Blue Jackets host Avalanche, aim for 3rd straight wn
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have a chance Thursday night to win three straight games for the first time since November.
An extended streak couldn't come at a better time for the Blue Jackets (34-28-5) as they fight for their playoff lives during the final month of the regular season. They enter Thursday night's game against the Colorado Avalanche at Nationwide Arena just two points ahead of the Florida Panthers for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The game is just as important for the Avalanche (35-24-7), who are trying to keep pace in the Western Conference race. They're just outside the final wild-card spot behind the Los Angeles Kings with 16 games remaining.
The Blue Jackets, coming off a three-game West Coast swing, made it two consecutive wins on Tuesday night with a 4-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. They survived after having played and won Sunday night at San Jose.
"We find a way to win a game," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "I'll be honest with you. As a coach, you get your schedule in July and you look at it and I call them 'we're screwed here, those type of games.' That's one of them I have circled because it is a tough turnaround coming off a West Coast trip and coming right back and play. I'm thrilled for the guys to find a way."
"That's a we're screwed game that we won. That's really good to get two points out of that."
The Blue Jackets understandably looked sluggish at times after the long trip home, but they persevered against one of the top teams in the league. Artemi Panarin (12 points in the past nine games) scored 16 seconds into the game, Zach Werenski set a franchise record for defensemen with his 13th goal of the season and veteran defenseman Ian Cole, a trade deadline acquisition, added his first goal for the team.
"I think right now, when we're not scoring that many goals, it's nice when defensemen can contribute and try to help the team win," Werenski said. "We're in a tight playoff race. Every game matters, every point matters, and if I can contribute offensively, I'm going to try to do that."
Even more impressive is the Blue Jackets managed to come through without No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was ill and didn't play. Backup Joonas Korpisalo didn't learn until Tuesday morning that he was starting but was strong in net with 37 saves for his first win since January.
It's not yet known whether Bobrovsky will be available against the Avalanche. The Blue Jackets didn't practice Wednesday.
"It's been a tough last four weeks for me," said Korpisalo, who was 1-4-0 in his previous five starts. "Every win, every solid game and every time I feel like I help the team helps me a lot."
The Avalanche stymied the Blue Jackets 2-0 on Jan. 4 in Denver in the only meeting between the teams this season. They're coming off a 2-1 overtime loss on the road to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
"We just need to learn how to put two points together on the road," Avalanche forward Tyson Jost said. "We have to regroup in Columbus."
Semyon Varlamov started in goal in Chicago, but Jonathan Bernier could return Thursday night. He was responsible for the shutout against the Blue Jackets in January.
Colorado forward Sven Andrighetto is also close to returning after missing two months with a lower-body injury.
Nathan MacKinnon produced his 12th power-play goal of the season in the second period against the Blackhawks to extend his points streak to six games (seven goals, six assists). The Avalanche have scored a power-play goal in five consecutive games for the first time since 2015.
"On the ice you can see he's so dominant," Jost said of MacKinnon. "He is a man among boys out there, and he is always someone we can rely on."
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was happy to pick up a point in Chicago but disappointed with several lapses in concentration that ended up costing his team in its second straight overtime loss. He knows the Blue Jackets will come out firing.
"That's a hard-working hockey team. They're a desperate hockey team," Bednar said of the Blue Jackets. "They're in the exact same position as we are. They're fighting for their playoff lives.
"We're going to have to match their competitiveness, number one, and that's a big key for tomorrow."
Updated March 7, 2018