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Slumping Predators host surging Jackets

by Corey Masisak

BLUE JACKETS (31-23-6) at PREDATORS (31-23-8)

TV -- FS-Ohio (HD)

Last 10 -- Columbus 8-1-1; Nashville 4-5-1

Season series -- The two teams have split their four games this season. Steve Mason has collected shutouts in both of Columbus' victories, including a 4-0 win on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena. Nashville prevailed 4-1 in the only game at Bridgestone Arena to this point.

Big story -- A matchup of two teams on the outside looking in right now in the Western Conference but going in opposite directions -- Columbus is trying to defy the odds and rally for a postseason berth while Nashville needs a turnaround before it is too late.

Team scope:

Blue Jackets -- Columbus is without its No. 1 center and a couple of key veterans, but the Blue Jackets have surged into playoff contention with eight wins in February after only 3 in January. The Blue Jackets are 5-0-1 since a Feb. 9 loss to San Jose, and they have four wins against teams in front of them in the West -- Dallas, Chicago, Nashville and Phoenix.

The surge hasn't led to a big move in the conference standings, but the Blue Jackets have closed the gap between them and the pack of teams in front of them and a victory against the Predators would push them past Nashville and possibly Chicago and Anaheim as well.

Predators -- Nashville broke a long scoring drought against Dallas on Saturday and took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but the Predators coughed it up and now have lost four games in a row -- including two since coach Barry Trotz called out several players after the 4-0 loss to Columbus.

Offense continues to be an issue for the Predators. They have 8 goals in the past 6 games. Mike Fisher has 1 goal and 3 points in 7 games since joining the club in a trade from Ottawa, but he's also a minus-6. Colin Wilson did break out of a long scoring slump with a goal against the Stars, but leading goal-scorer Patric Hornqvist remains cold with 2 in his past 16 contests.

Who's hot -- Columbus captain Rick Nash has 7 goals and 12 points in the past eight games. … Nashville's Martin Erat has 11 points in 12 games this month.

Injury report -- Columbus is without top center Derick Brassard (hand) and Kristian Huselius (lower-body). Defenseman Rostislav Klesla (knee) is with the team on the road trip and could be available. … Nashville has lost three centers to major injuries. Marcel Goc (shoulder) was ruled out for the season this week, while Matthew Lombardi (concussion) and Cal O'Reilly (leg) are out indefinitely. Defenseman Francois Bouillon is also out with a concussion.

Stat pack -- Power-play goals could be at a premium in this contest. Columbus is 26th in the League with the extra man at 15.5 percent -- one place in front of Nashville at 15.1 percent. Conversely, Nashville entered Saturday's action with the third-best penalty killing percentage at 86.0 percent.

Puck drop -- Matt Calvert became the second rookie in franchise history for the Blue Jackets to record a hat trick in a 5-3 win against Phoenix on Friday night. He has 5 goals in the past three games and 9 in 20 games since being recalled from the minors last month.

"He's done lots of good things and is certainly making the most of his opportunities, getting elevated and (earning) the ice time," coach Scott Arniel said. "At the NHL level there is always the unknown, but I saw him in junior and I saw him do what he did tonight."

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