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Some impressive wins against the NHL's better teams has bolstered the Columbus Blue Jackets' chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Looking for their fifth straight win, the host Blue Jackets on Sunday go for their first season-series win over the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit (45-15-9) sits atop the West after going 8-3-1 since Feb. 18, but also had one of its ugliest outings of the season during that stretch, losing 8-2 at home to Columbus (36-27-6) on March 7.
The Blue Jackets have built off that in impressive fashion by shutting out Eastern Conference-leading Boston and ending Pittsburgh's seven-game winning streak before Friday's 5-3 triumph over Chicago. That surge has pushed Columbus into sixth place in the West - one point behind Vancouver and just five in back of the fourth-place Blackhawks.
After losing the first two meetings this season, the Blue Jackets have taken three straight from the Red Wings, including two victories at Nationwide Arena. Columbus has never beaten Detroit more than three times in a season, and is 14-28-7 with one tie all-time against the Wings, who appear headed to their eighth straight Central Division title.
Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has recorded two hat tricks against the Red Wings this season, and three of his four career 3-goal games have come against Detroit, including in the rout earlier this month.
But Columbus has gotten a big boost from recently acquired Antoine Vermette, who scored twice in the victory over the Blackhawks. The center has three goals and three assists in four games since coming over from Ottawa at the trade deadline for former starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
"I got to say since I got here, the guys have made it easy on me. Everyone is working hard and working the same way," Vermette said. "I've been lucky enough to never miss one playoff. Having a chance to join this group of guys and make a pretty good push, I'm pretty happy about it."
The Red Wings will look to cool off Vermette and the Blue Jackets on Sunday, but it won't be easy. Detroit's defense has allowed at least six goals in three of its last seven games - all losses. In the other four, all wins, the Red Wings have allowed two or fewer, including in a 5-2 victory over St. Louis on Saturday.
Detroit trailed 1-0 at the end of the first period, but scored three times in a 46-second span during a four-goal second. Pavel Datsyuk scored twice in the frame, giving him 27 goals and a team-high 84 points.
"We shot the puck, we got it to the net and you really don't ever bank on scoring like that consistently," Detroit forward Kirk Maltby said. "A couple good shots either surprised the goalie or handcuffed him and the next thing you know it's in the net.
Datsyuk is looking to extend an 11-game point streak against Columbus. He has five goals and 14 assists during that stretch, including one goal and six assists in four games this season.
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