Both the Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators put together remarkable second-half runs to reach last season's playoffs. Only one seems headed for an encore.
Nearing a fourth consecutive postseason trip, the resurgent Wild aim for a seventh straight win in Thursday night's meeting with the visiting Senators.
The Wild are on pace to extend another roller-coaster season by coming through during the stretch run, though it took an organizational shakeup to foster this midseason rally. Minnesota (38-28-11) is 15-6-1 since interim coach John Torchetti replaced Mike Yeo on Feb. 13 to move five points clear of Colorado for the West's final wild card with five games remaining.
''I think it was just a stand by all of us in this locker room. Enough is enough,'' defenseman Matt Dumba said. ''We were sick of losing games to probably teams we shouldn't and ended up beating the ones that were higher up in the standings that we knew we could.''
Such surges are nothing new for the Wild. They went 28-9-3 over their final 40 games last season and 23-10-7 over the last 40 of 2013-14, earning wild-card spots under Yeo each time.
Torchetti has them playing like serious contenders once again. The Wild have outscored opponents 14-3 over their last three wins while yielding eight goals over the streak, and they've been stellar on special teams. They're 27 of 28 on the penalty kill over the past 11 games and have converted 24.1 percent of power-play chances since the coaching switch.
''It's my job, when I took over, to gain the players' confidence that I trust them in all situations," he said. "I think once players trust, not just their coach but their teammates, they're able to play the game faster.''
Minnesota moved within one of its longest winning streak since a seven-game run from March 14-27, 2013, with Monday's 4-1 victory over slumping Chicago, three nights after increasing its playoff hopes with a 4-0 win at Colorado. Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter each had a goal and an assist against the Blackhawks to support another sharp effort from Devan Dubnyk, who's posted a 1.30 goals-against average while starting each game of the streak.
Haula is on a career-high nine-game point streak and Niederreiter has six goals over that stretch.
Ottawa (35-33-9) nabbed one of the East's wild cards with a sensational 21-3-3 finish to last season but won't be duplicating that feat, having been eliminated with Philadelphia's win over Washington on Wednesday.
The Senators did their part to try to stay alive, opening a three-game trip with Wednesday's 2-1 win at Winnipeg. Last in the NHL in shots allowed, Ottawa held the Jets to 21 to halt a three-game skid.
"That was one of our best defensive efforts," goaltender Andrew Hammond said. ''The biggest thing that sticks out in my mind is the shot blocks throughout the game at key times. Whether it was on the penalty kill or at the end of the game there when they had the goalie out, that was a huge part.''
The Senators have had the upper hand against the Wild of late, going 3-0-1 in the last four meetings and winning nine of the past 11. Erik Karlsson capped a three-point night by scoring the deciding goal in a 3-2 overtime victory in Ottawa on March 15.
Ottawa had won four straight in Minnesota before a 3-2 shootout loss last March.
With Hammond working Wednesday's win, the Senators are expected to turn back to a struggling Craig Anderson. The veteran goaltender has allowed 10 goals in losing all three starts since a 23-save effort against the Wild.