If the surging Montreal Canadiens are to get closer to a playoff spot Tuesday, they will have to solve one of the NHL's hottest goaltenders as they face Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.
The Canadiens (39-31-6) got two goals from Alexei Kovalev in a 4-1 win over Washington on Saturday for a season-high sixth consecutive home victory and fourth straight overall.
"There are a lot of good things going on for us right now but the reality of it is that everybody's waiting to see what happens with the other games," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said.
This hot streak has moved Montreal into a tie with Carolina and the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Those teams trail seventh-place Tampa Bay by two points and the sixth-place Rangers by three.
"We've been playing so well lately," Kovalev said. "I know we have a big test in front of us."
That test comes against Lundqvist, who has won all five games of the Rangers' current winning streak while posting a 0.58 goals-against average and two shutouts.
He made 34 saves in a 2-1 road win over the Islanders on Sunday, one day after stopping 40 shots in a 2-1 victory at Boston. Six of the Rangers' last 11 games have been decided by a 2-1 score and they are 8-1-2 in that stretch.
"I want to play in a game where every save means the difference in winning or losing," Lundqvist said. "I love 2-1 games. I hate 6-5 games. It's challenging, and you know you have to stay focused."
Lundqvist has been just that early on, shutting out opponents in the first period for the last 10 games. He will try to backstop the Rangers to their first six-game winning streak since a seven-game run from Feb. 1-March 2, 2006.
The Swede has won both season matchups against Montreal with a 1.50 goals-against average, including a 19-save effort in a 4-0 victory at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27 in the most recent meeting.
If Montreal is to avoid losing three straight to the Rangers for the first time since the 2001-02 season, it would be helped by Kovalev building on Saturday's performance - his best in three games since sitting out two contests with vertigo.
Kovalev has only 16 goals this season after getting 23 in 2005-06. The right wing hasn't scored in the last three games against the Rangers - his former club - and only has two goals in the last 11 meetings.
New York's Michael Nylander, who scored the game-winner Sunday with 48.9 seconds to go, has seven points in the last seven games. Teammate Martin Straka, however, has no points in 12 straight to match the longest drought of his career, set from March 29-April 11, 1994, while with Pittsburgh.
The Rangers hope they can continue their run and gain more points as they try to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since they made it four years in a row from 1994-97.
"It's about getting points," said Rangers left wing Brendan Shanahan, who has three assists in the last three games since missing 15 games with a concussion.