The Carolina Hurricanes own a season-best, five-game winning streak, but they figure their play still can get better.
That might have to be the case Thursday night when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of eight of their last nine games, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
The Hurricanes had been mired in a slump before the recent surge, but one good thing has followed another. They will try to cap off their three-game road trip by extending the streak.
"Winning breeds that," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's kind of a snowball effect, just like losing is. ... We're finding ways to win right now without playing our best. That's a good sign. We know we can get better."
Tampa Bay responded from its only recent setback by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 on Tuesday night on the strength of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's shutout.
"Our team has played really well this season," said Vasilevskiy, who returned to the Lightning about a month ago after missing a month of action. "I didn't play for a while and (needed to) find that consistency. ... I think we're getting better and better with boxouts and coverage in the zone."
The rewards are starting to come Vasilevskiy's way. He has two shutouts in 23 outings this season.
"He has deserved probably more than he has (been given) this year," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "There's ups and downs through the year. He has been the rock behind us for the last couple of years now so I never worry about that."
Cooper said he has been stressing puck management because he would prefer not to put so much on Vasilevskiy's shoulders.
Much of Carolina's uptick has been supplemented by newcomers turning in productive stretches.
Right winger Saku Maenalanen scored his first NHL goal in his fifth career game in Tuesday night's 4-3 victory at the New York Islanders.
"He gets a huge, huge goal for us," Brind'Amour said.
That pretty much continued a recent trend. Center Greg McKegg debuted with the team last week and he has posted four points across three games.
The Hurricanes have been playing without veteran center Jordan Staal, so the players called up from the American Hockey League have filled crucial roles.
"Those guys have really contributed," Brind'Amour said. "It has been a huge boost. We have injuries and we've had one of our best players out of the lineup and we have to figure out how to mix and match just to get by and these are the guys who are helping out."
Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin scored a power-play goal against the Islanders, becoming the 14th defenseman in franchise history to reach the 100-point mark in his career.
Tampa Bay right winger Ryan Callahan missed Tuesday night's game with an upper-body injury.
This will be the Lightning's second home game amid a stretch of six of eight games on the road.
Tampa Bay defeated the Hurricanes 4-2 at home in October. Their third meeting of the season comes in March in Raleigh, N.C.
--Field Level Media