Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen (19) shoots the tying goal past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters (35) with Hurricanes' Tim Gleason (6) nearby during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Columbus won 4-3.
Every division matchup figures to be critical for the teams bunched in the Metropolitan.
The New Jersey Devils have oddly fared better against the teams above them in the division than they have against the ones below them.
The Devils have already lost twice to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will be in search of their first victory in New Jersey in Friday night’s matchup.
While the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be cruising to the inaugural Metropolitan title, the six teams behind them are separated by six points. That pack includes New Jersey (15-16-7, 37 points) and Columbus (16-17-4, 36).
The Blue Jackets are 2-1-0 on a five-game stretch within the division with the finale being Sunday’s home game against Pittsburgh.
"We got New Jersey right after Christmas, then we got Pittsburgh and then we head out on the road," coach Todd Richards said.
New Jersey could be wary of this matchup since it is 6-3-0 against the four teams ahead of it in the Metropolitan and 1-3-1 against the three below it.
The Devils have scored first against the Blue Jackets both times only to suffer a 4-1 loss Oct. 22 and a 5-4 defeat Dec. 10. New Jersey blew a two-goal lead in the most recent matchup, as Martin Brodeur surrendered all five goals – a season high.
That victory for Columbus came in controversial fashion, as Nick Foligno scored the game-winning goal with 91 seconds left when Ryan Johansen’s shot went in off his skate. The Devils felt Foligno kicked the puck in and Brodeur thought he was interfered with before the goal was scored.
Johansen has been playing well with 14 points in his last 12 games. He scored the tying goal with 4:02 left and Jack Skille added the go-ahead tally 1:28 later in Monday’s 4-3 victory at Carolina.
The Blue Jackets turned in the game’s final rally after twice blowing one-goal leads.
"It felt like the momentum shifted the whole game," Johansen said. "It seemed like every other shift, it was theirs, then ours and it’s just one of those games you have to stick with and stay focused and we did it. We got the job done somehow."
Columbus is in search of its first three-game win streak since Oct. 20-25.
The Blue Jackets are 0-3-1 with one tie all-time in New Jersey. Brodeur has started all of those games, posting a 1.55 goals-against average.
Devils star Jaromir Jagr will try to begin a new streak after his seven-game run in which he amassed 11 points ended in Monday’s 5-2 defeat at Chicago. New Jersey was outshot 37-12.
"Tonight we gave away way too much space and way too much opportunity to move the puck as well," winger Michael Ryder said. "We’re pretty stingy on defense usually, and tonight we got away from that and tonight it shows on the scoreboard."
Right wing Damien Brunner (lower-body injury) and center Andrei Loktionov (illness) have both missed the last two games. Their statuses are not known.
The Devils own the NHL’s fourth-worst power play at home at 13.3 percent.