Blue Jackets, Red Wings meet trying to avoid basement

When the season started, the Columbus Blue Jackets figured they either would be battling for a playoff berth or would have one wrapped up by the time the season-ending series against the visiting Detroit Red Wings came up.Yet when the Red Wings arrive at Columbus for two games starting Friday night, the teams will be battling to avoid last place in the Central Division.Columbus (17-25-12, 46 points) has a one-point lead on the last-place Red Wings (18-27-9, 45) heading into the final two games of the season.The two teams will play on Friday and Saturday and when those are done, one team will end the 2020-21 season in last place.Columbus looks like a team that does not want that fate.Although it appeared last month like a foregone conclusion the Blue Jackets would end up in the division cellar, the team is playing with renewed confidence and has recorded at least a point in their past five (2-0-3) games.Columbus kept Nashville from clinching a playoff spot Wednesday with a 4-2 victory.”We are having fun,” Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins said. “For the fans, this is the minimum we can do. We give everything we have in our power for the last games and try to play well and finish well this season as best we can.”With Joonas Korpisalo injured, Merzlikins could find himself playing the final two games despite them coming on consecutive days.Merzlikins is 2-0-3 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in his past five games. That includes a 1-0 shutout of Detroit on April 27 in which he made 41 saves and helped snap Columbus’ nine-game losing streak.He is 1-2-1 against Detroit this season.Columbus could give one of its young goalie prospects a game. Daniil Tarasov is a highly-regarded prospect who left the KHL and played in four AHL games for Cleveland this season.

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