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Rick Nash is expected to return to the ice for the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday. It remains to be seen whether he'll return to the scoresheet.
Nash will look to end the longest streak of his career without recording a point when the Blue Jackets host the Carolina Hurricanes at Nationwide Arena on Saturday - seven years to the day since Columbus last beat the Hurricanes at home.
The Blue Jackets have played their last two games without Nash, their leading scorer with 18 goals and 31 points, while he's struggled with throat inflammation that has impaired his breathing.
Even when healthy, though, Nash hadn't been producing recently. He had gone seven straight games without a point since his two-goal effort in a 4-1 win over Colorado on Dec. 5.
Since that victory, the Blue Jackets (16-15-6) have gone 3-5-1 and averaged fewer than two goals per game. They held a late 3-2 lead over the Nashville Predators on Thursday, but allowed two goals in the last five minutes and fell 4-3 for their 12th straight loss to Nashville.
"We spit the bit in the final five minutes," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Goalie Fredrik Norrena was the victim, allowing more than two goals in a game for the first time in five starts. Norrena has played five of the Blue Jackets' last seven games in place of struggling starter Pascal Leclaire, although Leclaire stopped 21 shots to shut out Atlanta on Wednesday.
Before that game, Leclaire had either lost or been pulled from six straight starts.
Columbus has only beaten the Hurricanes (20-16-3) twice in eight meetings. The teams have met in Columbus just three times, and Carolina has won the last two. The Blue Jackets beat the Hurricanes 3-1 at home in the teams' first-ever meeting on Dec. 29, 2000.
After defeating Boston 4-3 at home on Friday, Carolina will be looking to win consecutive games for just the second time since Nov. 10-12.
"There's really only one way to win and that's to play the game hard," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "We talked about that this morning - hard work is determining wins and losses. It's almost that simple. And I thought we worked hard tonight."
The Hurricanes are 27th in the NHL with a 3.13 team goals-against average for the season, and goalie Cam Ward has allowed four or more goals in four of his last six games.
However, Carolina still sits atop the Southeast Division thanks to the second-best offense in the Eastern Conference. They're the only NHL team with six 30-point scorers, although two of them are currently out with injuries.
Justin Williams will miss at least four months after tearing a knee ligament last week while Matt Cullen is day-to-day with a broken nose suffered Thursday against the New York Rangers. Defenseman Bret Hedican also sprained his knee against the Bruins and is expected to miss two weeks.
One Hurricanes scorer still healthy is Ray Whitney, who has 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points. Whitney played two-plus seasons for the Blue Jackets from 2001-03, but hasn't played in Columbus since joining the Hurricanes.
He visited Nationwide Arena twice with Detroit in March 2004, totaling one assist.
|Dec 29 '07||CAR 1 at CBJ 4||R. Klesla|