NEW YORK -- Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will start Monday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden after missing 14 games with a groin injury.
The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner's return couldn't have come at a better time. Columbus begins a stretch Monday in which it plays four of its next five games against teams from the Metropolitan Division, where six points separate the third-place Washington Capitals from the seventh-place Blue Jackets.
In light of this crucial stretch of games, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he was willing to ride his franchise goaltender.
"Bob is in the lineup because he's 100 percent healthy. To be 100 percent means he's just like he was prior to the injury," Richards said. "If we need to play Bob in back-to-back games, we believe he's healthy and capable enough to do that."
Bobrovsky was activated from injured reserve Thursday and as he participated more and more in practices it became apparent to Columbus coaches, trainers and doctors that their No. 1 goalie was ready to return.
"There has been a natural progression as far as what he has been able to do in practice. You've been able to see that. He gets more comfortable and then you get the clearance from the doctors and the trainers. It's a lot of people making sure he's good to go," Richards said. "We saw a couple of saves this morning [in practice] where you think somebody's got an open net and they shoot it in but he's able to get a leg or an arm over to make the save."
Bobrovsky was hurt in the third period of a 1-0 win Dec. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Backups Curtis McElhinney and Mike McKenna held the fort in his absence, helping Columbus earn a 7-6-1 record without the Russian goaltender.
In 23 games, Bobrovsky is 10-11-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.