After a brief slump, the Montreal Canadiens are back on track and tied for the Eastern Conference lead. They'll look to push their win streak to four games Tuesday night when they host the New York Rangers - another surging team that's gotten itself back into the thick of the playoff race.
Montreal (32-19-9) recently suffered through a 1-4 stretch that included three straight defeats - one coming against Northeast Division rival Ottawa, one of the teams the Canadiens are tied with for first place in the conference - but have followed up the losing streak with three consecutive victories.
The Canadiens kept rolling Sunday, defeating Philadelphia 5-3 to finish a sweep of a home-and-home series and pulling them even with the Senators and New Jersey with 73 points. Alex Kovalev had a goal and two assists as Montreal took advantage of a Flyers club that has lost seven in a row.
"Our goal was to make the playoffs and it's still our goal. Sometimes you're ahead a little bit of the curve and I think we are," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said.
Carbonneau's team also got a 34-save performance from 20-year-old Carey Price, who earned his first NHL shutout in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Philadelphia at the Bell Centre, when he also stopped 34 shots.
Price, the fifth overall draft pick by Montreal in 2005, is 3-1-0 with a 2.03 goals-against average in five games since returning from the minors Feb. 4.
On Tuesday, he'll likely get his first look at the Rangers (30-24-7) as he tries to become the first Montreal goalie to defeat them this season. New York beat Cristobal Huet each time in winning the first three meetings of the season, scoring at least four goals in every game.
The most recent matchup came Feb. 3, a 5-3 New York victory at the Bell Centre in which the Rangers erased a 3-0 second-period deficit. The Rangers have won six of their last seven against the Canadiens.
Montreal will be facing a New York team that earned a pair of much-needed home wins over the weekend. The Rangers went into a five-day break last week in a 1-2-1 slump but seemed rejuvenated by the extra rest, defeating Buffalo on Saturday and San Jose on Sunday.
Although their playoff hopes looked precarious last week after dropping to ninth in the conference, the Rangers now find themselves six points out of first place in the Atlantic Division and in sixth place in the East, having earned points in four straight games (3-0-1).
"These are two big wins to build on," said New York's Ryan Callahan, who scored twice in the 3-1 victory over the Sharks. "We have a long road ahead of us, but we can move forward and go from here. We have a lot of character in this room from top to bottom. You have to follow your leaders and go from there."
Chris Drury added a power-play goal and an assist and Henrik Lundqvist improved to 2-0 since signing a six-year extension, making 29 saves. Lundqvist also had 29 saves in a relatively easy 5-1 rout of Buffalo on Saturday.
"It was definitely a tough game, the second of back-to-backers, especially playing against a big, physical, talented team," New York forward Brendan Shanahan said after Sunday's win. "It was a real good test for us and we really responded well."
The Rangers will be going for their first season sweep of the Canadiens since 2001-02.