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Playoff-bound Blue Jackets expect rousing welcome

By Santosh Venkataraman

Stats Senior Writer

Minnesota (39-33-9) at Columbus (41-30-10), 7:00 p.m. EDT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Columbus Blue Jackets' home finale

Saturday night won't be their final appearance of the season at

Nationwide Arena.

The Blue Jackets can expect a rousing welcome from their fans as

they play their first home game since clinching the franchise's

first playoff berth when they meet the Minnesota Wild, who could

be playing their last game with coach Jacques Lemaire and star

forward Marian Gaborik.

Columbus (41-30-10) assured itself of postseason play with a 4-3

shootout victory at Chicago on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets will

become the last NHL team to make their postseason debut.

They still have something to play for in the final game of the

regular season. Columbus needs one point to clinch the No. 6

seed in the Western Conference after missing an opportunity to

do so Friday in a 3-1 loss at St. Louis.

"It was a tough loss," Columbus captain Rick Nash said. "Now we

have to worry about (Saturday) night."

Minnesota (39-33-9) briefly kept its playoff hopes alive Friday

with an 8-4 win over Nashville, but was eliminated when Anaheim

beat Dallas later that night. It also fueled speculation that

Lemaire may not return to coach the Wild.

Lemaire is the only coach the franchise has ever had, and had to

be talked into coming back to coach the team for an eighth

season in 2008-09. It doesn't seem that he will back for a ninth

campaign.

The coach said after Friday's win that he has reached a

decision, but would not announce it yet.

"It's not a good thing that I tell you right now," Lemaire said,

using his wry sense of humor to try and defuse the situation.

"Because you might be depressed if I come back. Maybe you've

seen enough of me."

This also could be the final game in a Minnesota uniform for

Gaborik, the franchise's scoring leader. He turned down a

contract extension from the Wild before this season and will

become an unrestricted free agent.

The season has been a difficult one for the Wild with Gaborik

missing 65 games due to injury and leading goal scorer Owen

Nolan out for 23.

"It's been a little frustrating," Lemaire said. "Because of the

injuries, we never had a full team. Maybe a couple of games and

that's it. And when it happens to your key players, then it's

hard to get the players having a good feel about the group."

The feeling in Columbus is completely different. The Blue

Jackets want to avoid finishing seventh or eighth - which would

result in first-round matchups with Detroit or San Jose,

respectively.

They lost their seventh straight game at St. Louis, though, and

coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't pleased with Friday's effort.

"We were just outhustled," he said. "They played well, we

didn't."

Minnesota is 2-1 against Columbus this season, with the Blue

Jackets winning their lone home matchup 4-2 on Jan. 10.

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