COLUMBUS, Ohio - The front page of Wednesday's Columbus Dispatch highlighted a spectrum of news: Putin's Russian power play, the governor's capital budget, a high school principal's scandal, the NCAA Tournament, and yes, this headline: Blue Jackets deliver a dud at home against Carolina.
There haven't been many duds this season for the hard-working Jackets. John Davidson, their president of hockey operations since 2012, has the franchise, which has just one playoff appearance in 13 seasons, on the verge of the playoffs again.
"We play hard," Davidson said the last time the Jackets visited the Garden. "I'll tell you one thing, we're going to give an honest effort every night."
That was on Jan. 6, when the former Rangers goaltender's team beat the Blueshirts, 4-3, in a shootout, which pulled the Jackets within three points of the Rangers. And the Jackets haven't gone away. They are in a wild-card spot, two points behind the Rangers, with two games in hand, which sets up what should be a passionate game Friday at Nationwide Arena.
The Rangers beat the Jackets, 4-2, here on Nov. 7, but the Jackets also won, 4-2, in New York on Dec. 12. Rick Nash, the Jackets' former captain and the leading scorer in franchise history, was sidelined with a concussion and didn't play here in November, so this will be his homecoming.
Nash scored twice -- a shorthander and an empty-netter -- on Tuesday in the Rangers' 8-4 win in Ottawa, and so did Derick Brassard, one of the other Jackets who came to New York in trades in the past two years. John Moore and Derek Dorsett also were involved in those deals, as were Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, and Marian Gaborik, who was traded to Los Angeles earlier this month.
The last two Vezina Trophy winners, Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist, are expected to start in net, and the matchup couldn't be more even. Each has 26 wins, four shutouts, and virtually identical goals-against averages (2.49 and .919 for Bobrovsky and 2.50 and .917 for Lundqvist).
Of the 12 games left for the Rangers, seven are against teams currently not in the playoffs, and seven are on the road. Their 21 road wins lead the East. On the other hand, the Blue Jackets have a daunting April, with eight games in 12 days.
But first things first.
"Everyone's looking at the standings every day," Brassard said.
Notes & quotes: Lundqvist (302 wins) is tied with Turk Broda for 26th place on the all-time wins list. Lundqvist will move into 23rd place if he wins four more games before the regular season ends. He would pass Broda, who played 15 seasons for Toronto through 1952, then the Capitals' Olaf Kolzig (303) and the old Blueshirts nemesis, Billy Smith, who had 305, all but one with the Islanders.