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Jackets, Preds set to close season series

by Pete Jensen
BLUE JACKETS (13-28-6) at PREDATORS (28-16-4)


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

Season Series: The Predators and Blue Jackets meet for the final time of the regular season and the second time in four days. Nashville has taken four of the five meetings, including a 3-0 road win against Columbus last Thursday.

Big Story: These Central Division rivals wrap up their season series on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won their second consecutive game and their fourth straight at home in a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, suffered their fifth defeat in seven games when they dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.
Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Columbus may be last in the League in points, but their effort in Saturday's loss to Detroit was a significant step in the right direction. The injury-depleted Jackets jumped out to a 2-1 lead midway through the second period on goals by Ryan Russell and Nikita Nikitin before Nicklas Lidstrom tied the game later in the period for the Red Wings. Then, Curtis Sanford rose to the occasion in the third period, stopping all 15 shots by Detroit to help Columbus earn a road point within the division.

The Jackets would ultimately fall in shootout at the hands of the NHL's top team to date, but Columbus' interim coach Todd Richards was impressed by how his goaltender fared during the final period of regulation -- Detroit’s most active stretch of the night.

"[Sanford] was great," Richards told "I like the way our guys played in front of him. They had the initial shots. I think we did a good job collapsing. I thought we did a good job as a unit. The other thing is we had some big blocks out there, too. Guys are putting their bodies in those shooting lanes and it's helping us out."
Predators: Despite a fourth place standing in the Central Division, the Predators are currently sixth in the Western Conference and only five points behind the Red Wings for the most in the NHL through 48 games. The Preds' 5-2 triumph against Chicago marked its 10th victory in 12 games, not to mention another balanced display for Barry Trotz's squad.

Pekka Rinne stopped 20 of 22 shots to win his seventh straight decision, and Nashville used a three-goal flurry in the second period to stifle one of League's most prolific teams, despite defenseman Ryan Suter missing his third straight game due to injury.

"I think we're doing a good job on the forecheck," Sergei Kostitsyn told after tallying a goal and an assist in the win over Chicago. "First of all, we have to play good defense and if you play good defense, good things will happen on offense."

Who's Hot: Antoine Vermette has compiled a goal and four assists over his last six games. … Pekka Rinne has been nearly untouchable over his last 11 starts, allowing only 19 goals and posting a 10-1-0 record in that span.

Injury Report: The Blue Jackets activated RJ Umberger off injured reserve after he missed the last five games with a concussion. They will be without Radek Martinek (concussion) for the remainder of the season. James Wisniewski (ankle), Jeff Carter (shoulder), Mark Letestu (wrist) and Kristian Huselius (groin) are all on injured reserve and expected to miss Monday's game. Nikita Nikitin (knee) will likely miss the game as well for Columbus. ... Suter and Francis Bouillon are questionable for Nashville with upper-body injuries.

Stat Pack: The Preds' power-play conversion percentage ranked 26th in the League last season (15.2 percent), but Nashville has bounced back with the NHL's second-best mark in that category this season (21.7), behind only the Vancouver Canucks (23.3).

Puck Drop: "Right now before the break and after the break, this is a pretty crucial time, especially when we play against division teams like Chicago and Columbus twice before the break," Rinne told The Tennessean. “You have a chance to make separation between you and them and obviously against Chicago we have a chance to catch them a little bit [Tuesday at United Center]. Any time you play a division game, those are bigger games."

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