Blue Jackets hope to bounce back vs. Rangers

The New York Rangers return to Nationwide Arena Saturday with the goal of avenging the 4-2 loss they suffered at the hands of the Blue Jackets Nov 18.

Meanwhile, Columbus is on a mission of its own to return to its winning ways after its 16-game winning streak, the second longest in NHL history, was ended Thursday in Washington.

Both teams are fighting for ground in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. Columbus (27-6-4) currently sits atop the rankings, but just three points separate them from the third-place Rangers (27-13-1), and four of the Division’s teams rank among the top five in the league.

“We have so much hockey to be played,” Jackets head coach John Tortorella said. “I still don’t know who we are. We have to keep on playing and we are going to start playing in our division now, which is probably the toughest. We have a number of games to go here to define who we are.”

The Rangers won 11 of their last 16 games and four of their last five, including a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday. They own a league-leading 14 wins on the road this season (13-4-0).

“This group knows how to prepare and knows how to compete,” New York head coach Alain Vignault told assembled media after Wednesday’s win. “It’s about preparation and competing. Our guys understand how they can go on the ice that how they can execute. That’s how they need to play.”

For Columbus, in the middle of a four-game stretch against divisional opponents, it’s all about response. After operating under the pressure of the winning streak, the team wants to prove that the wins they strung together were not flukes.

“I think we’ve handled ourselves well throughout,” Jackets forward Boone Jenner said. “It’s not like anything’s ending. It’s game 37-38 now and we’ve got a ways to get to where we want to get to.”

Both team’s rosters boast four players who have 30-plus points this season. Columbus is also bolstered by the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who leads the league in wins (25), owns a .930 save percentage and was in net for 14 of the 16 games during the streak.

“We haven’t been able to pull off a record like Minnesota or Columbus, where we win so many games in a row,” New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “But we have managed to respond really well after a loss and put together three or four wins. The big thing here is we know we have to respond after a bad game and we’ve done so. We’re in the hunt.”

The Columbus matchup is the final game before the Rangers enjoy their in-season bye week. That will be a break that the team is looking towards as a time to heal their roster.

Against Columbus, the team expects to be without power forward Rick Nash (groin) and center Mika Zibaenjad (broken fibula). Defenseman Marc Staal is day-to-day with an upper body injury.

The Rangers hold the edge in the franchise series (14-8-1-1).