Blue Jackets shoot for rare win over struggling Pens

By The Sports NetworkMarch 28, 2014 at 10:54 AM
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( - The Columbus Blue Jackets hope that they are catching the Pittsburgh Penguins at the right time.

Their playoff chances may depend on it.

The Blue Jackets hope to beat the struggling Penguins for the first time in five meetings this season as the clubs square off on Friday night at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus has been outscored 14-6 by Pittsburgh this season and has lost five straight and nine of the previous 11 meetings overall. That includes a four- game slide at home, where the Blue Jackets have not beaten the Pens since a shootout win on March 12, 2009.

However, the Penguins come in trying to avoid their first four-game slide of the season after a 3-2 setback to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. The loss prevented Pittsburgh from securing a playoff spot as it needed to notch just one point.

Taylor Pyatt and Chris Kunitz scored for Pittsburgh, but Los Angeles got the winner from Drew Doughty early in the third period. Backup Jeff Zatkoff made 29 saves in the Penguins' sixth loss in eight games, though they still lead the Metropolitan Division by 11 points over the New York Rangers.

The Penguins also thought they tied the game at the 9:41 mark of the third period, but a video review showed that Pittsburgh's Brandon Sutter pushed L.A. goaltender Martin Jones' pad and the puck into the net, impeding Jones' ability to play his position.

"I was pretty surprised," Sutter said. "I just thought the puck came through the crease and I was just trying to jam away at it and it was loose the whole time. I definitely got pushed into the net and the puck went off of me somehow.

"I have no idea how they didn't call it a goal."

Having recently lost center Evgeni Malkin to a foot injury, the Penguins also saw pivot Marcel Goc exit last night's game in the final minute of the second period with a lower-body injury after he crashed into the boards following a collision.

While Pittsburgh can afford a slump given its advantage atop the division, Columbus has no such luxury. The Blue Jackets are one of four teams tied for the two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with 80 points, joined by the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The good news for the Blue Jackets is they own one of the current tiebreakers, having played the fewest games. They have 10 games remaining on the schedule, while the Red Wings and Capitals both have nine left. The Maple Leafs have just eight contests remaining and visit the Philadelphia Flyers tonight.

The Blue Jackets could, however, be without No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky tonight. He exited Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Red Wings after one period due to illness and was unable to practice on Thursday.

Curtis McElhinney relieved Bobrovsky and made 22 saves versus the Red Wings, while Ryan Johansen scored twice and both Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky added goals.

"He was great, coming in a tough situation in a huge game," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards about McElhinney. "They pushed - you have to give Detroit a lot of credit for how they played. They had some opportunities and Curtis made some huge saves for us, and he looked calm. In a big, high-pressured game, he looked very calm."

The Blue Jackets had lost four of six going into Tuesday's game.

If Bobrovsky can't play tonight, Mike McKenna would serve as the backup to McElhinney, who is 0-3-0 with a 2.84 goals against average lifetime versus the Penguins.

Bobrovsky is 5-4-1 with a 3.05 GAA in his career when facing the Penguins, who are likely to start No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury in this game. Fleury is 5-1-1 with a 2.33 GAA in his career versus the Jackets.


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