Columbus Blue Jackets (21-22-3) at Florida Panthers (20-15-10)
|Date & Time||Thursday January 29, 2015, 7:30 PM (EST)|
|TV Channel||Stream NHL games all season on ESPN+ for only $4.99 a month. Sign up now!|
The Columbus Blue Jackets return to the ice on Thursday night looking to make up some more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It’s going to be an arduous task for the Blue Jackets to make up the 10 point deficit they currently face, but Tuesday night’s regulation win over the Washington Capitals was a good place to start. After a slow start in which they were out shot 12-6 in the opening period the Blue Jackets settled down in what turned out to be a wild middle frame. Mark Letestu opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the season and then things calmed down until a frantic final five minutes. Ryan Johansen, fresh off his MVP award at the All-Star Game, chipped in with his 18th of the season to double the lead. Just 32 seconds later the Capitals answered before allowing Columbus to regain their two goal lead in the final minute on a goal from Fedor Tyutin. Troy Brouwer would make it a 3-2 game just 36 seconds later as the teams headed into the third period. Early in the third it was Cam Atkinson who scored the eventual winner in the 4-3 victory. Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves to improve his record to 5-6-1 on the year. McElhinney is getting a huge opportunity here with Sergei Bobrovsky out for 4-6 weeks to really make an impression for himself around the league. If the Blue Jackets have any chance at all at making a legitimate post season run they’re going to need McElhinney to play the best hockey of his career.
One of the teams that the Blue Jackets will be competing with down the stretch will be the Florida Panthers. Currently seven points out of the final playoff spot in the conference the Panthers have a more realistic shot at making a run because of their games in hand. Florida has only played 45 games thus far, three fewer than the Boston Bruins who currently occupy the last spot. The break came at the perfect time for the Panthers who really struggled to end the first half. Florida had lost four straight games before returning to the ice on Tuesday to host the Detroit Red Wings. Things were going well with the Panthers taking a 2-1 lead with them into the second period, but then Roberto Luongo just couldn’t make a save before allowing four goals on eight shots and being pulled from the game. Nick Bjugstad’s 16th goal of the season cut the deficit to 5-3 heading into the third and Brad Boyes cut the lead to a goal, but the Panthers couldn’t rally in the 5-4 defeat. Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Pirri both scored power play goals in the first period. Al Montoya replaced Luongo in the second period and stopped all 10 shots he faced the rest of the way.
This should be an entertaining game on Thursday night between two clubs that played a couple of one goal games back in early December. That was during a streak of seven consecutive wins for Columbus when Bobrovsky was stealing games for them. With McElhinney in net for them this one is going to be a little tougher.