Columbus and Colorado play in opposite conferences, so in a normal season they play twice a year. The league decided to cram those two games into a span of four days, so the Blue Jackets and Avalanche meet again Saturday night to conclude the home-and-home set.
If it is half as exciting as Wednesday, the host Columbus fans will be entertained. The Blue Jackets won the first game in Colorado 5-4 in overtime on a night when momentum shifted twice in the final 25 minutes of regulation.
The Blue Jackets trailed 2-0 late in the second and then reeled off four straight goals to take a 4-2 lead. The Avalanche pulled their goaltender twice in the final four minutes and scored twice to send it to overtime.
Fortunes seemed to have turned for both teams in the past few days. Colorado has a chance to get top-line forward Mikko Rantanen back after he missed three games with a lower-body injury, as well as second-line forward Andre Burakovsky, who missed Wednesday with the same injury. In addition, defenseman Devon Toews, who had offseason shoulder surgery, is on track to make his season debut Saturday night.
The trio’s availability is contingent on no one suffering any setbacks while skating individually Friday. The Avalanche didn’t practice on Friday before flying to Columbus.
The Blue Jackets announced they will be without forward Patrik Laine for 4-6 weeks after he suffered an oblique strain in the third period of Wednesday’s win. Laine has been a catalyst in Columbus’ 6-3-0 start to the season, and he will likely be replaced on the top line by Cole Sillinger, who had two goals in Wednesday’s game.
“Those are some good minutes there that someone’s going to get an opportunity and someone’s going to have to fill it,” coach Brad Larsen said Friday. “We’ve got some guys that I think are champing on the bit to do something in that spot. Guys are dying to play more. You know they are. Then they get it and it’s like, ‘Alright, now show me.'”
Laine’s injury might have clinched the decision to keep Sillinger, an 18-year-old rookie, with the team for the rest of the season. The Blue Jackets had to send him elsewhere — the minors or Quebec Major Junior, for example — after nine games or keep him on the roster for the season and burn the first year of his entry level contract.
Wednesday’s two-goal performance and Laine’s injury made the decision easier.
Colorado is still dealing with injuries despite getting some guys back. Defenseman Cale Makar could miss his second straight game with an upper-body injury suffered Saturday night against Minnesota. Forward Valeri Nichushkin and goaltender Pavel Francouz are still on injured reserve.
“Any team is built to sustain an injury or two. When you get into five, six, seven guys out, it makes it tough,” coach Jared Bednar said. “But you got to expect the times that you’re going to be missing a couple to a handful of guys. Seems like for us, we get somebody back and somebody else is out. Hopefully, we can get through it.”
–Field Level Media