CANUCKS (36-21-2) at BLUE JACKETS (25-27-9)
Vancouver 7-3-0; Columbus 6-4-0
Third of four meetings this season. Vancouver visits Columbus twice during its 14-game road trip. The Canucks begin the post-Olympic leg of their journey with a game against the Blue Jackets on March 2. The teams split the two games at GM Place, with Columbus winning 5-3 on Oct. 5 and Vancouver taking a 7-3 victory on Jan. 5.
It's hard to argue with what the Canucks have been able to accomplish on their marathon trek so far. After shutting out the Panthers on Thursday they've split six games, with Friday's contest and another Sunday in Minnesota all that stands between them and the break. With 74 points, they're even with the Avalanche in the Northwest Division race and hold the tiebreaker by virtue of having two more wins.
Canucks: Roberto Luongo
spent five seasons in Florida never getting a taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was traded to Vancouver following the 2005-06 season and has led the Canucks to the second round of the postseason twice in his first three campaigns. Luongo returned to Florida for the second time on Thursday and stopped all 31 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory. Alexandre Burrows
netted the game-winner, while Jannik Hansen
(shorthanded) and Ryan Kesler
(power play) added special-teams goals.
"I think it's a win more than anything," said Luongo, who notched his fourth shutout of the season. "I wanted to make sure we got back to .500 on this road trip. It's a good team effort tonight."
It could be that Columbus regrets not having made a coaching change sooner. Since relieving Ken Hitchcock of his duties and placing Claude Noel behind the bench, the Blue Jackets have won three straight. Even more stunning is the turnaround of sophomore goalie Steve Mason
. After struggling all season, the reigning Calder Trophy winner has posted consecutive shutouts, including a 40-save effort in a 3-0 win over San Jose on Wednesday.
"Mase's game was unbelievable," said Jakub Voracek, one of the Columbus goal scorers. "The last three games he's been unstoppable."
Kesler has goals in two straight for the Canucks and eight points in his last seven games. … Mason has stopped 90 of 91 shots in winning his last three starts for the Blue Jackets. Captain Rick Nash
has two goals and three assists during a five-game points streak, and seven goals and six assists in his last 12 games. Antoine Vermette
has two goals and two assists in his last four games.
Vancouver forward Pavol Demitra missed Thursday's game due to personal reasons. Forward Alexandre Bolduc (shoulder) and defenseman Willie Mitchell (concussion) and Kevin Bieksa
(ankle) are on injured reserve.
Columbus forward Fredrik Modin (bruised foot) and defenseman Anton Stralman (lower body) are day-to-day, while defenseman Mike Commodore (charley horse) and Rostislav Klesla (groin) are on injured reserve.
Vancouver is third in the League in goals per game (3.14) and fourth in goals against (2.39). … Mason had two shutouts in his first 41 appearances this season before recording them in back-to-back starts. He had a League-leading 10 as a rookie.
Don't look now, but Columbus could pull to within six points of eighth in the Western Conference with a win Friday. While there are currently five other teams closer to that final playoff berth, the Blue Jackets make for an intriguing wild card with Noel and Mason making headlines.