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Devils, Blue Jackets resume chase of playoff berth

by Mike G. Morreale

BLUE JACKETS (29-24-5) at DEVILS (24-22-13)


Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1; New Jersey 4-4-2

Season series: This is the fourth and final regular-season game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils. The Blue Jackets have won the previous three games, including a 2-1 shootout decision at Prudential Center on Dec. 27. Goalie Curtis McElhinney made 16 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Ryane Clowe in the tiebreaker.

Big story: The Blue Jackets received some good news on Wednesday when they learned right wing Marian Gaborik would return to the lineup. Gaborik, who has missed the past 22 games after sustaining a broken collarbone in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 21, has five goals and 12 points in 18 games this season. Gaborik is expected to skate with Nathan Horton and center Ryan Johansen.

"I still don't think we've seen the Marian Gaborik who can score big goals, and what he can mean to our power play, how he can create so much space for other guys on the ice," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told The Columbus Dispatch. "If he can play at the top of his game and bring that every night, he could be exactly what this team needs the rest of the way."

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Players representing Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, including goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, center Artem Anisimov and defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin, returned to the team over the weekend after a stunning 3-1 loss against bronze medalist Finland in the quarterfinal round.

"I feel for our Russian players, as their pressure was enormous," Kekalainen, who also served as Finland's assistant GM, said. "As disappointing as it is, it will be a bitter learning experience for them, as well."

The Jackets begin a stretch of 24 games in 48 days one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second and final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference.

"The season is kind of a marathon when it starts out and you're winning one, losing one here and there, but now, time's running short for everyone," forward Brandon Dubinsky told the team's website. "You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you look at the amount of work we've put in to get to this point. We have to be ready to go right out of the gate here."

Devils: Defenseman Marek Zidlicky tied for the team lead with four points (two goals) in five games for the Czech Republic at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Czechs, who also received two goals and three points from Jagr, were eliminated by the United States in a 5-2 quarterfinal-round loss. Elias, who missed two games due to an illness, had one assist in three games for his country.

Elias is expected to be in the lineup when the Devils host the Blue Jackets.

"Something was going around [in Sochi]," Elias told the Devils website. "A few of the athletes got sick. I got a fever for four days, I couldn't really breathe much, I had bad bronchitis. Wrong time, but I'm happy to be back now and feeling well."

Devils coach Peter DeBoer is also looking forward to getting back to work. Defenseman Eric Gelinas was recalled from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Monday.

"I think whenever you can take a break like that, get away from it, you get a little perspective and you get to recharge," DeBoer said. "The schedule was so condensed, and obviously you're playing pressure-filled games every night, you get kind of caught up in the moment. I think it was good for us as a group to take a step back and get ready for the last 23 games."

Who's hot: Johansen, who leads the team with 24 goals and 46 points, has five goals and nine points in the past seven games. … Jagr has three goals, 11 points and a plus-6 rating in the past 10 games.

Injury report: Columbus is without right wing Jared Boll (left foot) and defenseman James Wisniewski (broken left pinkie toe). … Devils defensemen Anton Volchenkov, who missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, has resumed practicing and is probable.

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