The Vancouver Canucks' playoff chances didn't look good after the club limped through the end of January.
Thanks in part to Mats Sundin's dramatic finish in his emotional return to Toronto and an upcoming meeting with the Montreal Canadiens, however, the team's playoff hopes haven't been higher all season than they are right now.
The Canucks look to continue their postseason push by extending their dominance - both in February and against the Canadiens - when the clubs meet Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Vancouver (30-21-8) went winless in its final eight January games, but has responded by opening February with eight wins in nine games.
The Canucks trailed Toronto late in the third period Saturday night before Alex Burrows tied the game with a redirection from the slot with less than four minutes remaining. Sundin then scored the shootout winner in the 3-2 victory, his first game in Toronto since he signed with Vancouver in December following 13 seasons with the Maple Leafs.
"I have a lot of memories with a lot of the guys," Sundin said. "But it's kind of nice to have it over with too now."
Sundin, who made his season debut Jan. 7, has six goals and six assists in 18 games. He has four goals and five assists during the Canucks' February surge, which has moved the team up from 11th to fifth in the crowded Western Conference standings.
The Canucks, looking to win five straight for the first time in nearly two years, also hope to continue their recent success against the Canadiens (31-22-7). Vancouver has gone 10-0-0 with one tie in 11 meetings with Montreal since its last loss in the series Nov. 30, 2000.
Vancouver won its first meeting with Montreal this season, 4-2 at home last Sunday. Daniel and Henrik Sedin each had a goal and an assist in that game, and Sundin added an assist. Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo made 25 saves to improve to 6-1-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average against the Canadiens since Dec. 12, 2003.
Montreal's Carey Price, 0-3-1 with a 4.91 GAA in his last four starts, didn't allow a goal in eight minutes of relief against Vancouver last week - his first career appearance against the Canucks.
Jaroslav Halak was in net for Montreal's last game Saturday. He made 44 saves and got plenty of help from his offense in a 5-3 home win over Ottawa.
Alexei Kovalev had a goal and two assists in that contest, his first since sitting out the final two of the team's six-game road trip as punishment for his listless play this season. He was greeted warmly by the Bell Centre crowd.
"It's nice when you come back and get that much support," said Kovalev, who has 14 goals and 28 assists through 58 games after totaling 35 goals and 49 assists last season. "I didn't know what to expect. ... But I'm a different person now. I have that hankering to play."
"The most important thing was that I was able to get the bad thoughts out of my mind that have been building up all year. You try different things and nothing works and then you get confused, but in the last few days I've been able to clear my mind.
Kovalev has been held to four goals in 20 career games against the Canucks.