For the second straight season, the Carolina Hurricanes are heating up as they enter the final three months.
Even if the Hurricanes can duplicate last season's run, it might not be enough to make the playoffs. However, they have an opportunity to exit the Eastern Conference cellar Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers, who will try to avoid matching their franchise-worst winless streak.
After a 21-20-5 start in 2008-09, Carolina won 24 of its final 36, including a club record-tying nine in a row, to finish sixth in the East. The Hurricanes eventually reached the conference finals, falling to Pittsburgh.
Their chances for consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 2000-01 and 2001-02 took a big hit this season with a 5-17-5 start, which included a franchise-worst 0-10-4 skid.
Carolina (19-28-7) enters Monday with five wins in its last six games and has outscored opponents 18-5 over four consecutive victories, its longest run since those nine straight wins March 18-April 7.
"I think this (win streak) is what we all expected," center Matt Cullen said. "It's disappointing that it comes so late, but at the same time, it's there and we have a lot of pride."
That includes Saturday night's 4-2 home win over one of the league's best teams, Chicago.
Cam Ward made a season-high 39 saves in his 22nd straight appearance. Brandon Sutter and Cullen scored in a 26-second span in the third period, but Eric Staal ended a five-game goal streak.
The recently named captain, though, extended his point streak to eight with an assist. Staal, the team leader with 18 goals and 43 points, has eight goals and five assists since Jan. 15.
Ward has won five straight starts while posting a 1.40 goals-against average. If he can help Carolina earn another point Monday, it will pass Toronto in the East. Both teams currently have 45 points.
"I feel very comfortable in net," Ward said. "But that's a result of the guys playing in front of me. You can see the guys play extremely hard. You can see we're playing with a lot more confidence. It just urges myself to come up with those key saves."
He could face an Oilers team that has a league-low 38 points and has been outscored 84-39 while dropping 20 of 21. Edmonton has also been outscored 52-24 during an 0-11-2 skid, including Saturday night's 6-1 drubbing at Calgary.
Sam Gagner tied it at 1 in the first period with his fourth goal in five games, but the Flames scored four times in the next 22 minutes to put the Oilers (16-31-6) within one defeat of matching a 14-game winless streak from Oct. 11-Nov. 7, 1993. They lost 13 games and tied one during that slide.
"There's only one place to go and that's up," defenseman Tom Gilbert said. "We just have to keep working through this. There are things we can do to correct our game, to make it better, and it all starts in practice."
The teams have split their last six meetings, but Edmonton earned a 3-1 victory in Carolina last season as Ethan Moreau scored twice.
They've also split their last four at Rexall Place but will play there for the first time since Dec. 6, 2006.