Blue Jackets begin do-or-die road trip in Minnesota
(Sports Network) - The Columbus Blue Jackets have become a tough team to beat on their home ice, but their season-long struggles on the road could be what keeps them from reaching the postseason for just the second time in franchise history.
The Blue Jackets start up a huge six-game swing on Saturday night with a stop in Minnesota to battle the struggling Wild.
Columbus opened a three-game homestand with a 3-0 loss to Minnesota, but rebounded to win its next two games and push its home record on the season to 13-5-5. However, the Blue Jackets have just one game as the hosting club remaining and it won't come until April 27 against Nashville to close the regular season.
Before that game, the Blue Jackets will play six in a row on the road and come into this game 5-11-2 as the visiting club this season.
Staring down this make-it-or-break-it trip, the Blue Jackets were able to best the surging St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Friday night. Marian Gaborik notched his third goal and sixth point in five games since joining Columbus, while Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves.
Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, while Ryan Johansen and Artem Anisimov also scored in Columbus' fifth victory in seven games.
"We're a team that doesn't back down and we were able to come back from an early deficit to get the win," said Atkinson. "We played a full 60 minutes and that's what you need when you're fighting for a playoff spot."
Columbus is in a three-way tie with the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes for ninth place in the Western Conference, two points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final playoff spot.
The Wild are one point ahead of the Red Wings in seventh and have won six of their last nine at home versus the Blue Jackets.
"As soon as we get on the plane and get to Minnesota, we're focused on them. We'll enjoy (the win) right now, but it's a huge game tomorrow," said Atkinson.
It's probably a bigger game for the Wild then they would have thought a few weeks ago, when they were battling the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Northwest Division. However, Minnesota has lost five of its last six, with the lone win in that span last Sunday's shutout of Columbus.
The Wild, who have slipped six points behind the Canucks in the standings, have been shut out in back-to-back games and three times over their last four. They have scored just six goals during their 1-5-0 skid.
Minnesota suffered its most recent setback on Thursday to visiting St. Louis, falling 2-0. Niklas Backstrom made 18 saves on 20 shots faced.
"We played a strong team and we played a good game," Wild head coach Mike Yeo said despite the loss. "I'm not saying we can't be better in a couple of areas, but obviously the complexion of the game changes if we score first."
Already without winger Dany Heatley for the rest of the season due to left shoulder surgery, top defenseman Ryan Suter suffered an undisclosed injury versus the Blues and did not finish the game. He is day-to-day according to Yeo, as is forward Matt Cullen (lower body).
04/13 10:25:20 ET