With just under five weeks remaining in the regular season, both the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes have stepped up their play in making a postseason push.
The Rangers look to win their fourth straight game for the first time in more than four months Monday night when they visit the Hurricanes, who are also trying to win their fourth in a row.
In the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race, New York (34-24-8) is tied with Pittsburgh and Florida for sixth place with 76 points. Ninth-place Carolina (37-27-5) is just one point back.
The Rangers were free-falling down the standings over the past month but are suddenly back on track.
New York, which was fourth in the East on Jan. 27, defeated conference-leading Boston 4-3 on Sunday for its third straight victory. Nikolai Zherdev put the Rangers ahead with 6:22 left, his third goal in as many games.
"It is not like we are still sitting pretty in the standings," said center Scott Gomez, who scored his 14th goal Sunday. "Let's not get carried away, it is just some wins. We will enjoy it, but we have a huge game (Monday), and that is our focus."
New York's offense has powered the team's turnaround.
The Rangers, who have not won four games in a row since Oct. 24-30, have scored 14 goals during their winning streak after netting a total of six in losing their previous four games (0-2-2).
"It's important that the guys continue to grow in confidence with this, but they also have to understand where we're at," said John Tortorella, who is 3-1-1 since replacing fired coach Tom Renney. "We have to try to do the same things more consistently (Monday)."
New York has won the first two games of the season series against Carolina and seven of the last nine meetings, but the Hurricanes have been tough to beat lately.
Carolina is coming off Saturday's 9-3 win over Tampa Bay, its highest-scoring game since a 9-6 victory at Quebec on Oct. 8, 1989.
The Hurricanes, who have won seven of nine, are outscoring opponents 20-6 during their three-game winning streak. They have not won four consecutive games since Dec. 31-Jan.6.
"We've been pretty solid," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
On Saturday, Hurricanes center Eric Staal tied franchise records with four goals and six points, while Tuomo Ruutu added two goals and three assists.
"That's one of those games that don't happen very often," Staal said. "It was a good win for our team, which was the bottom line. But it's fun getting points and being on the offensive side of the game."
Staal, who leads the Hurricanes with 32 goals and 58 points, has five goals and seven assists during a five-game point streak.
Cam Ward stopped 22 shots Saturday, improving to 9-5-0 with a 2.57 goals-against average and one shutout in starting the last 14 games for Carolina.
He hasn't had much luck against the Rangers lately, though, going 3-5-1 with a 2.53 GAA and one shutout in 10 starts against them since the start of the 2006-07 season.
New York's Henrik Lundqvist is 6-2-0 with a 1.84 GAA and one shutout in eight games versus Carolina since 2006-07. In his only start of this season against the Hurricanes on Dec. 13, Lundqvist stopped 29 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory.