Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Pre-Game: Jackets vs. Panthers

The Jackets are back at home this afternoon in a 2PM matinee game against the Florida Panthers. Both teams are looking to rebound after losing on Thursday. The Jackets need a big win tonight in order to get back on track in their hopeful push to the playoffs. They suffered a disappointing loss against the Devils on Thursday night, losing 5-2.

This is the second game between these two teams this season, and the second home game for Columbus. The last meeting was a 4-1 win for the Jackets, and they are hoping to repeat again today. A loss in this game today would make it that much harder for the Jackets to make a push for a playoff spot in the tight Metro Division and Eastern Conference races.

Mar. 30, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Aaron Johnson (5) jumps over defenseman John Moore (4) and Florida Panthers center Tomas Kopecky (82) during the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

This is an important game for Columbus as they face a conference rival. Although Columbus and Florida are not in the same division, the Conference games are just as important for the Jackets as they fight for a possible Wild Card spot in the East. Out of 16 games throughout the month of March, the Jackets will only face three Metropolitan Division rivals and have four inner-division games (facing Carolina twice this month), and only three other Eastern Conference games, including this one tonight against Florida. This makes tonight’s game a big one, as the Jackets look to capture some Conference points and get back on the right track after what happened Thursday night.

Florida is 22-30-7 and Columbus is 29-25-5 so far this season. Twelve points separate the teams, and in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race Florida is five places behind Columbus. Columbus sits just three points out of  a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, but five points out of the final Wild Card spot in the East. Columbus is much more in the thick of the race than Florida, making this a must-win game if they hope to stay alive in the race.

On the injury front, the Jackets had some good news with the return of forward Marian Gaborik to their lineup, who has missed the majority of the season with two injuries. He came back with a bang, scoring the Jacket’s second goal in the game against the Devils Thursday night, cutting the 3-1 deficit in half and pulling Columbus within one goal. The club got some bad news, however, with Fedor Tyutin out of the lineup from and injury sustained during the Olympics. Tyutin and Jared Boll, out with an ankle injury, are the two injured Jackets right now. The Panthers are missing two forwards due to injury going into the game this afternoon.

After this game today, Columbus and Florida will meet one more time this season, on April 12.

Go Jackets!

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