Debuting Gaborik, Blue Jackets set for key battle with Preds

9:48 AM, Apr 4, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - Few expected Columbus to compete for a playoff spot this year after it traded away Rick Nash in the offseason. However, the Blue Jackets have been one of the surprise teams of this shortened campaign and picked up some big help for their playoff push.

The Blue Jackets kick off a big two-game stretch with a meeting against the hosting Nashville Predators on Thursday night, one day after acquiring forward Marian Gaborik in a trade.

Columbus has made the postseason just once since joining the league as an expansion club in 2000-01, getting swept out of the first round in 2009. That drought wasn't expected to end this season as the Blue Jackets seemed to enter another rebuilding phase when they dealt Nash to the New York Rangers in late July.

However, a 10-2-3 record in their last 15 games has the Blue Jackets just on the outside of the playoff picture, 11th in the Western Conference with 37 points. That is just one back of both Nashville and St. Louis for the ninth spot and the Blue Jackets will visit the Blues on Friday. The Edmonton Oilers sit eighth overall in the West with 39 points.

The Blue Jackets should have Gaborik in the lineup as they try to pick up a big four points in two nights. Columbus sent center Derick Brassard, injured winger Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore to the Rangers for Gaborik, a three-time 40-goal scorer who has struggled this season. He ranked third in the NHL with 41 goals last season, but has just nine in 35 games this year.

The 31-year-old agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the deal and will hopefully provide the Blue Jackets with a big boost.

"Throughout this process our focus was to add a player who could provide a boost to our offense, improve our goal scoring and power play and we identified Marian Gaborik as the player we wanted," said Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. "He has been an elite goal scorer in this league for many years and we are very excited to have him."

The Gaborik deal wasn't the only one on Wednesday by Kekalainen, who took over for a fired Scott Howson in February. He further solidified first-year Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky as his No. 1 goaltender by trading former Calder Trophy winning netminder Steve Mason to the Philadelphia Flyers for goaltender Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-round draft pick, while also getting forward Blake Comeau from the Calgary Flames for a fifth-round pick in 2013.

Comeau, 27, has four goals and three assists along with a minus-nine rating in 33 games this season.

It's been a busy few days for Columbus, which hasn't played on the ice since a 2-1 overtime victory versus the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. In addition to the trades on Wednesday, the Blue Jackets also activated forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno off injured reserve.

With the Predators one of the teams ahead of Columbus in the standings, the Blue Jackets will try to pick up a 60-minute victory in Nashville for the first time since April 3, 2006. The Preds are 20-0-2 in their last 22 at home versus the Blue Jackets and 8-1-2 in the previous 11 encounters overall.

Though also in the mix for a playoff spot, the Predators moved a few players at the deadline on Wednesday, including defenseman Scott Hannan and forward Martin Erat.

Hannan was dealt to the San Jose Sharks for a conditional draft pick, while Erat was moved to the Washington Capitals for highly-touted prospect Filip Forsberg, the 11th overall pick of the 2012 draft.

The 31-year-old Erat had played his entire NHL career for the Predators and is second on the Nashville's all-time list in goals (163), assists (318) and games played (723). A seventh-round selection by Nashville in 1999, Erat was tied for the Predators' team lead this season with 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) in 36 games.

Nashville is 4-1-2 in its past seven games and snapped a three-game slide with Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche. David Legwand netted the winner with 1:14 left in regulation.

"It's really important because we're right in the thick of things right now," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said.

Legwand and Patric Hornqvist both finished with a goal and an assist, while Taylor Beck had two assists. Pekka Rinne made 25 saves.

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