RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes are playing playoff hockey just to get into the postseason.
"We've been playing some pretty good playoff hockey, I think," Matt Cullen said after scoring three goals in the Hurricanes' 5-2 victory over Colorado on Sunday.
• The Canes have now won three straight, outscoring their opponents 15-5 along the way.
• Matt Cullen earned his first career hat trick in his 786th career game.
• The victory snapped Carolina's 15-game winless streak against Colorado. It was the Canes' first victory against the Avs since Feb. 9, 1996, when they were known as the Hartford Whalers.
-- ESPN research
"I think the guys have realized the opportunity that we have in front of us. We're right on the doorstep. We've talked a lot about bringing a playoff mentality right now, and we've seen that the last few games and gotten results."
Carolina has won three straight and four of five to move within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes also are just four points out of fourth place.
Cullen had the first hat trick of his 11-year NHL career. He scored in each period, the last an empty-netter to delight the sellout crowd of 18,860 at the RBC Center.
The Hurricanes also got goals from Joni Pitkanen and Ryan Bayda in snapping the Avalanche's three-game winning streak. Colorado was playing the second game of a six-game trip.
"We had eight power plays and we didn't get any goals, so that was disappointing," defenseman Pitkanen said. "But we got two points, so that's what's most important."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said the key to making a run at the playoffs was keeping an even keel. He's been all the way to the Stanley Cup finals with this team in 2002, during his first stint as Carolina's coach.
"You look at the standings and you say, 'You're always chasing eighth,'" Maurice said. "But we're four points out of fourth. ... We've won four of the last five games. Had we not, it'd be over. Then you're sitting eight points back, and you're in a world of trouble. Being able to handle that, and not getting too excited about a win like today, that's the key to this time of the year."
Cullen recorded his 400th career NHL point with his second goal, which came early in the second period and gave Carolina a 2-1 lead.
Pitkanen followed up Tuomo Ruutu's shot with 2:54 left in the second period to give the Hurricanes a lead they would not relinquish.
Andrew Raycroft made 34 saves for the Avalanche. ... Chad LaRose had two assists for Carolina ... Cullen now has 19 goals for the season, moving him past Ray Whitney for second on the team behind Eric Staal (27 goals). ... Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was part of the Military Appreciation Day crowd.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Arena: PNC Arena Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Referees: Stephane Auger, Gord Dwyer Linesmen: Brian Mach, Jean Morin
Attendance: 18,680 (99.7% full)
Team Stat Comparison
Power Play Goals
Power Play Opportunities
Shots on Goal
Wojtek Wolski (14)
Matt Cullen (17)
Assists: Chad LaRose, Joni Pitkanen
Matt Cullen (18)
Assists: Chad LaRose, Ray Whitney
Darcy Tucker (6)
Assists: Chris Stewart, Brett Clark
Joni Pitkanen (6)
Assists: Tuomo Ruutu, Dennis Seidenberg
Ryan Bayda (5)
Assists: Jussi Jokinen, Anton Babchuk