Two months ago, the Ottawa Senators were atop the Eastern Conference. A loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs began a poor stretch that dropped them out of first, but they finally appear to have rebounded.
The Senators look to improve their playoff position Saturday when they host the Maple Leafs, who are surging without Mats Sundin.
Ottawa (41-26-7) held an 11-point lead in the East on Dec. 27, and maintained first place through Feb. 23 before losing 5-0 to Toronto at home two nights later that started a 1-5-1 stretch.
Now, the Senators are fifth in the East, two points behind fourth-place Pittsburgh and three back of Northeast Division-leading and current conference leader Montreal, which hosts the reigning East champions on Monday.
"It's going to be an exciting couple of weeks," Senators center Mike Fisher said. "There are a lot of huge games and teams fighting for spots, and it's going to be like the playoffs because we need wins, too, and we're trying to get our full game back."
Ottawa's final eight games are against division rivals.
"It's kind of good, the fact that we play our division the rest of the way," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "It makes for tough games, but it gets you ready for the playoffs."
Spezza leads the team with 84 points, six shy of his career high set during the 2005-06 season. He's been outstanding over the last five games, netting four goals and assisting on three others to help the Sens go 4-1-0 in that stretch. He found the back of the net again Thursday when the Senators beat St. Louis 3-2.
Ottawa's top-line center, though, was held pointless by Toronto (34-31-10) for a third consecutive matchup - all losses - on Feb. 25 after getting one goal and 13 assists in the previous seven meetings.
The Senators took the first three season matchups with the Leafs, but have been outscored 12-2 in losing the last three.
Toronto is 12th in the conference, five points behind eighth-place Boston for the final playoff spot in the East.
The Maple Leafs - also 4-1-0 in their past five - are showing late-season resilience despite playing without four regulars, including Sundin, who could miss his fourth game in a row with a groin injury.
They did just fine without their captain Friday, winning their fifth consecutive road game with a 4-1 victory at Buffalo. They last won six straight away from Toronto from Nov. 22-Dec. 11, 2003.
"Everybody's written us off when we lost Mats," Leafs center Matt Stajan said. "We're not going to die in here. We're going to keep going until it's over."
Vesa Toskala, who made 35 saves Friday, is 5-0-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average during the road winning streak. The netminder has won his last three starts against the Sens, posting two shutouts.
Toskala had 31 saves in the shutout on Feb. 25.