The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers both appear to be getting back on track following their recent skids. Now their focus is on earning a berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Both squads battle for two valuable points as they meet for the third time this season Thursday at the RBC Center.
Carolina (29-23-7) has won three of its last four games - including a 2-1 win over Los Angeles on Tuesday - following four straight losses to move into seventh place in the conference with 65 points. Hurricanes forward Scott Walker, who scored the go-ahead goal Tuesday, said his team is trying to take control of its own future.
"Right now you can't worry about who you're catching or who's catching you," said Walker, who scored his 17th goal. "You've got to worry about the team you're playing and get the two points. That's what we focused on."
New York (27-24-5) has also bounced back from four consecutive defeats with back-to-back wins, outscoring its opponents 10-2. Martin Straka and Michal Rozsival each had two goals Saturday to lead the Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals.
New York leading scorer Jaromir Jagr added three assists to become the 12th player in NHL history to reach 1,500 points, recording 612 goals and 889 assists.
"It's a big honor," said Jagr, who has 93 points in 63 career games versus Carolina - his third-most against any opponent. "How many years has the NHL been around, 100? The best players in the world play in this league. If I can be in the top 12, that's great."
Despite Jagr's success, the Rangers remain outside the playoff picture, entering this game in 11th place with 59 points - five behind eighth-place Montreal.
"It is our situation, our circumstance," said Rangers coach Tom Renney, whose team is 5-2-1 in its last eight road contests. "These last few games we've been in a position to put our foot down even farther and have done that. It just seems like we're on a mission, and the big thing here is to create some momentum."
Continuing that momentum may be a challenge in Raleigh, N.C., where the Rangers have been outscored 21-10 in losing five straight games. The teams have split two overall meetings this season, but the Hurricanes have won six of the last eight.
Carolina's recent success can be linked to its improved defense. The Hurricanes allowed 19 goals during their four-game skid, but have given up nine goals over their last four contests. They held the Kings to just 10 shots over the first two periods Tuesday, and Cam Ward finished with 21 saves.
"I felt sharp," said Ward, who has started both games against New York this season. "I thought the guys played extremely well in front of me. Anytime you allow 10 shots through (two) periods, that's saying something about team defense."
Carolina leading scorer Ray Whitney is riding a five-game point streak with five goals and five assists during that stretch. Rod Brind'Amour, second on the team in scoring, has a point streak of the same length with two goals and six assists.
Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist will likely have the task of ending those runs as he appears in his 21st consecutive game. He is 1-2-0 with a 2.35 goals-against average in three career starts versus Carolina, including a 4-0 shutout win on Nov. 21.
Backup goalie Kevin Weekes was placed on the injured list Wednesday due to a strained quadriceps muscle suffered Tuesday in practice, leading the Rangers to recall Stephen Valiquette from Hartford of the AHL to back up Lundqvist.
Carolina forward Erik Cole is day-to-day with a lower-body injury that has caused him to miss the last two games while Cory Stillman is on injured reserve with a knee injury and has been sidelined the last three contests.