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Blue Jackets have playoffs in their sights

By Mike Lipka

Stats Writer

Calgary (42-25-6) at Columbus (38-28-7), 7:00 p.m. EDT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A trio of home-and-home series stand

between the Columbus Blue Jackets and their first playoff berth

in franchise history.

While Thursday night's game against visiting Calgary is alone on

the schedule, Columbus may soon be getting even more familiar

with the Flames.

The Blue Jackets' postseason push looks more and more like it

could lead to a first-round matchup with Calgary, which will try

to bolster its Northwest Division lead and salvage two points

from its brief road trip.

A 14-5-2 stretch has put Columbus (38-28-7) in prime position to

reach the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's eighth

season, although the team will encounter a strange scheduling

quirk in the season's final two weeks.

After Thursday's game, the Blue Jackets' next six contests will

feature two in a row against St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago.

They could soon be playing up to seven in a row against the

Flames. If Columbus remains in sixth place in the Western

Conference and Calgary holds on to its division lead, the teams

would face off in the postseason's first round. The Blue Jackets

have a three-point lead on seventh-place Anaheim, while the

Flames have the same edge on Vancouver in the Northwest.

Columbus will be looking for a quick turnaround after a

disappointing 2-1 overtime defeat at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night

- just its second loss in the last eight games.

Coach Ken Hitchcock's team outshot the Lightning 34-17, but

allowed the tying goal with 9:05 to play in regulation and the

winner 3:04 into overtime.

"We don't have any success when we get away from the game plan

and turn the puck over and force the puck way too much,"

Hitchcock said. "And I'm going to talk to those players on it

(Wednesday)."

The Flames (42-25-6) also have room for improvement on the heels

of Wednesday night's 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh - the first time

they were shut out since a season-opening 6-0 loss at Vancouver

on Oct. 9.

While the team's offense has been solid behind standout wingers

Michael Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla all season, ranking fourth

in the league with 3.2 goals per game, it has scored two or

fewer goals six times during a 3-6-0 skid in the past three

weeks.

After scoring at least one power play goal in five of the

previous six games with the unit converting at a 26.1 percent

clip this month, Calgary's power play came up empty on five

chances against Pittsburgh.

"The difference for us was not being able to score on the power

play," coach Mike Keenan said. "When you get five opportunities

and you come up with nothing, you're not going to win a hockey

game on the road."

While both clubs will be looking to gain momentum for a possible

first-round meeting, the home team has won all four games

between the Flames and Blue Jackets this season, with the last

two games taking place in Calgary.

After a 5-4 shootout win on Jan. 21, the Flames won 4-1 on Feb.

24, with Cammalleri and Iginla combining for six goals in those

games.

Columbus, however, beat Calgary 3-1 at home Nov. 8 in rookie

Steve Mason's third career start. The Blue Jackets have gotten

even better at Nationwide Arena as the season has gone on, going

18-6-1 there since Thanksgiving.

Mason has also emerged, and his 2.22 goals-against average ranks

second in the league behind Boston's Tim Thomas. Flames goalie

Miikka Kiprusoff is in the midst of his worst statistical season

in six years, but he's 12-3-2 with a 1.88 GAA all-time against

Columbus.

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