While the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators have almost identical records and are both among the league's elite, only one has resembled a championship contender lately.
The surging Ducks look to match a season high with their sixth straight win Monday night when they face the Senators for the first time since last year's Stanley Cup finals.
Anaheim (37-23-7) appears to be the stronger team right now, but that wasn't the case earlier in the season. The Senators (37-23-6) owned the NHL's second-best record for much of this season before running into trouble in January.
Injuries and an unsettled goaltending situation have been the biggest factors in Ottawa's 8-13-2 record since Jan. 13, a slump that led to the firing of coach John Paddock on Wednesday.
The skid has dropped the Senators one point behind Montreal for the lead in the Northeast Division and one point in back of the Canadiens and Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Ducks, meanwhile, weren't sharp in the early part of this season, perhaps experiencing a championship hangover that many teams deal with after winning a title. Playing without key contributors Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, who both contemplated retirement, Anaheim was 15-15-5 on Dec. 16 and clearly in need of some help.
Niedermayer decided to put off retirement and made his season debut on Dec. 16. Since losing that game in a shootout to San Jose, Anaheim is 22-8-2 and has pulled within six points of Dallas for the Pacific Division lead.
Selanne's return has provided an even bigger boost, with the Ducks going 10-1-0 in the 11 games he's played. The 15-year veteran shows no signs of slowing down, tallying seven goals and five assists, including six goals during a four-game goal-scoring streak.
While a division title would be their top choice, finishing no lower than fourth in the conference would assure the Ducks home ice in the opening round of the playoffs. They clinched all four playoff series at Honda Center last season, including a 6-2 win over Ottawa in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Mathieu Schneider and Niedermayer each had a goal and an assist in Anaheim's 3-1 victory over Calgary on Friday.
"This was the type of game we're going to have to play in the playoffs," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "It was a game where everybody needed to be involved. Our toughness needed to be there, the power play was good and our penalty-killing was good. So I'm pretty happy with the way we answered them."
Giguere has played a huge role in Anaheim's resurgence, going 8-1-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average and one shutout in his last nine starts. He was 4-1-0 with a 2.21 GAA and one shutout in last season's Stanley Cup finals.
The Ducks played Friday without captain Chris Pronger, who is expected to miss about a week after undergoing jaw surgery.
After losing their first game under new coach Bryan Murray, the Senators ended a three-game skid Saturday with a 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson had two goals and an assist for Ottawa, which plays its next four games on the road, where it has lost five of six (1-4-1).
"All I asked the guys to do was play their positions better, move the puck quicker and play with some emotion," Murray said. "Now hopefully we can ride the crest of that little bit of fire when we go out west."
Martin Gerber ended a personal four-game losing streak Saturday, stopping 25 of 29 shots. Gerber, who spent his first two NHL seasons with the Ducks, did not make any postseason appearances last season for the Senators.