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Blue Jackets try to break through vs. Penguins

by Tal Pinchevsky

PENGUINS (28-11-1) at BLUE JACKETS (17-17-4)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Columbus 6-3-1

Season series: These Metropolitan Division rivals, separated by 185 miles, meet for the fourth time. The Pittsburgh Penguins have beaten the Columbus Blue Jackets in all three games so far by a combined score of 9-3. They haven't lost to Columbus since Feb. 8, 2011.

Big story: Pittsburgh is running away with the division; the Penguins hold a 13-point lead over the second-place Washington Capitals, who have two games in hand. After starting November with a 2-5-3 record, Columbus sat in last place by Nov. 20. Despite losing No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on Dec. 3 to a lower-body injury, Columbus has risen up the standings to get back in contention for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

Team Scope:

Penguins: The Blue Jackets may have lost their franchise goalie, but the Penguins have suffered an unfathomable amount of injuries over the past month. They've included ailments to each of their top-four defensemen as well as an injury to center Evgeni Malkin. Through it all, they've continued to win, posting victories in 13 of their past 15 games.

The latest addition to the injured list is first-line right wing Pascal Dupuis, who was injured Monday against the Ottawa Senators and will require ACL surgery, which could sideline him the remainder of the season.

Joe Vitale assumed Dupuis' spot alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes, although James Neal also saw time on the top line. Deryk Engelland gave Pittsburgh a late 3-2 lead before Drayson Bowman tied the game with 2:29 left in regulation. Neal needed 63 seconds of extra time to give the Penguins a 4-3 road win, improving their overtime record to 5-1.

For a moment, it appeared the Penguins might have suffered another injury when goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury took a puck to the throat during overtime. He appeared shaken on the play but remained in the game.

"I lost my breath for a little bit, but it was fine," Fleury said.

Pittsburgh welcomed back Engelland and fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik, who missed eight games with a head injury.

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets also have enjoyed success of late despite some major injuries. Since losing Bobrovsky in the third period of their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 3, Columbus has gone 7-3-1. They've done it despite briefly losing backup Curtis McElhinney to a lower-body injury as well as prolonged absences from forwards Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton, who has yet to play after signing a seven-year contract with the team during the summer.

Horton had offseason shoulder surgery and recently been practicing without a red no-contact jersey. He is expected to make his Columbus debut sometime soon, though likely not Sunday.

Columbus is riding a three-game win streak after topping the New Jersey Devils on Friday in Newark. Tied 1-1 after 65 minutes, Cam Atkinson scored the lone goal in the shootout.

Who's hot: Neal has five points in four games since returning from his suspension. Crosby has 30 points in his past 20 games. … Columbus forward Artem Anisimov has five points on his current four-game point streak. Forward Ryan Johansen has 17 points in his past 15 games.

Injury report: Bobrovsky (groin) remains out for Columbus, along with Gaborik (broken collarbone), Horton (shoulder), forward Jared Boll (foot), defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body) and forward Matt Calvert (upper body). … Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (lower body) and Kris Letang (elbow), and forwards Malkin (lower body), Dupuis (knee), Beau Bennett (wrist), Jayson Megna (lower body) and Andrew Ebbett (ankle) are out.

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