Before the CBJ puck drops: Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) celebrates a goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the first period at Nationwide Arena.

Russell LaBounty/Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

GAME 74: Carolina Hurricanes

32-32-9 — 7th place in the Metropolitan Division

5-5-0 in last 10 games

SCORING RANKINGS

Carolina

Goals for: 2.51 goals/game – 21st in the NHL

Goals against: 2.77 goals/game – 19th

Columbus

Goals for: 2.76 goals/game – 14th in the NHL

Goals against: 2.68 goals/game – 14th

SINCE WE LAST MET (on March 18th):

The Hurricanes defeated the Blue Jackets, 3-1, at Nationwide Arena in their last meeting. Columbus and Carolina each have won two games in this year’s intra-divisional series.

Since that game, the ‘Canes lost a close one to Chicago, won a close one against Winnipeg, lost a close one to the New York Islanders and shut out the Florida Panthers. What I’ll draw from that is while their overall performance this season leaves to be desired, Carolina has put together a nice couple weeks of hockey.

The last game, a shocker to at least this fan who thought that the Blue Jackets were on the verge of a playoff coronation back on the 18th, proved that Carolina can play a simple scheme based on a "defend the Alamo" defensive scheme and offensive opportunism when the Blue Jackets eventually made mistakes. It’s not the prettiest brand of hockey, but Carolina left Nationwide Arena with two standings points that the Blue Jackets clearly needed.

Top scorers in Carolina are:

– Forward Eric Staal (17 goals, 39 assists, 56 points)

– Forward Jeff Skinner (28 G, 19 A, 47 pts.)

– Defenseman Andrej Sekera (11 G, 33 A, 44 pts.)

– Forward Alexander Semin (22 G, 20 A, 42 pts.)

– Forward Jordan Staal (15 G, 24 A, 39 pts.)

Seeing as he all but shut out the Blue Jackets last time, I think it comes as no surprise that Anton Khudobin gets the nod in net for coach Kirk Muller. In 28 starts, Khudobin is 16-12-0, has a 2.20 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. I maintain that Khudobin’s dominance against the Blue Jackets last time around was more a function of Muller throwing everyone back on a tight defensive wall around the net every time the CBJ had the puck, but clearly Khudobin is a strong goaltender.

 

WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:

This is it for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While being the back end of a back-to-back, it’s also the last time the Blue Jackets will follow a game with two days off between now and the end of the season. (The last week of the season has a ridiculous five games in seven days!) If there’s any game between now and Game 82 where it’s OK to empty the tank in pursuit of the almighty two standings points, this is it. Really, this is IT.

Columbus still sits atop a four-team scrum for two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. Due to tiebreakers, the CBJ have the seventh seed in the East despite being tied with Detroit, Toronto and Washington with 80 standings points. The CBJ were fortunate to maintain their position despite losing last night to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but recent history has shown that relying on help from conference rivals in this playoff hunt is not a wise approach.

 

WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:

The last game against the Canes was a study in frustration for the Blue Jackets. Muller loaded up the crease with red, black and white jersies, and the Blue Jackets couldn’t get anything past them. How many times did the Blue Jackets’ defensemen load up to shoot and back down because there literally was nowhere to go?

That said, my eyes will be on James Wisniewski, the team’s resident long-range bomber. Wiz is having a downright fantastic season – 6 goals, 37 assists, 43 points – and it tonight’s canary in the coal mine. I think it safe to presume that Muller will run the same scheme until the Blue Jackets break it, and it will take the likes of Wisniewski from the point (as well as perhaps Atkinson, Johansen, Foligno and Dubinsky up closer) to break that wall and solve Khudobin. If we’re not to the point of saying the Blue Jackets’ season depends on their success tonight, we’re darned close.

 

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:

FOX Sports Ohio has the full package of Blue Jackets goodness tonight:

– Brian Giesenschlag’s "Blue Jackets Slap Shots" magazine show airs at 6PM.

– Brian and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" with the late-breaking news and info, as well as a full preview of the game, at 6:30PM.

– The puck drops at Nationwide Arena at 7PM, with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.

 

Must win? Must win. Go Jackets!