The Dallas Stars have been a fixture in the Western Conference playoffs for the last decade, while the Columbus Blue Jackets have never reached the postseason in franchise history.
But the two teams find themselves in the same position going into Monday night's matchup in Columbus, as they're tied in the standings and both looking to remain a leg up on a crowded cluster of contenders in the West.
The Blue Jackets (28-23-5) have moved up the standings by going 14-7-1 since Christmas, and they're hoping to ride rookie goaltender Steve Mason's breakout season to their first-ever berth in the postseason.
Mason made 26 saves in Columbus' 5-1 over Carolina on Saturday night, helping his team match a season high with its fourth straight win. The club hasn't won five in a row since December 2006.
"We've put together a pretty good stretch of hockey," Mason said. "I think everybody realizes what's at stake with the games left this season. We have to take advantage of it. The standings, every day they change."
After Saturday's games, one of those changes was Columbus pulling even with the Stars, who lost 6-2 at Chicago that night. But Dallas (27-21-7) has also played well lately, winning eight of its last 11 to help bounce back from a slow start to the season as it seeks a 11th postseason appearance in the last 12 seasons.
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The two teams are both in playoff position, but they're hardly alone in the West. Just six points separate the duo from 13th-place Phoenix.
Mason's seamless return from mononucleosis has Columbus especially confident of its prospects. While leading scorer Rick Nash had three assists against the Hurricanes, including one on each of Kristian Huselius' two goals, the Blue Jackets remain a defensive-minded club, and Mason has emerged as the backbone.
The rookie, who leads the NHL with a 2.06 goals-against average, missed three games earlier this month with the illness, which was slowing him down when he lasted barely half a period and gave up three goals on eight shots in the Blue Jackets' 7-3 home loss to Dallas on Jan. 31.
But he has stopped 58 of 61 shots in a pair of victories since his return.
"We know we have the personnel. We know we have the ability. We know we have the game plan to get wins now," center Manny Malhotra said. "... When (Mason) is standing on his head the way he is, that boosts our confidence."
Dallas has also received strong goaltending lately, with veteran Marty Turco rebounding from a dismal start with a strong stretch of play lately. Turco's 2.83 GAA still ranks as his career-worst, but he's 8-3-0 with a 1.70 GAA in his last 11 starts. He has started a franchise-record 26 straight games.
Even though he was pulled from Saturday's loss to the Blackhawks after two periods, he made a number of big saves early, and Stars coach Dave Tippett said he made the move because his defense was "leaving Turco out to dry." Turco stopped 24 of 27 shots in 40 minutes.
"That's not how we want to be perceived as a team," Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas said of the game.
The Stars will also try to reignite an offense that has totaled just four goals in the last three games after averaging 5.0 in the previous six contests. They've scored 16 goals in three meetings with the Blue Jackets this season, going 2-0-1, but they hadn't faced Mason until the most recent matchup.
Dallas has earned at least a point in each of its last 10 trips to Nationwide Arena, going 8-0-2 over that span.