By Mike Lipka
Calgary (42-25-6) at Columbus (38-28-7), 7:00 p.m. EDT
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A trio of home-and-home series stand
between the Columbus Blue Jackets and their first playoff berth
in franchise history.
While Thursday night's game against visiting Calgary is alone on
the schedule, Columbus may soon be getting even more familiar
with the Flames.
The Blue Jackets' postseason push looks more and more like it
could lead to a first-round matchup with Calgary, which will try
to bolster its Northwest Division lead and salvage two points
from its brief road trip.
A 14-5-2 stretch has put Columbus (38-28-7) in prime position to
reach the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's eighth
season, although the team will encounter a strange scheduling
quirk in the season's final two weeks.
After Thursday's game, the Blue Jackets' next six contests will
feature two in a row against St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago.
They could soon be playing up to seven in a row against the
Flames. If Columbus remains in sixth place in the Western
Conference and Calgary holds on to its division lead, the teams
would face off in the postseason's first round. The Blue Jackets
have a three-point lead on seventh-place Anaheim, while the
Flames have the same edge on Vancouver in the Northwest.
Columbus will be looking for a quick turnaround after a
disappointing 2-1 overtime defeat at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night
- just its second loss in the last eight games.
Coach Ken Hitchcock's team outshot the Lightning 34-17, but
allowed the tying goal with 9:05 to play in regulation and the
winner 3:04 into overtime.
"We don't have any success when we get away from the game plan
and turn the puck over and force the puck way too much,"
Hitchcock said. "And I'm going to talk to those players on it
The Flames (42-25-6) also have room for improvement on the heels
of Wednesday night's 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh - the first time
they were shut out since a season-opening 6-0 loss at Vancouver
on Oct. 9.
While the team's offense has been solid behind standout wingers
Michael Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla all season, ranking fourth
in the league with 3.2 goals per game, it has scored two or
fewer goals six times during a 3-6-0 skid in the past three
After scoring at least one power play goal in five of the
previous six games with the unit converting at a 26.1 percent
clip this month, Calgary's power play came up empty on five
chances against Pittsburgh.
"The difference for us was not being able to score on the power
play," coach Mike Keenan said. "When you get five opportunities
and you come up with nothing, you're not going to win a hockey
game on the road."
While both clubs will be looking to gain momentum for a possible
first-round meeting, the home team has won all four games
between the Flames and Blue Jackets this season, with the last
two games taking place in Calgary.
After a 5-4 shootout win on Jan. 21, the Flames won 4-1 on Feb.
24, with Cammalleri and Iginla combining for six goals in those
Columbus, however, beat Calgary 3-1 at home Nov. 8 in rookie
Steve Mason's third career start. The Blue Jackets have gotten
even better at Nationwide Arena as the season has gone on, going
18-6-1 there since Thanksgiving.
Mason has also emerged, and his 2.22 goals-against average ranks
second in the league behind Boston's Tim Thomas. Flames goalie
Miikka Kiprusoff is in the midst of his worst statistical season
in six years, but he's 12-3-2 with a 1.88 GAA all-time against