The Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks have each missed the playoffs in nine of the last 10 seasons, but both teams are squarely in the hunt for postseason berths this year.
While the Blackhawks have a firm foothold in the Western Conference race, the Panthers are locked in a tight battle in the East as their homestand continues Thursday night against Chicago.
Thanks to its 13-4-3 record in the new year, Florida, which has missed the past seven postseasons, is five points ahead of ninth-place Carolina. The Panthers (29-20-8) have won eight of 11 overall and six of seven at home, including a 4-0 victory over New Jersey on Tuesday night - the third in a five-game homestand.
Facing the Atlantic Division leader as well as one of the East's top offenses, Tomas Vokoun stopped 36 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, tying a career high set with Nashville in 2006-07.
"The more separation we can get, the better it is for everybody in this dressing room," said Vokoun, who is 11-4-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average and two shutouts in 2009. "There's a bunch of games left and we're in that position now, and it's up to us to keep it."
Nathan Horton scored for the fourth time in five games Tuesday, and Cory Stillman extended his point streak to six games. Michael Frolik's three-game goal-scoring streak ended, but he had two assists.
The Panthers now face a Chicago team that is fourth in the West and 7-3-0 in its last 10 road games. The Blackhawks, who haven't made the playoffs since 2001-02, will play away from home for the 10th time in 11 games Thursday and are in the middle of a three-game road trip, which ends Saturday at Dallas.
Chicago (32-15-8) rallied for a 5-3 victory Tuesday night in Tampa Bay - its first game since losing leading scorer Patrick Sharp for at least three weeks to a left knee injury.
The Blackhawks didn't miss a beat without his 23 goals, scoring four times in the final 20:48 to erase a two-goal deficit. Jonathan Toews' goal sparked that rally late in the second period and he also scored with 4:01 left in the third.
"We stuck with it," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Obviously, we got a huge goal (at the end of the second) and that ignited us into the third. I like the way we're playing."
Toews has six points in the last two games while Patrick Kane and Martin Havlat each have five. Kane scored a goal Tuesday for the first time in nine games.
With Nikolai Khabibulin back in Chicago nursing a groin injury, Cristobal Huet is expected to make a fourth straight start. Huet, who is 6-3-0 with a 1.94 GAA in his last 10 starts on the road, is 5-2-1 with an 0.95 GAA in nine lifetime appearances against the Panthers.
Florida hasn't faced Chicago since a 3-1 road win on Dec. 16, 2007, and the Blackhawks haven't traveled to the BankAtlantic Center since a 4-3 overtime loss on Dec. 3, 2005.