Neither the Carolina Hurricanes nor Ottawa Senators are counting themselves out of the Eastern Conference playoff race until it’s mathematically impossible.
Until then, both clubs could use every point they can manage.
The Hurricanes look to beat the Senators for a seventh time in eight meetings when the postseason longshots meet Monday night in Ottawa.
Carolina (32-32-10) trails Columbus by eight points for the East’s final wild-card spot with eight games remaining, and it missed a chance to pick up some ground with Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets.
The Hurricanes are 2-1-1 over their last four and have dropped 11 of 17 since the Olympic break after blowing a pair of leads Saturday.
”For whatever reason, we can’t seem to get that one that falls for us and it goes the other direction,” captain Eric Staal said. ”Our compete, our work ethic, for the most part has been there. We’ve got guys that care. We’ve got guys that try. That’s not our problem.”
The postseason officially isn’t out of reach quite yet, and coach Kirk Muller isn’t planning on letting the Hurricanes give up on trying to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
”We don’t think we’re out yet,” Muller said. ”We’re going to push.”
The Senators (31-29-14) are doing just that, going 3-0-1 over their last four to sit two points ahead of the Hurricanes. They tied their season high for goals in Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Calgary and have won the first two of a five-game homestand.
Milan Michalek scored twice in the first period, and Kyle Turris netted two of Ottawa’s four unanswered goals to finish the game. The Senators had dropped five straight in Ottawa prior to this homestand.
"It was a huge win for us," Michalek said. "We came out really well in the first and we kind of let up in the second, and kind of let them back in the game. We talked about it in the locker room after the second period, and in the third we came out strong and scored some big goals, so it’s a big win for us."
Coach Paul MacLean is using the old adage of taking one game at a time as the Senators fight to improve their postseason chances.
”We’ll have to continue to play hard in those games and I’ll like where we’ll be at the 82-game mark,” MacLean said. ”I might be dreaming but that’s what I believe.”
The Hurricanes, whose only defeat in the last seven games in the series came in their last visit to Ottawa on April 16, have won both meetings with the Senators this season. Staal had a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win Nov. 24 and scored in a 6-3 victory Jan. 25.
Anton Khudobin made 23 saves in the second matchup and has won all four of his career starts against the Senators while posting a 1.75 goals-against average. He’s 2-2-1 with a 1.79 GAA in his last five starts overall.
Robin Lehner stopped 37 shots for Ottawa on Sunday, meaning Craig Anderson is likely to be in net for this matchup. Anderson missed five games with an upper-body injury before returning to make 46 saves in Friday’s 5-3 win over Chicago.