The Columbus Blue Jackets have played 58 games on their NHL schedule and only 18 of them included right wing Marian Gaborik who is expected to re-join the Blue Jackets Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils.
Gaborik missed the last 22 games after breaking his collarbone on Dec. 21 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a game that marked the 32-year-old's return from a previous injury in which he sprained his knee in mid-November that sidelined him for 17 games, but it only lasted one period, causing him to miss more NHL action as well as the 2014 Sochi Olympic games where Gaborik would have been a part of the Slovakian team.
In 18 games with the Blue Jackets this season, the three-time 40-goal scorer has five goals and 12 points.
"I still don't think we've seen the Marian Gaborik who can score big goals, and what he can mean to our power play, how he can create so much space for other guys on the ice," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch. "If he can play at the top of his game and bring that every night, he could be exactly what this team needs the rest of the way."
"I expect him to come out hard and play hard," head coach Todd Richards told Portzline. "And if he does that, he's going to play fast and generate some offensive chances for us. "
Tonight's matchup against the Devils is the final of a four-game series between the two clubs with Columbus leading the season series 3-0-0. Both the Devils and Blue Jackets desperately need the two-points at stake tonight if they want to remain in the race, along with a handful of other East coast teams, for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"As far as how many we need to win and how many we can lose, I don't think we need to look at it that way," Brandon Dubinsky said. "I think if we just take care of ourselves, take care of our games, the result will take care of ourselves. I've said it all along, I really like this team. We've used the practices this week to really get ready, so I think you'll see a team come out of the gates here ready to play and ready to assert itself."
In Gaborik's absence,Columbus has been able to stay afloat in the standings and remains three-points back of the final playoff slot held currently by the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference.
The Blue Jackets have not made the playoffs since their first appearance in 2008-2009 when they were swept out of the quarterfinals by the Detroit Red Wings. At the time, both teams were part of the Western Conference.