Two months ago, no one would have predicted the Ottawa Senators would enter the final day of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs - let alone in control of their own fate.
Yet that's exactly the position they are in, needing merely one point. In fact, the Senators will enter the postseason as the league's hottest team if they finish off their stunning turnaround by winning on the road Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I've never been on a run like this with a hockey team and it's been special," winger Clarke MacArthur told the NHL's official website. "It's hard to overanalyze it yet. You want to get in. That's the whole goal. But it's been a lot of fun all the way."
Ottawa (42-26-13) headed into play Feb. 10 tied for the third-fewest points in the Eastern Conference with 49, 14 back of a playoff spot. The Senators seemed all but assured of missing the postseason but instead turned in the NHL's best record over the past two months, going 22-4-4.
Still, they hadn't climbed into playoff position until Thursday when they beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers 3-0 behind another stellar performance from Andrew Hammond. That result and Boston's 4-2 loss at Florida pushed Ottawa into a wild-card spot, which it can clinch Saturday by recording one point or with the Bruins losing later in the day at Tampa Bay.
The Senators can also get in with a loss if Pittsburgh loses at Buffalo in regulation later Saturday.
"I think this is probably very improbable," Hammond said after making 26 saves. "The good thing is myself and the team included have just taken it one game at a time. As big of a hill as it has been to climb, I don't think anyone has been overwhelmed at any stage."
As astonishing as the Senators' push has been, the fact that an undrafted, 27-year-old rookie goaltender has fueled it is just as bewildering. Hammond is 19-1-2 with a 1.76 goals-against average in 22 starts since being called up from the AHL. That GAA is down to 1.58 during the Senators' current 5-0-1 stretch.
Another name few knew heading into the season has keyed Ottawa's surge. Mark Stone has totaled 33 points in the past 30 games, and the 22-year-old is riding an eight-game point streak during which he has six goals and five assists.
MacArthur, out nearly six weeks with a concussion before returning late last month, has at least one point in every game during the 5-0-1 run. Kyle Turris has a five-game point streak and has totaled eight goals with 10 assists in the past 15.
"Through this stretch we've had all kinds of guys take the bull by the horns, and that's what you need," coach Dave Cameron said.
The Flyers (33-30-18) didn't have that happen. They were within four points of a playoff spot Feb. 22 before losing 11 of their next 14 games to fall out of the chase.
They did put together a 4-0-3 streak before running into a familiar problem Thursday - playing down to the competition. Philadelphia lost 3-1 to Carolina for its 11th consecutive loss to a team not contending for the postseason.
"I'm mystified, for sure," coach Craig Berube said. "You have to prepare yourself, compete and skate and work that same way. You have to bring it."
Philadelphia will finish with its fewest points in a non-shortened season since 2006-07.
Both matchups between these teams have gone to shootouts, with each winning at home 2-1. The only one Hammond played was a win March 15 when he made 27 saves and stopped all three of Philadelphia's shootout attempts.
Jakub Voracek scored that night and has five goals during the Flyers' current 4-0-2 streak in the series. Voracek, though, went without a point Thursday to stay at 81 and remain fourth in the NHL, likely ending his hopes for the scoring title.