The Montreal Canadiens appear to have ended their slump with consecutive wins over two of the NHL's weakest teams. A road game against one of the league's elite clubs should provide a far more difficult challenge.
Montreal looks to win three straight for the first time in two months Wednesday night when it visits the Nashville Predators.
A six-game losing streak dropped the Canadiens (31-25-6) out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference, but Montreal followed that up with victories over Columbus and Washington to move into seventh place, one point ahead of Carolina and two in front of Toronto and the New York Islanders.
With No. 1 goaltender Cristobal Huet sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury and David Aebischer struggling, Jaroslav Halak made his NHL debut Sunday in a 3-2 victory at Columbus that ended the six-game skid.
Halak needed to make only 15 saves Tuesday as the Canadiens beat the Capitals 5-3 for their first two-game win streak since Jan. 18 and 20.
"He made the saves that were needed," Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. "In both games they scored two goals about a minute apart but the good thing was that he was still able to stay calm and keep his focus, and in the third period, when those big saves were needed, he made them and that's obviously a big boost for our team confidence-wise."
The line of Michael Ryder, Christopher Higgins and Koivu was outstanding for the second straight game Tuesday, recording four goals and four assists. That unit had two goals and three assists in the win over the Blue Jackets.
Higgins, who ended a 16-game goal drought, may not play Thursday after he left Tuesday's game five minutes into the third period with an upper-body injury. Higgins missed 18 games earlier this season with a high ankle sprain.
"It was nice to see Chris break out tonight and get rewarded for all of his hard work," Koivu said. "We knew it was just a matter of time before he got it going again. I hope his injury isn't anything serious."
Montreal plays seven of its next eight games on the road, where it has lost four of five.
"I have to think that road trip will tell us a lot about where we're going this season," Koivu said.
Nashville (40-18-3) continues to battle Detroit for the top spot in the Central Division, and Buffalo, New Jersey and Anaheim for the league's best overall record.
After losing their first game with newly acquired Peter Forsberg in the lineup, the Predators rebounded with a 4-1 victory Monday over Phoenix.
Forsberg, pointless in his first two games with Nashville, thought he and linemates Paul Kariya and Martin Erat were communicating better on the ice.
"They are fun to play with," Forsberg said. "We just have to make sure we bury our chances and keep going. I had barely met the guys before Saturday's game. At least I know their names now."
Kariya has gone five games without a point, one shy of his career high set from Dec. 26-Jan. 4, 2002.
Scott Hartnell scored twice in a 23-second span of the second period Monday for the Predators, winners of 10 of 12 at home.
This will be the first meeting between these teams since Montreal's 5-4 home victory on Dec. 18, 2003. The Canadiens are 5-2-0 with one tie in the all-time series.