped 23 shots, and six players had at least two points in Tuesday's 6-5 overtime win over Edmonton that improved the Predators to 4-0 on a five-game homestand. They last won five in a row at the Sommet Center during an eight-game run Jan. 6-Feb. 8, 2007.

"Just stay persistent every night, and good things can happen," coach Barry Trotz said. "As we said to the guys, you have to go up the ladder one rung at a time, and Edmonton was the one we had to get to. In getting the two points and them getting one, we're right with them now."

Nashville can keep climbing the standings by continuing its recent dominance of Columbus. Though it has lost two of three meetings (1-1-1) this season, it is 16-1-2 in the series since Nov. 15, 2006 - a span that also includes nine consecutive home victories.

These teams last met Dec. 11, when Mason made 25 saves through overtime and stopped two of three shootout attempts for a 2-1 victory in Columbus.

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