The Detroit Red Wings haven't looked much like a playoff team lately but still control their fate and could secure a 24th straight postseason trip as early as Tuesday night.
That will require a little help and a win against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.
Another playoff appearance seemed like a lock after a three-game win streak in early March had the Red Wings 14 points clear of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. However, a 5-10-2 stretch since has left them tied with Boston and Pittsburgh for the final three spots, two points ahead of red-hot Ottawa.
Despite winning only one of their last five games, the Red Wings (41-25-13) can clinch a playoff spot with a victory Tuesday and if the Penguins beat the Senators. Detroit holds the tiebreaker over Ottawa with more regulation/overtime wins.
"We're still, I think, in control of knowing how to make the playoffs," Darren Helm said. "We've got three games. We're in control. We've got to win some games and we can get into it. Unfortunately, we sort of buried ourselves a little bit, not picking up wins when we needed to."
The Red Wings will play their final two games on the road - including a season-ending visit to Carolina on Saturday - which may not be a bad thing for a team that dropped to 1-3-2 in its last six on home ice with Sunday's 2-1 loss to Washington. Helm scored for Detroit, which failed to cash in on a 91-second 5-on-3 power play in the second period.
"We could have shot the puck better on (the 5-on-3)," coach Mike Babcock said. "When you end the 5-on-3 when you didn't score, you're disappointed, period."
Petr Mrazek lost his third straight start despite 26 saves. He could cede the net to Jimmy Howard, who accounted for the team's only win in the past five games, a 3-2 shootout victory at Minnesota on Saturday.
Howard has posted a 1.99 goals-against average in four career starts against the Hurricanes (29-39-11), while Mrazek made 34 saves in a 3-1 victory at Carolina on Dec. 7.
Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg has been very quiet lately, scoring one goal in 18 games since returning from a head injury. He could be poised for a breakout Tuesday, tallying nine goals and 15 points in 12 games against the Hurricanes.
This will be a homecoming for Carolina coach Bill Peters, who returns to Detroit where he served as an assistant coach for three seasons before taking the Carolina job in June.
Peters' team opened a three-game trip Monday with a 4-3 loss to league-worst Buffalo despite a 52-25 shots advantage. The Hurricanes spotted the Sabres a 4-0 lead before a late rally fell short.
"You generate 50-plus shots, you think there's some looks there," Peters said. "There was enough quality, you just can't allow yourself to give up four and try to mount a comeback."
The Hurricanes have been outscored 18-6 during a four-game road skid.
With Cam Ward starting Monday, backup Anton Khudobin could get the chance to record a rare victory. He's 0-3-3 with a 2.89 GAA in his last six starts and has only two wins in his last 16 appearances.
The Red Wings were 16-0-0 with one tie at home in the regular season against the Hurricanes franchise before Carolina's 2-1 win on April 11, 2014.