Although they have won a season-best five straight games, the Carolina Hurricanes haven't had to face any of the league's top teams during the streak. That will change Thursday when they take on the Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena.
Two weeks ago, Carolina (20-14-4) lost its fifth consecutive game to fall to one game above .500, but it has since won five in a row while allowing only eight goals.
The Hurricanes extended their streak Tuesday with a 3-2 victory over Florida, completing a home-and-home sweep of the last-place Panthers.
Rod Brind'Amour scored the go-ahead goal 50 seconds into the third period for Carolina, which seeks its first six-game win streak since a seven-game run from Dec. 31-Jan. 15 last season.
"Our game is getting in there, getting on the forechecking, and if we do it enough, by the third period you can wear teams down a little bit," Brind'Amour said. "That's where we've had success in the past. I think tonight the third period was pretty good - we were in their end a lot. You could see they weren't quite getting to the pucks. That's what you need."
Another key lately for the Hurricanes has been the play of right wing Justin Williams, who has goals in four straight games and seven in his last seven contests.
"Right now everything I seem to be shooting is finding a hole here or there," Williams said.
Cam Ward has been in net for four of the five wins during the streak, stopping 108 of 114 shots. Ward, however, hasn't fared too well in three starts this season against Buffalo, losing twice in regulation and once in a shootout with a lofty 4.25 goals-against average.
Only one of Carolina's wins during the run has come against a team currently in playoff position - a 5-1 victory Friday over the New York Islanders. The other wins have come against NHL-worst Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
After losing to the Hurricanes in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals last season, Buffalo has scored 15 goals to win all three meetings with Carolina in 2006-07.
Buffalo (26-7-3) rebounded from a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Saturday with a convincing 6-3 victory Tuesday over visiting Washington.
Chris Drury scored twice and added two assists during a six-goal first period for the Sabres, who increased their league-leading goal total to 144.
It was a satisfying blowout for the Sabres after Capitals star Alex Ovechkin leveled Buffalo co-captain Daniel Briere with a blind-side hit when the teams last met, a 7-4 Washington win on Dec. 2.
"Most of all we were concerned about getting back at their team in general. They took it to us pretty good in Washington," Drury said. "We were extremely motivated."
While Drury ended a personal seven-game drought with his two goals, Briere, the team leader with 43 points, hasn't scored in the last eight contests. Briere has also gone 10 consecutive games against the Hurricanes without a goal.