The Carolina Hurricanes have moved into prime position going into the final weeks of the regular season.
To keep that lofty status carrying the best record in the NHL, they need to keep it going. There's a good chance of that Saturday night against the struggling Detroit Red Wings in Raleigh, N.C.
"They dig in," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said of his players. "These guys have worked their butts off and that's why we're finding ways to win."
The Hurricanes won two games earlier this week against Florida, moving past the Panthers to the top of the Central Division standings. The Hurricanes moved to 27-9-3 on the season, matching the Toronto with 57 points, but Carolina has played one fewer game than have the Maple Leafs.
The rise has come with contributions across the board. Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck share the team lead with 16 goals apiece -- and they've both reached significant marks in recent games.
Trocheck has a 12-game streak with at least one point. That includes seven goals during that span.
"It's not an accident," Brind'Amour said. "He's doing it right."
Aho notched the 300-point mark in his career with a goal Thursday night. That has come in 349 games -- all with Carolina.
The Hurricanes beat Florida on Thursday despite having only 22 shots on goal -- one more than their fewest of the season.
Detroit hasn't found the groove despite glimpses of promise.
"It's an every-day league and you have to show up every day," Detroit center Luke Glendening said.
The Red Wings are 1-2-2 this month. Their most-recent result was a 7-1 loss Thursday night to Nashville.
It's difficult for the Red Wings to explain such defeats.
"I thought we were moving in the right direction," Glendening said. "I'm saying we still can't move in the right direction."
Unless there's an incredible finishing stretch, the Red Wings -- who are 13 points out of the playoffs and would have to pass four teams to get there -- are bound to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
"It doesn't have to be gone," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said of some recent gains that seemed to be in the works. "We can decide that on Saturday."
The Hurricanes have a complex goalie situation even with two shutouts in the past three games. Petr Mrazek had a shutout in his return from an absence of more than two months with a blanking of Dallas on Sunday.
Then Alex Nedeljkovic had his third shutout in his past 12 outings in Thursday's game. Of the team's 27 wins, the duo of Nedeljkovic and Mrazek combined for 13 victories. The team lead at 14 wins belongs to James Reimer.
"That's the biggest thing right now is just getting wins," Nedeljkovic said. "You've got three guys right now playing at a high level."
Carolina has won three of the five meetings with Detroit this season. This will mark the Red Wings' second game of the year in Raleigh, with the other being a 5-2 Carolina victory on March 4.
"We have to outwork and outcompete teams on a nightly basis to give ourselves a chance," Glendening said.
Carolina is entering the second half of an eight-game homestand. Overall, the Hurricanes are 14-2-3 at home this season.
--Field Level Media