Blue Jackets-Oilers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 27, 2013
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers are outside the Western Conference playoff picture, but both have a chance to end postseason droughts. More solid goaltending would help. Columbus has a chance to set a team record for points in a month Thursday night when the Oilers open a three-game homestand. The Blue Jackets (13-13-7) have made the postseason once since entering the NHL in 2000, and they were swept in that 2009 first-round series by Detroit. Columbus, though, is closing on the top eight in the West with points in 13 of 14 games. The club has matched the most points in a month in franchise history with 20, which was last accomplished in March 2009. The Blue Jackets' struggles on the offensive end continue - their 2.15 goals per game in March is the same as their league-worst average - so much of their recent success can be credited to Sergei Bobrovsky. The first-year Blue Jacket is 8-1-3 with a 1.23 goals-against average this month. All three of his career shutouts have come in his last nine starts after making 34 saves in Tuesday's 1-0 shootout loss at Vancouver. "He was by far our best player out there, he gave us a chance to maybe win in overtime," leading scorer Vinny Prospal said after Columbus had its second-fewest shots of the season with 17. "We don't score enough goals as it is and today I don't think we really played that hard as a team." The Oilers (12-13-7) are much more encouraged by their most recent effort, a 3-0 victory at St. Louis on Tuesday that ended an 0-2-1 skid. Coach Ralph Krueger called it the team's "most complete game of the year." "To take this game going forward with us is going to be important," he said. "We're going to work very hard at maintaining this kind of hockey." The Oilers haven't been to the postseason since losing in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals to Carolina, but a string of strong performances in net over the final 16 games could help them change that. Devan Dubnyk has been shaky of late, yielding three goals in three of his last four starts, but Nikolai Khabibulin gave the club a big lift Tuesday with 43 saves. It was his second start following a stint on injured reserve with a groin injury. "He's worked really hard to come back from surgery and it's great to see him play well," said left wing Taylor Hall, who scored and set up both of Jordan Eberle's goals. Krueger, though, wouldn't commit to giving the 40-year-old another look Thursday. Dubnyk has turned aside 74 of 78 shots as these clubs have split two games in Columbus this season. Edmonton won 3-1 on Feb. 10 and the Blue Jackets came away with a 4-3 shootout victory March 5 that helped them avoid a fourth consecutive loss in this series. Bobrovsky stopped all 21 shots he faced in that contest as a second-period replacement for Steve Mason. Magnus Paajarvi leads the Oilers with two goals against Columbus this season, while Prospal had two points in those games. Backed by Dubnyk's 22 saves, Edmonton won 3-0 in Columbus' visit last March 14, 2012. The Oilers have won four in a row with the Blue Jackets in town to improve to 17-4-1 at home in the series.
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