The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning were expected to be top contenders in the Eastern Conference, though each has underachieved to this point.
If recent history plays a role, Washington has a solid opportunity to improve its position.
The Capitals seek their 11th win in 13 home meetings against the struggling Lightning, who hope to avoid a sixth consecutive loss Friday night.
Washington (22-17-2) won for the fifth straight time at the Verizon Center by beating Pittsburgh 1-0 on Wednesday to avoid a third loss in a row.
Jason Chimera scored and Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves, including a big stop late in the game on Evgeni Malkin.
"He made all the good saves that he had to make," center Matt Hendricks said. "When we needed him to make that great save, he was there, as well."
Washington is 10-9-1 under coach Dale Hunter, who was hired Nov. 28 after the team fired current Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau.
Though the Capitals, winners of four straight Southeast Division crowns, haven't played up to their expectations, Hunter said they can stay in the East race by winning close games like Wednesday's.
"Everybody watches the standings," Hunter said. "It's so tight that you need every win."
Chimera scored twice in a 6-5 shootout win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 10, improving the Capitals to 20-3-1 in the last 24 meetings in the series.
Washington is 10-1-1 at home in that span against the Lightning, who haven't proven to be close to the same team that came within one win of the Stanley Cup finals last season.
Tampa Bay (17-21-4) lost for the fifth straight time Thursday, 5-2 to lowly Carolina. It allowed four first-period goals and has been outscored 24-11 during its skid.
"I would say this is the hardest one to take this year," coach Guy Boucher said. "We always talk about attitude first, work ethic and then discipline, and in the first period we had none of those."
Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell scored for the Lightning, who didn't get a goal from Steven Stamkos for only the second time in eight games.
Stamkos leads the league with 29 goals and had nine in six games prior to Thursday, but he has only one goal and two assists in his last nine contests against Washington.
Mathieu Garon allowed three goals on eight shots in a little more than 15 minutes before being replaced by Dwayne Roloson, who made 22 saves.
"You know what, we get up for the big games against the big teams," Boucher said. "I don't think we're being very respectful to teams like Carolina, or anybody else that is a little bit lower in the standings than the top-three teams in the conference.
"We can't have that, period. We're not in a position to think that we're better than any other team."
The same goes for the Capitals, who haven't gotten a point from Alex Ovechkin over the last three games.
He went scoreless in the first meeting, though he has 14 goals and 21 assists over his last 20 games versus the Lightning.