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Blue Jackets open road trip at Kings

LOS ANGELES -- The Columbus Blue Jackets start an important three-game California road trip against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night at Staples Center.

Columbus (32-26-5) enter the game on a two-game winning streak after an impressive 5-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night. The Blue Jackets drove Capitals starting goaltender Braden Holtby from the net with a four-goal first-period barrage that included a goal from center Mark Letestu, one of three trade-deadline acquisitions made by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. Winger Thomas Vanek and defenseman Ian Cole were acquired on Monday for additional veteran help.

Thought to be one of the contenders for the Metropolitan Division title when the season opened, a lack of scoring has the Blue Jackets scrambling for a wild-card berth as the road trip opens. They own the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference entering the game and realize they must perform better than their 13-15-3 road record to solidify a postseason berth.

Columbus will get additional help with the activation of captain Nick Foligno from Injured Reserve on Wednesday. Foligno has missed the past four contests with a lower body injury suffered on Feb. 18 vs. Pittsburgh. He has registered 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in 59 games this season. Foligno is excited to rejoin his team and the reinforcements brought in by the front office.

"We're pumped about what is ahead for us," Foligno said. "Seeing the caliber of player we brought in and adding to our core it gives us a great chance to achieve our goal, winning the Stanley Cup. The veteran experience is so important this time of year given we have such a young core."

The Blue Jackets will attempt to split the two-game season series after losing a 6-4 decision on Oct. 21. Sergei Bobrovsky is the expected starter in goal but has not fared well against the Kings, posting a 2-5-2 record including the November loss.

Los Angeles (34-24-5) come off an impressive sweep of a rare back-to-back home-and-home series over the Pacific Division leading Vegas Golden Knights. After recording a 3-2 overtime win on Monday in Los Angeles, the Kings rode a 41 save performance by rookie goaltender Jack Campbell to climb into third place in the Pacific Division.

Campbell recorded his first career NHL victory receiving offensive support from the Kings' top players. Anze Kopitar registered a goal and an assist and Jeff Carter scored in consecutive nights against the Golden Knights to secure the sweep. He is not expected to get many starts in Los Angeles' final 18 games, his effort gave starting goaltender Jonathan Quick some rest before his expected start against the Blue Jackets.

"It was a little bit more than just another game," said Campbell. "I want to prove to everybody, but most importantly my teammates, that they can count on me. This was probably the biggest game I've played in and I felt the most comfortable just because of the surroundings and the locker room. Quick was there to give me some tips on what their tendencies were and the boys played great in front of me, so it was awesome."

Los Angeles coach John Stevens reinforced the importance of the wins with his team is a grouping of multiple Pacific Division teams battling for the two automatic division postseason berths behind the presumptive division-winning Golden Knights.

"It was a big set for us," Stevens said. "We're trying to get our foot back in the playoff door, and we knew these were going to be big games against a really tough opponent. I thought it was a great couple games of commitment from our hockey team. I thought our leadership was outstanding and they were our best players in both games."

The game is the start of a five-game homestand that will go a long way in determining the Kings' postseason fate. Los Angeles' track record against Columbus at Staples Center is a strong one, they are 18-9-1 all-time, including a 7-2-1 record over its last 10 games.
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