It has been one major test after another for the Carolina Hurricanes, who are hardly easing toward the playoffs as they try to hold onto first place in the Metropolitan Division.
There's no breather with the Tampa Bay Lightning visiting for Tuesday night's game in Raleigh, N.C., as the Hurricanes wrap up a four-game homestand.
Carolina (47-16-9, 103 points) just completed a stretch of three games in four days against the New York Rangers, Toronto and Boston.
"It gives you an idea of what the top teams are like," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "You know how hard it's going to be. Not that you didn't know. Certainly, these teams are ramping it up and they've got some elite, high-end players."
The Hurricanes are 1-1-1 on the homestand, coming off Sunday's 4-3 shootout setback to Boston. They've learned to play with grit against several different styles from high-charged opponents.
"They dig in all the time," Brind'Amour said. "I'm most proud of the group when just whatever way it's going, they just keep playing."
Center Sebastian Aho seems to be getting back in a groove. He went seven consecutive games in early March without a point, but he has posted at least one goal in four of Carolina's last five games.
The Lightning (42-26-6, 90 points) have lost four consecutive games, failing to score more than two goals in any of those outings. This game against Carolina will conclude a four-game road stretch for the Lightning.
The Lightning also played their most recent game against the Bruins. They lost 2-1 on Saturday, yet it was an encouraging performance.
"Just understand that if we play like this, we're going to be a nightmare to meet," Tampa Bay forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said.
Now the Lightning will face an Eastern Conference divisional leader for the second straight game.
Tampa Bay played 19 games in a 33-day stretch, marking the busiest slate for 33 days in franchise history. The team's back-to-back off days could provide some refreshment.
The Lightning showed a physical side in the Boston game, something that coach Jon Cooper suggested needs to continue.
"It was good for us," Cooper said. "It was an identity for us."
The Hurricanes, who have 10 games remaining in the regular season, are continuing to adjust without Andrei Svechnikov. The team's lone All-Star this season recently had season-ending knee surgery.
"I think there's still a little feeling out there because he did so much for us in that offensive threat mentality," Brind'Amour said. "You can't replace that, so we're trying to find different ways to get it done."
Carolina had veteran forward Paul Stastny back in the lineup Sunday. He took the place of Jesse Puljujarvi, who was a trade-deadline addition. Puljujarvi had played in eight consecutive games without a point since making his first appearance with the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes have won both games this season against Tampa Bay, claiming a 4-3 shootout victory Nov. 3 in Tampa and rolling to a 6-0 triumph March 5 in Raleigh. Teuvo Teravainen posted a hat trick in the meeting earlier this month. Goalie Frederik Andersen was the winner in both games.
--Field Level Media