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Game Preview: The Battle Continues

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Game 3 of 4 in a potential playoff preview

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

In recent weeks, Columbus and Pittsburgh have been flip-flopping between 2nd and 3rd place in the Metro division. That means that coming into Thursday’s games, there was a 42% chance that the Penguins and Blue Jackets would face each other in the first round of the playoffs:

If that holds, then the question is which team has the all-important home ice advantage. Currently Pittsburgh has that edge. That makes the remaining two matchups so important.

The first meeting, in December in Columbus, featured a 7-1 blowout win by the Jackets. Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Columbus battled back from a 2 goal deficit in the third to force OT, only to lose on a Phil Kessel goal.

Columbus has had 3 strong efforts in a row, including a feel-good 5-2 win over Toronto on Wednesday. Like that game, tonight there is the benefit of facing a team on the second night of a back-to-back. Pittsburgh had to go to overtime to defeat the Jets last night. That victory may have been Pyrrhic, as several Pens players suffered injuries. Olli Maata left the game with an injury last night, and it was announced this morning that he had hand surgery and will miss six weeks. Justin Schultz also left the game, but his status for tonight is not yet confirmed. Defensemen Cameron Gaunce and Steve Oleksy were recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to fill those spots. Unfortunately, noted Jacket-killer Kris Letang is still healthy and in the lineup.

On the plus side, Sidney Crosby hit a milestone by collecting his 1000th NHL point. He is the 86th player in NHL history to hit this mark, and the 12th fastest to do so. We love to hate him, I know, but you can’t deny he’s a rare talent. Enjoy that (and enjoy it even more when our team can defeat him)

Sergei Bobrovsky returns in goal tonight. No word yet on Scott Hartnell, who is still listed as day-to-day. Based on Tortorella’s praise of BJORKSTRAND, let’s assume that the Great Dane will remain in the lineup whether Hartnell is healthy or not.

Projected Lineups

Brandon Saad Alexander Wennberg BJORKSTRAND
Boone Jenner Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
Josh Anderson William Karlsson Nick Foligno
Matt Calvert Lukas Sedlak Sam Gagner
Zach Werenski Seth Jones
Jack Johnson David Savard
Ryan Murray Markus Nutivaara
Sergei Bobrovsky
Joonas Korpisalo
Jake Guentzel Sidney Crosby Chris Kunitz
Matt Cullen Nick Bonino Phil Kessel
Scott Wilson Evgeni Malkin Patric Hornqvist
Tom Kuhnhackl Carter Rowney Eric Fehr
Brian Dumoulin Kris Letang
Ian Cole Trevor Daley
Cameron Gaunce Steve Oleksky
Matt Murray
Marc-Andre Fleury