A season-high fourth straight victory for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday evening could be enough to pull the club into the playoff picture, a scenario that didn't seem likely for a better part of the season.
The Caps try to pick up those two big points against the New York Islanders, who themselves remain in the playoff hunt despite recent struggles.
Washington got off to a 2-8-1 start and dropped another three straight games from March 9-12, a span that began with a 5-2 loss at the Islanders, but have since responded with a victory in five of seven. That has the Capitals tied with the Isles for 10th in the Eastern Conference, one point back of the Carolina Hurricanes and two behind the eighth-place New York Rangers.
The Hurricanes host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, while the Rangers are visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.
It's no surprise that the Capitals surge has been led by Alex Ovechkin, who has scored six times over a five-game goal streak and has logged 16 points in 13 games this month.
Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had goal and an assist before scoring during the shootout of Sunday's 3-2 win over the Rangers. Braden Holtby made 30 saves and stopped 3-of-4 in the breakaway frame.
"We've been playing good hockey for a while," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Desperation or just solid hockey, I'm not quite sure. Obviously, the points are important for everybody and we played good."
The Islanders are hoping to get on track after snapping a three-game slide with Sunday's 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers to close out a four-game homestand.
Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves for his third shutout of the season, fifth with the Islanders and 55th of his career.
New York has gone 6-4-1 this month after winning only four times in 14 games in February.
"Consistency is the word we preach," Nabokov said. "It's not like it hasn't been there, because it has, but we have to make sure we get the results that we want. I've been saying this, and it sounds cliche, but it's not easy to win. Sometimes you need a little bounce here, a bounce there. Today, we made sure the bounces were on our side."
Andrew MacDonald scored in the first period to give Nabokov all the support he would need. John Tavares and Casey Cizikas both added empty-net tallies.
"We needed a win," Tavares said. "Games are starting to quickly tick down and we need the wins. There's not too many home games left and we haven't been very consistent over the season here. You've got to finish on a good note. Our fans deserved it."
The Islanders will now play their next four on the road, where they have won four of their past five and are 8-4-1 this season compared to 6-11-2 at home.
Tavares scored a pair of power-play goals just 30 seconds apart in the third period of the March 9 win over the Capitals as the Islanders won for just the fourth time in the past 17 games of this series.
Backstrom had a goal for the Caps, who are 6-1-1 in their past eight at home versus the Isles.