The Carolina Hurricanes are making a serious playoff push, though they'll still need to keep collecting points to end a seven-year postseason drought.
That hasn't been an issue in recent meetings with the Ottawa Senators, who'll look to build off a needed win of their own when the teams face off Thursday night.
Near the bottom of the Eastern Conference on Jan. 7, Carolina has closed within two points of a playoff spot by going 10-3-3 since. It's earned a point in five straight following Tuesday's 2-1 win over Winnipeg, in which Jordan Staal and Riley Nash had power-play goals to support Eddie Lack's 20 saves.
Solid defense has sparked the surge, as the Hurricanes' 2.13 goals-against average over the 16-game stretch is among the league's lowest. They're allowing 26.7 shots on goal per game this season, second-fewest in the NHL.
''Defensively, we have nothing to complain about right now,'' Lack said.
Carolina (26-21-10) has been less consistent on the offensive end, but it's been getting timely goals and a big lift from Staal. The veteran center has six goals and 13 assists over his last 17 games to tie injured defenseman Justin Faulk for the team lead with 34 points.
"I don't know who's playing better in the league," coach Bill Peters said. "I don't watch every game but I'll tell you what, he's playing very, very well. He's playing valuable, big minutes, and he's coming through."
The Hurricanes could have plenty of chances against a Senators team that's allowing a league-high 33.1 shots per game and ranks 29th in penalty killing. Carolina owned a 46-21 shot advantage in a 3-2 home overtime win Nov. 7 to improve to 5-0-2 in the last seven matchups. The Hurricanes won both 2014-15 meetings at Canadian Tire Centre and are 4-1-1 in their past six visits.
Ottawa (26-26-6) sits six points out of a playoff spot but gained some ground with Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win over Buffalo, its first in four games since acquiring defenseman Dion Phaneuf from Toronto on Feb. 9.
''With the position that we're in, we need to find a way every night to rally for two points and that's the start of it,'' said forward Bobby Ryan, who had the first of two Senators' scores in the shootout. ''Now we need to get ready for a different test (on Thursday).''
Craig Anderson maintained his strong recent play with 38 saves. He's 3-2-0 with a 1.59 GAA and .952 save percentage over his last five starts.
Anderson continues to do his best work at Canadian Tire Centre, where Ottawa is 15-10-4 and has won three of four. He's registered a 2.17 GAA in 23 home starts compared to a 3.46 mark in 23 on the road.
Carolina could have Cam Ward back in net after he missed Tuesday's win with a lower-body injury. Ward, 6-0-1 with a 1.54 GAA in his past seven games against Ottawa, has allowed seven goals in four starts since returning from a concussion after the All-Star break.
Faulk, who had a goal and an assist in the teams' previous meeting, will miss a fourth straight game with a leg injury.