Preview: Wild at Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Wild 4-2 at the Xcel Energy Center on Dec. 31.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

When the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild met Dec. 31, it was billed as an epic matchup between two teams riding record-setting win streaks of 14 and 12 games respectively. Columbus won that game 4-2, and while Thursday’s rematch on the Blue Jackets’ home ice may lack some of the hype of that earlier game, it is no less important a matchup for two teams seeking to stay in the upper ranks of the NHL.

Minnesota (41-14-6) is second in the NHL with 88 points, while Columbus (39-16-4) is tied for third with 84 points. Minnesota has a five-point margin in its favor on the Central Division lead, while Columbus is neck and neck with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metro behind Washington.

Columbus — who had struggled after its winning streak, going 10-11-1 — has returned from the late February bye week seemingly rejuvenated. They have earned five of six points in three games since the break, falling only to Montreal in overtime Tuesday 1-0.

“We’re playing well,” Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner said. “I think we’re doing a lot of the things we need to do to be successful. We just have to keep building, not dwell on (the Montreal loss) and keep moving forward.”

The club’s success this season led to Columbus, one of the youngest teams in the league, being only slightly active at Wednesday’s trade deadline. They made depth moves on both sides of the ice.

Prospect Dillon Heatherington was traded to Dallas for Finnish forward Lauri Korpikoski, and defenseman Dalton Prout went to New Jersey in exchange for defenseman Kyle Quincy.

“I’m very excited to join Columbus and help with the little details that make a difference,” Quincy said. “Those little things go a long way, especially in a playoff run. One little shift can make or break a series.”

The Wild were active in the days before the deadline but have been pleased with the returns thus far. Center Martin Hanzal and forward Ryan White have played two games in a Minnesota sweater after being acquired from Arizona. Hanzal has two assists and White has scored two goals in that span.

The two players add to a potent offense led by Michael Granlund (21 goals, 38 assists, 59 points) who added a goal and two assists to his totals in Minnesota’s 6-5 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. It was Granlund’s 15th multi-point game of the season.

“It’s fun,” Granlund said. “Every single game you’re playing with good players and you’re going to work hard, and we work hard. We’ve been getting results and that’s fun, but there’s still lots of season left and let’s keep going.”

Recent trades are not the only reason the lineup around Granlund is different. The club has been without forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville for two games after both were diagnosed with the mumps. And defenseman Ryan Suter left Tuesday’s game after the first period and did not return.

“I’m hoping (Suter is) playing (Thursday),” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau told the Star Tribune. “Talking to him in the airport last night, he said he’s going to play Thursday, but players always say that. I’m waiting for the trainers to tell me.”

Shoring up defensive play is a priority for Minnesota. The team is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games but only two of those wins have come when the Wild have scored fewer than four goals.

The Wild hold the series edge over the Blue Jackets (25-20-8) but have struggled in Columbus (8-13-4).