Thanks to the Atlanta Thrashers, the Carolina Hurricanes now have control of their playoff destiny.
The Hurricanes know that if they win their final two games without going to a shootout they'll claim a postseason spot as they visit the Thrashers on Friday night.
Carolina (39-30-11) gained control of its postseason fate when Atlanta (34-34-12) beat the Rangers 3-0 on Thursday. The Hurricanes trail New York by two points and Buffalo by three.
The Rangers have one game left and the Hurricanes have two, and both have 34 non-shootout wins. That means that Carolina will clinch a spot with two such victories.
The Hurricanes, who host Tampa Bay in their finale Saturday, would also get in with four points achieved in any matter if the Sabres lose their last two games in regulation or a Rangers loss.
Carolina has surged into contention by going 7-1-1 since March 18. Eric Staal has amassed 12 points in that stretch, rookie Jeff Skinner nine and forwards Erik Cole and Cory Stillman eight apiece.
"I think we're really coming into our own, playing good, five-man hockey,'' Staal said. "It's the time of year when you've got to have your game going to get into the playoffs. We like to think we're right there, and hopefully we can follow it up ... and be right where we want to be."
The Hurricanes have won four straight on the road, with Cam Ward posting a 1.71 goals-against average in those games. Ward has a 2.07 GAA during this nine-game stretch, and made 42 saves in Wednesday's 3-0 home victory over Detroit.
"I think he's the best goalie in the league," forward Tuomo Ruutu said. "He's a big reason why we're still in the fight."
Carolina is 4-0-1 against Atlanta this season, and has won five straight meetings at Philips Arena.
The Hurricanes, however can expect a tough matchup Friday, however, since all five meetings in 2010-11 have been decided by one goal.
Staal and Skinner each have been limited to three points in the season series. Ruutu, Cole and defenseman Joni Pitkanen all have four points in the five games.
Bryan Little is the most productive Thrashers skater in those matchups with four points, while Dustin Byfuglien has been limited to one in four meetings.
Ward is 5-0-1 with a 2.11 GAA in his last six starts against Atlanta, posting a 1.71 GAA in winning his last four on the road.
The Thrashers are back home after going 2-3-0 on a five-game trip that ended on a positive note Thursday when Rob Schremp had a goal and an assist. Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves for his fourth shutout to damage New York's playoff hopes.
"It doesn't matter who you are playing against," Pavelec said. "Of course it was a big game for them, but it doesn't mean anything for us. We always want to win."
Pavelec is 1-1-2 with a 3.18 GAA against the Hurricanes this season, but 0-4-0 with a 4.05 GAA in four home career starts against them. Chris Mason is 2-2-1 with a 1.39 GAA in five career starts against Carolina.