The Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks have been playing some of their best hockey of the season lately, but it likely won't be enough to get either team into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Heading into Sunday's contest in Anaheim, Calif., the two Pacific Division rivals sit near the bottom of the Western Conference standings with less than four weeks left in the regular season.
It's just a matter of time before they both suffer the same fate as the Ducks' most recent opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Friday with Anaheim's win.
The Ducks (23-36-10, 56 points) enter Sunday's game with the Canucks having won six of their past 11. The contest also marks the halfway point in an eight-game homestand.
The Canucks (30-33-5, 65 points) are in the third contest of a busy stretch in which they play eight games in 13 days. It is the final contest of a three-game road trip that included a two-game swing through Southern California.
The Canucks' 3-2 win in a shootout Saturday over the Los Angeles Kings leaves Vancouver in sixth spot in the Pacific Division, nine points ahead of seventh-place Anaheim.
Anaheim will look to repeat its success against Columbus. Max Jones scored the tiebreaking goal on a breakaway with 2:37 remaining as the Ducks beat the Blue Jackets 7-4.
Defenseman Scott Harrington scored twice for Anaheim, which snapped a two-game losing skid. It was the first multi-goal game of his career and came against the club he played with for six seasons.
Troy Terry reached the 20-goal mark for the second consecutive season and gave the Ducks a 4-3 lead early in the final period.
Trevor Zegras opened the scoring at 3:19 of the first, firing the puck into the open goal with Columbus goaltender Michael Hutchinson out of position. It was Zegras' 22nd goal of the season and also gave him eight points (five assists) in the past eight games.
The Ducks are one of a half-dozen teams that are in the running for the draft lottery and the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, which would net the lucky winner a likely future superstar.
Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins said the Ducks expect to get a good player in the draft regardless of whether they bag Bedard.
"It's a lottery," Eakins said. "Finishing at the bottom guarantees you nothing. I've seen teams lose the lottery and end up with the best player in the draft. .... I don't know. Go buy a 6/49 (lottery) ticket. It's the same kind of thing."
As for Vancouver, J.T. Miller scored the final goal in the shootout and Thatcher Demko made 38 saves as the Canucks beat the Kings to post their sixth victory in seven games.
"I think this group has responded," Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said during Saturday's pregame practice. "We have done a really good job the last couple of games with our forecheck, our offensive zone possession time, and our defending has been really good."
The Kings outshot Vancouver 12-2 in the second period, as the Canucks managed just six shots on goal through the first two periods.
This is the third game of a four-game season series between the Vancouver and Anaheim. The Canucks won the first game 8-5 on Nov. 3 and also secured a 3-2 victory in overtime earlier this month.
They will meet again in Anaheim on April 11.
--Field Level Media