Game Preview #71 - Stakes Never Higher

It's probably hyperbole to say that this game is the biggest game in franchise history, but to this date it kind of is. It's Rick Nash night, and these two teams both need these two points in an insane way.

New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets

March 21, 2014 - 7:00 pm EDT
Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: Blueshirt Banter
SBN's Rangers vs Blue Jackets coverage

It had to be you, Rick.

The Jackets face off tonight against the Rangers in what will be their last meeting of the season. They're both sitting at 78 points, with the Jackets holding the current tie-breaker due to games-played. This is the most four-pointer game of all the four-pointers we've played to this point.

These clubs haven't played in two months, and that game in Madison Square Garden was a bit of a turning point for Columbus: it was Sergei Bobrovsky's first game back from injury, and the Jackets held on to win in a shootout, which kick-started an eight-game winning streak that completely changed the Jackets' season prospects. Since that time (including that game, Columbus has gone 18-7-2, good for 38 points in 27 games.

So, yeah, that was kind of a season turning point.

And speaking of turning points, there's Rick Nash. Nash's trade request in February of 2012 seemed like a the lowest of low points for the Blue Jackets. His subsequent trade to New York in the summer of 2012 seemed to signal the complete nadir of the franchise.

But then a funny thing happened; it turned out that the trade actually WORKED.

Since these teams didn't play last season due to the lockout-altered schedule, and also because of Nash's early-season concussion, this is the first game he will play in Columbus as a visitor. Nash has said that it's "good to be back" in Columbus for the game, and the timing of things couldn't be crazier. Had Nash played in that November game instead of being injured, there wouldn't be the giant storyline hanging over this game, and it would just be about the standings.

It almost seems fitting that the game not only features two of the most important points of the season considering the standings, but the Nash storyline as well.

I didn't blame Nash for wanting to be traded, and I certainly am not crying any tears anymore having seen the result of the trade and the shift it signaled for Columbus. Knowing what we know now, the question of whether or not it would have ever "worked" here in Columbus with Nash as the main focal point of the franchise is certainly up for spirited debate. Since that trade and a "breaking in" period last season after the lockout, the Jackets have been arguably better than the Rangers for long stretches, and now are faced with an opportunity to deal a blow to the Rangers' playoff aspirations.

I don't want the fans to jeer him like they do Jeff Carter. I don't want the cascades of boos. I think a polite ovation is in order for all that Nash did for this franchise, both in terms of bringing true legitimacy to the team and city as well as carrying the team on his back to its only playoff appearance in 2009.

But, the Jackets--and the fans--can show Nash that while it probably made sense to him to leave when he did, the team might actually be better off without him. I can think of no more fitting way to welcome Nash back to Columbus. Let's show him tonight what could have been.

***

As for the lineup tonight, there was no morning skate this morning, and as of yet I have not read anything definitive about who will sit tonight for Columbus. As such, I'm leaving the lineup as-is with the expectation that it will change (I can't see R.J. Umberger getting another scratch for a game he's probably DYING to play). We'll update what we can.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(36-27-6, 78 Points; 3rd division, 7th conference)

Boone Jenner Ryan Johansen Nathan Horton
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno Artem Anisimov Corey Tropp
Derek MacKenzie Mark Letestu Blake Comeau
Jack Johnson Dalton Prout
Fedor Tyutin James Wisniewski
Nikita Nikitin David Savard
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

New York Rangers
(37-29-4, 78 Points; 4th division, 8th conference)

Chris Kreider Derek Stepan Rick Nash
Mats Zuccarello Derick Brassard Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin Brad Richards Benoit Pouliot
Brian Boyle Dominic Moore Daniel Carcillo
Ryan McDonagh Dan Girardi
Anton Stralman Marc Staal
John Moore Kevin Klein
Henrik Lundqvist
Cam Talbot

Season Series

11/07/13 - New York 4 at Columbus 2
12/12/13 - Columbus 4 at New York 2
01/06/14 - Columbus 4 at New York 3 (SO)
03/21/14 - New York at Columbus

Head to Head Stats

Rangers Columbus
2.59 (18) GPG 2.81 (11)
2.46 (6) GAPG 2.71 (16)
19.0% (12) PP% 17.4% (17)
84.3% (7) PK% 81.7% (16)
Rick Nash, 22 G leader Ryan Johansen, 27
Derek Stepan, 34 A leader James Wisniewski, 33
Mats Zuccarello / Derek Stepan, 47 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 52
Derek Dorsett, 105 PIM leader Brandon Dubinsky, 94
21-13-0 Road/Home 19-12-3
3/18 @ Ottawa, W 8-4 Last Game 3/20 @ Montreal, W 3-2
4-5-1 Last 10 7-2-1
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