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BLUE JACKETS (15-17-4) at HURRICANES (14-14-8)
TV: FS-O, FS-CR
Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1; Carolina 4-3-3
Season series: This is the first of five games between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, who face off for the initial time as Metropolitan Division rivals. With the Blue Jackets formerly in the Western Conference, this marks their first game against the Hurricanes since March 23, 2012, a 5-1 win in which RJ Umberger recorded a hat trick.
Big story: On the bright side for the Blue Jackets, they appear closer to getting forward Nathan Horton in their lineup for the first time. However, the return of forward Marian Gaborik lasted less than a period against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday before one of the NHL's more lethal scorers sustained a broken collarbone and ended up right back on injured reserve.
Asked if he's ever experienced a rash of injuries like the Blue Jackets are currently dealing with, Richards shook his head and laughed after Sunday's optional skate in Columbus. After losing two more forwards (Gaborik and Calvert) in their 6-3 win over the Flyers, the Blue Jackets are expected to have two forwards return Monday night.
Derek MacKenzie and Jack Skille will be back in the lineup and add some depth to Columbus' forward group, meaning Mark Letestu might move up the lineup - but that is just a guess at this point. Curtis McElhinney is slated to make his third consecutive start between the pipes for the Blue Jackets.
It's late December, but Monday's game marks the first of five meetings this season between the Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes.
Welcome to your new Metropolitan Division rivalry, indeed.
The good news, perhaps, is that these teams won't need as much time getting acquainted since they saw each other during the preseason. But that's old news, too, since both clubs have played 35+ games and are nearing the midway point of a roller coaster season both overall and within the division.
And that's what makes Monday night so high-stakes. Both Columbus and Carolina, currently on the outside looking in at the Metro's three guaranteed playoff spots, have ground to make up and they're battling against each other to leap frog teams and get into the top three.
Not only is a victory important, but more so, a regulation victory to ensure that the winning team is able to climb the ladder.
Carolina, coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night, owns a dead-even home/road split (7-7-4) on the year and has fought inconsistency just like the Blue Jackets have. They've gotten a rejuvenated effort from Jeff Skinner, who has recorded 21 points in 25 games this season despite some injury troubles early on.
The Blue Jackets picked up a pair of mega-important divisional points in their win over Philadelphia, and they can really help themselves with two more at PNC Arena - a building in which they have played well throughout their franchise history.
AT NEW JERSEY DEVILS
THURSDAY, 7 P.M.