It will take an unfortunate collapse for the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers to miss the postseason, and their chances of finishing in the top two positions in the Eastern Conference seem much more realistic.
Florida is riding its longest winning streak in four years, though it will have to avoid a sixth consecutive loss to host Philadelphia on Tuesday night in order to extend that run.
The Flyers (42-22-8) continued their dominance over the Panthers with a 5-0 win at Wells Fargo Center on March 8. Florida (35-23-13) has gone 4-0-1 since that defeat, improving its Southeast Division lead while inching closer to Boston for the conference's No. 2 seed.
The Panthers extended their winning streak to four Saturday by beating Buffalo 3-2 in a shootout. It's their longest since a seven-game run March 2-16, 2008.
"We've got a long, long road until the end of the season," coach Kevin Dineen said. "It'll be a tough stretch for us. We know there's some quality teams that we're going to face, but I like going out on the ice with these guys every day."
One such tough opponent will be a Philadelphia squad Florida can't seem to solve.
The Flyers have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 after rallying for a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, when Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game with less than a second remaining in overtime.
Philadelphia is in fifth place in the East, one point behind the fourth-place Penguins and within striking distance of the conference-leading New York Rangers.
"It was a playoff game," Hartnell, who scored in the last meeting with Florida, said Sunday. "One step closer to getting home ice (advantage in the first round)."
The Panthers are fighting for the same thing, and defenseman Ed Jovanovski said each game is critical toward accomplishing that goal.
"We've got something going here and we've got to find a way to keep it rolling," Jovanovski said. "This time of the year is the best time. Every point is crucial."
Goaltender Jose Theodore has been a major reason for the Panthers' current run.
After allowing five goals against the Flyers nearly two weeks ago, Theodore is 4-0-1 with a 1.36 goals-against average.
Philadelphia has been riding its netminder lately as well, with Ilya Bryzgalov improving to 8-0-1 with a 1.19 GAA in March after making 38 saves versus Pittsburgh.
One of Bryzgalov's four shutouts this month came against Florida and improved him to 4-0-1 with a 1.36 GAA in five lifetime starts versus the Panthers. He'll likely be in net again as the Flyers continue their five-game homestand.
"A five-game home stretch when you're going to play good is huge for our confidence and for our fans," forward Jakub Voracek told the team's official website. "It's getting to playoff hockey almost and hopefully we're going to play like that for the rest of the year."
Bryzgalov made 31 saves to beat the Panthers 3-2 in the first meeting Nov. 13, and Claude Giroux - who is battling for the Art Ross Trophy - had two assists in the most recent matchup after netting the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory Jan. 24.
- The Flyers