The Tampa Bay Lightning hardly seemed deserving of a playoff spot following their last matchup with the last-place Washington Capitals, but they've still been able to stay in the mix.
The Lightning look to strengthen their hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference when they conclude their season series with the Capitals on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay (42-32-4) suffered its largest margin of defeat with a 7-1 loss to Washington (26-38-14) on March 18. The Lightning, though, have gone 3-2-0 since then, and have 88 points after a 4-2 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina on Friday.
The Lightning enter play with a one-point lead over the seventh-place New York Rangers - who will face NHL-worst Philadelphia - and a two-point lead on eighth-place Montreal, which hosts league-leading Buffalo on Saturday
"Everyone in this room feels like we're going to make the playoffs, and we don't all come out and say it because it's not the way it's usually done, but we all feel that way in the dressing room," Tampa Bay defenseman Nolan Pratt said. "I don't think it puts any more pressure on us. There's already a ton of pressure to win anyway."
Vincent Lecavalier scored his league-leading 50th goal and added two assists Friday. Before this season, Lecavalier had never scored more than 35 goals in his seven previous NHL seasons. The top overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1998, Lecavalier has eight goals and 13 points in seven games against the Capitals, but was held off the scoresheet in the last matchup.
Martin St. Louis scored his 42nd goal, Vaclav Prospal had a goal and assist and Filip Kuba broke a third-period tie for the Lightning, who twice rallied from one-goal deficits against the Hurricanes.
St. Louis has three goals and three assists in a five-game point streak, and needs one more point to reach 100 for the first time. He has five goals and 10 points in seven games against Washington after going without a point in his previous five matchups.
Washington has lost five straight since its blowout win over Tampa Bay. The Capitals also have lost eight in a row on the road since a 4-2 victory at New Jersey on Feb. 24.
Washington squandered a pair of one-goal leads and lost 3-2 in overtime to Florida on Friday. Jakub Klepis and Chris Clark scored and Alexander Ovechkin had two assists for the Caps.
Alexander Semin, who added an assist, has at least one point in eight of his last nine games totaling five goals and nine assists. He tallied a natural hat trick during the second period in the last meeting with Tampa Bay, giving him nine goals and 14 points in seven games versus the Lightning.
Tampa Bay is 5-2-0 against Washington this season.