The Ottawa Senators and Chicago Blackhawks have nearly identical records with 17 games remaining, though the makeup of their respective division and conference races has one team riding high and the other feeling desperate.
Ottawa seeks its seventh victory in eight tries Friday night when it hosts Chicago, which is fighting to keep its grasp on a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Senators (34-23-8) are making a run at the Northeast Division crown, pulling closer with a 1-0 win over first-place Boston on Tuesday.
The Senators have gone 7-1-1 after a potentially damaging seven-game skid Jan. 21-Feb. 7, and are feeling good about their chances to win the division and succeed in the postseason.
However, coach Paul MacLean said his squad is looking to improve its position.
"Yes, we're having some success and yes, we're pleased with where we are in the standings. But I don't think we're in a position to sit there and say with any confidence 'we're here' or we're locked into anything," MacLean told Ottawa's official website. "We just try to continue to take it on a daily basis and a game-by-game basis, and keep trying to get a little bit better."
The Blackhawks (34-24-7) are in a much more precarious situation.
While the Eastern Conference has one team - the New York Rangers - with more than 80 points, Chicago is behind three clubs with 80-plus points in the Central Division alone.
The Blackhawks sat atop the NHL standings Jan. 20 but have since slipped to the sixth seed in the West with multiple teams nipping at their heels. They ended a three-game skid with a 5-4 win over Toronto on Wednesday, but they've lost 12 of 17 overall and 13 of 15 on the road.
Making matters worse, captain Jonathan Toews has missed the last five games with an upper-body injury - reported to be a concussion - and there is no timetable for his return. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson has been out 10 of the last 11 games with concussion-like symptoms.
Marian Hossa scored twice Wednesday, and Patrick Kane also scored to give him goals in consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 10-11.
"We'll try to get some wins, get some points and try to finish the season strong," Kane said. "For sure, we're desperate. We're in the back half of the West, so how can you not be?"
Both teams have interesting situations at the goaltender position, though for different reasons.
Robin Lehner made 32 saves against Boston for his first shutout in his eighth career start and has won the last two games. He's helped the Senators recover from an injury to Craig Anderson, who reportedly sliced his finger while prepping food in his kitchen last week.
Lehner likely will be in net Friday, though the picture is not as clear for the Blackhawks.
Corey Crawford was pulled for the second straight game after allowing three goals on 10 shots in the first period Wednesday, and Ray Emery made 23 saves over the final 40 minutes.
The duo ranks near the bottom of the league in combined goals against per game (2.92) and save percentage (.901), and it's unclear who will start Friday.
Chicago has won six of the last eight meetings, with four victories coming in either overtime or a shootout.
- Chicago Blackhawks