A season-best four-game winning streak has the Anaheim Ducks thinking about a push up the Western Conference standings, just as the banged-up Boston Bruins are trying to avoid a stumble in the East.
A three-game West Coast trip likely won't help matters for the Bruins, who begin in Anaheim on Wednesday night hoping to avoid a third straight defeat and avenge an embarrassing home loss to the Ducks three months ago.
Anaheim (20-19-7) is still in the Pacific Division cellar, but it may have finally found a groove in what has been an inconsistent season, capping its four-game run by becoming the sixth road team in 26 games to win in Chicago.
The Ducks' 3-1 win over the Blackhawks on Sunday featured Jonas Hiller's 42 saves. He has allowed six goals during the winning streak, and has won nine of his last 12 starts to help solidify the back end for a team allowing more than 3.0 goals per game this season.
"We've developed something the last few games," Hiller said. "That's what we need to do to get back to the playoffs. If we keep playing like we did tonight, we have a real good chance."
Anaheim still ranks 12th in the West, but it could be further boosted by veteran right wing Teemu Selanne, who has scored in each of his first two games following a month-long absence due to a broken hand.
Selanne scored twice during a 6-1 win at Boston on Oct. 8, as the Ducks scored all six goals on reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas.
That was part of a shaky start for the East's top seed from last season, but the Bruins seemed to gain momentum with a 13-4-3 stretch that culminated in a 2-1 overtime win over Philadelphia in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on New Year's Day.
That spark has faded, though, as Boston (22-15-7) has lost three of four, including the last two at home to fall 10 points behind Northeast Division-leading Buffalo. The Bruins went more than 108 minutes without scoring until Dennis Wideman's late goal in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday.
With big right wing Byron Bitz also out for the last two games, Boston signed veteran forward Miroslav Satan last week to help fill the voids.
"When you play with a lineup you have right now, you almost have to play a perfect game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
Stuart (broken sternum) and Bergeron (broken thumb) did make the trip west, where the Bruins will also face San Jose and Los Angeles, although it's unclear if either will play Wednesday.
"If (the injuries) are affecting psyches, we have to find a way to get around it quickly," Thomas said.
Boston's offense could certainly use a boost after scoring two or fewer goals in four of the team's last five games. Lucic, limited to 12 games this season due to injuries, is still looking for his first point since returning.
The Bruins have not visited California since October 2007, when they lost 2-1 at Anaheim before beating the Kings and Sharks.