The Hurricanes are coming off of a bewildering blowout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers. The Canes outshot Peter DeBoer's team, 42-23, yet lost, 5-0. Carolina has still won six of its last nine.
The goalies will determine who wins tonight.
Canes goaltender Cam Ward has started all but one of the Canes' last nine games, and has been solid, going 5-3, posting two shutouts, and saving about 93 percent of shots against (even though he allowed four goals on only nine shots against the Panthers).
If the Canes are going to win tonight, he needs to regain his form and forget about Thursday night's dismal performance.
Blue Jackets' goaltender Steve Mason has been one of the best rookies of the season in the NHL. The backbone of the Blue Jackets' chances at the playoffs, Mason has gone 20-12-2 thus far, earned seven shutouts, allowed only 2.09 goal per game, and stopped 92 percent of shots against this season.
However, he has been a little rusty or not playing recently due to mononucleosis, as he has allowed 10 goals in his last five games, and eight goals in his last three.
Mason's efforts are especially impressive because he doesn't get a lot of help from his defense. The Blue Jackets rank ninth in goals allowed (150), but their penalty kill isn't far from superb, at roughly 81 percent.
Mason is likely the reason for the minimal number of goals allowed, despite the fact that backup Pascal Leclaire has given up 43 goals in just 12 games. The defense is probably responsible for the below-average penalty kill.
Mason will have to be on top of his game if the Blue Jackets are going to win, because his teammates can't score. Columbus ranks 20th in the NHL in goals for (145), and dead last in power play efficiency, scoring on only about 12 percent of their power play chances.
On the other hand, the Hurricanes are even worse at putting the puck in the net. They have only scored 140 goals, which ranks 22nd in the league. Carolina is a little better than Columbus on the power play, but not by much, at about 17 percent. But the Canes get more power plays than the Blue Jackets (247 to 232).
Neither the Hurricanes nor the Blue Jackets score much, nor do they have stingy defenses. The Blue Jackets should have the upper hand because of their star rookie goaltender, Steve Mason. But their road record (9-18) is downright awful. Still, I've got my money on Mason and the Jackets.
Predicted score: 2-1, Blue Jackets