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Preview: Panthers at Blue Jackets

Columbus eyes team record for home wins; Florida goes for sweep of season series

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

PANTHERS (30-27-11) at BLUE JACKETS (44-18-6)

7 p.m. ET; TVAS, FS-O, FS-F, NHL.TV)


Panthers team scope

The Florida Panthers, six points out the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, have defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets twice this season at home -- 2-1 in a shootout on Nov. 26 and 4-3 on Jan. 14 -- but coach Tom Rowe was preparing the Panthers for a tough game at Nationwide Arena. "If you come in here thinking you can get through a game easy, you're going to get buried because all four lines come at you physically and they put pressure on you," he said. "They've got a real good group of defensemen. It's about as well balanced a team in the League as you'll find." If the Panthers are going to make a run at qualifying for the postseason, they will need a similar effort from a 7-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday that ended a five-game losing streak. Florida is 2-7-1 in its past 10 games and after Thursday continues a three-game road trip at the New York Rangers on Friday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. "We're under the gun here," center Derek MacKenzie said, "but the last game was a pretty good example that we're going to do what we can here down this final push, and I expect the same thing tonight."


Blue Jackets team scope

The Columbus Blue Jackets can move into second place in the Metropolitan Division with a victory Thursday; they trail the Pittsburgh Penguins by one point with a game in hand, and are three points behind the first-place Washington Capitals, who also lead the Eastern Conference. Captain Nick Foligno is expected to return after missing a 5-3 win at the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday because of illness. With Josh Anderson and Matt Calvert coming back against the Flyers and Lukas Sedlak (oblique) activated from injured reserve on Thursday, the Blue Jackets have an abundance of forwards for the first time in weeks. "We've got some decisions to make, but it's good to be back healthy," coach John Tortorella said Wednesday. "It's a good problem to have. I'm not so sure for the players. As you go through the last part of the year, everybody's going to get an opportunity." Columbus is 25-9-1 at Nationwide Arena and can set the Blue Jackets record for most home wins in a season with a fifth straight home victory. Columbus was 25-13-13 at home in 2008-09. The Blue Jackets are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, but forward Cam Atkinson said there is no time for complacency. "There's still a lot of points to gain and a lot of teams are still playing for their playoff lives," he said Wednesday.


Panthers projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Jaromir Jagr

Thomas Vanek -- Nick Bjugstad -- Jonathan Marchessault

Jussi Jokinen -- Vincent Trocheck -- Reilly Smith

Shawn Thornton -- Derek MacKenzie -- Colton Sceviour

Keith Yandle -- Jason Demers

Michael Matheson -- Alex Petrovic

Jakub Kindl -- Mark Pysyk

James Reimer

Reto Berra

Scratched: Michael Sgarbossa, MacKenzie Weegar

Injured: Roberto Luongo (lower body), Aaron Ekblad (concussion), Denis Malgin (concussion)


Blue Jackets projected lineup

Brandon Saad -- Alexander Wennberg -- Nick Foligno

Boone Jenner -- Brandon Dubinsky -- Cam Atkinson

Scott Hartnell -- Sam Gagner -- Oliver Bjorkstrand

Matt Calvert -- William Karlsson -- Josh Anderson

Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones

Jack Johnson -- David Savard

Kyle Quincey -- Markus Nutivaara

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched:  Lauri Korpikoski, Scott Harrington, Lukas Sedlak

Injured: Ryan Murray (hand)


Status report

Rowe said the Panthers will use the same lineup as Tuesday.  … The Blue Jackets signed free agent center Sam Vigneault of Clarkson University to a two-year entry-level contract. The 6-foot-5, 207-pound Vigneault, 21, also has signed a tryout agreement with Cleveland of the American Hockey League and will report to the Monsters.


Who's hot

Vanek had an NHL-career high four assists vs. Toronto. … Marchessault, a former Blue Jackets player, has four points (three goals, assist) in his past three games. … Barkov has three straight multiple point games, with six points (two goals, four assists. … Werenski has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in his past 17 games. His 43 points (10 goals, 33 assists) are seventh in NHL history by a teenage defenseman in his rookie season. Larry Murphy of the Los Angeles Kings had 76 points (16 goals, 60 assists) as a 19-year-old in 1980-81. … Jones has 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in his past 23 games. 

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