The push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs is in high gear with less than a month left in the regular season. The stakes have been raised and the games are of greater magnitude.
Here are the CFP Keys to Success for teams either holding onto precious playoff positions or trying to improve their place in the standings:
The Detroit Red Wings have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 24 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the four major North American sports leagues.
That run is in a bit of trouble, with the Red Wings falling one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Flyers moved ahead of Detroit with a 3-2 road victory against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Red Wings began what could be a season-defining four-game road trip with a 4-3 loss to the Flyers on Tuesday and face the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; FS-D, FS-O, NHL.TV).
Keys to a Red Wings turnaround begin with the importance of a fast start. They've gone five straight games without scoring in the first period, were outshot 23-3 by the Flyers on Tuesday and trailed 2-0 after the first period. They're also missing their most experienced defenseman, Niklas Kronwall, who's out 1-3 weeks because of a sprained knee. A power play in the bottom half of the NHL at 16.8 percent must improve, and quickly. Detroit is 3-for-24 this month with the man advantage.
The Red Wings play six of their final 12 games against teams out of the playoff picture, but also face the Flyers again at Joe Louis Arena on April 6. Detroit is 2-5-0 in March, including a 5-3 loss in Columbus on March 8.
"I know we have to win a game on Thursday night," coach Jeff Blashill said. "I know we came into [Tuesday] knowing we needed to win. Now we have to go Thursday night and get a win. That's the only thing I worry about."
Video: NYR@DET: Kronwall shaken up on play in front of net
EYES ON THE CROWN
The Los Angeles Kings not only want to pull away in the Pacific Division, they have set their sights having on home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Kings are two points behind the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars with games in hand on each team entering Thursday, when they play the New York Rangers at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN360, SNE, SNO, MSG, FS-W).
The Kings are all but a lock to return to the playoffs after missing out last season. They've won nine of their past 12 games and outscored the Stars and Chicago Blackhawks by a combined 10-2 in road victories on back-to-back nights this week. Two keys to their success have been center Anze Kopitar, who leads Los Angeles with 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists), and forward Milan Lucic, whose seven-game point streak (3-6-9) is one short of his NHL high set Dec. 8-23, 2008.
"It's that time of the year," Kopitar said. "You got to start sharpening up. We want to make sure that obviously we're peaking at the right time. There's still some room for improvement, but we feel like we're on the right track."
The San Jose Sharks visit the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; CSN-CA, FS-A+, NHL.TV), then begin a six-game homestand against the Rangers on Saturday that could go a long way toward strengthening their playoff position.
The Sharks are five points behind the Kings and a big reason why is they've won a League-high 25 games on the road, two short of the franchise record of 27 set in 2007-08. The Sharks have also come alive at SAP Center, where they are 9-3-3 in their past 15 games after a 5-12-0 start.
The Sharks, who rode goalie Martin Jones for most of the season, have a viable backup in James Reimer, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 27. Reimer celebrated his 28th birthday Tuesday by making 21 saves in a 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins; the best one came on a wide-open shot with one second left in the game. He is 2-1-0 with a 1.69 goals-against average and .937 save percentage since coming to San Jose.
Also keep an eye on Brent Burns. His 26 goals lead all NHL defenseman and he's tied with Sandis Ozolinsh for the franchise single-season record by a defenseman.
"We're just trying to keep pace in the division," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "Everyone else keeps winning, so we've got to keep winning. I like our game, I've liked our game for a while. I think we're comfortable in these tight-checking, close games. Guys are playing with confidence and our goaltending has been great. We've just got to continue to keep that ball rolling."