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Jets begin rugged stretch against Blue Jackets

by Brian Hunter

JETS (14-15-5) at BLUE JACKETS (14-15-4)


Last 10: Winnipeg 4-4-2; Columbus 6-3-1

Season series: This is the first of two games between the Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets, each of whom switched conferences for 2013-14 as part of realignment. Their most recent game was on Nov. 12, 2011, when Ryan Johansen scored twice to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 win at Nationwide Arena.

Big story: At the moment, Columbus certainly appears to have gotten the better deal moving from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. Despite entering Sunday with one fewer point than their opponent, the Blue Jackets are just three points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. The Jets find themselves 10 points out.

Team Scope:

Jets: This begins a stretch of five games in eight days for Winnipeg, four of them away from home. The Jets spent their most recent game, Saturday afternoon against the Dallas Stars, trying to play catch-up, and that eventually caught up to them. After rallying from three one-goal deficits, the Jets gave up two goals late in the second period, and another early in the third, en route to a 6-4 loss. Ondrej Pavelec gave up five goals and was lifted for Al Montoya to start the third. Montoya will start Monday.

"What I say doesn't matter," said a frustrated Blake Wheeler, who scored twice. "It's what you do out on the ice. You can blow smoke as much as you want out in the media; we've been blowing smoke for three years. [I] and everyone who has stood in front of a microphone for three years, we've said the same [words]."

Blue Jackets: The biggest challenge right now for Columbus might be keeping a goaltender healthy. Curtis McElhinney was playing well in place of the injured Sergei Bobrovsky before he had to leave a game this past Thursday against the New York Rangers with a lower-body injury. Mike McKenna finished out that win and got his first NHL start in more than three years Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. Johansen had a power-play goal to put the Blue Jackets ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes, but the Blues stormed back to deal them a 4-3 overtime defeat.

"I thought our effort was there," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "Obviously we're disappointed and we need to be better to get a better result, which means eliminate some of the mistakes we made."

Who's hot: Wheeler has consecutive multi-goal games for the Jets. … Johansen has four goals and six assists during an eight-game point streak for the Blue Jackets. Artem Anisimov has goals in consecutive games.

Injury report: Winnipeg forward Evander Kane (lower body) will return to the lineup. Forward Matt Halischuk suffered a fractured forearm in the game Saturday, had surgery the following day and is out indefinitely. Defensemen Paul Postma (blood clot) and Zach Bogosian (groin), and forward Jim Slater (sports hernia) are on injured reserve. … McElhinney (lower body) will miss a second straight game Sunday. Bobrovsky (groin), defenseman James Wisniewski (upper body), and forwards Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (hand), Marian Gaborik (knee) and Jared Boll (foot) are on injured reserve.

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