The Detroit Red Wings have won five straight to build a 10-point lead in the Central Division. The San Jose Sharks have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the last month, but are still in a precarious position.
The Sharks are the club in greater need of points as they open a three-game road trip against the Red Wings on Tuesday night.
Detroit (37-16-6) has the third-highest point total in the league and trails Vancouver by five for the Western Conference lead. The Red Wings are on their longest run since winning seven in a row March 20-April 1, 2010.
San Jose (33-21-6), however, has been hotter since Jan. 15, with 25 points from 15 games compared to Detroit's 20 points in that span. Only New Jersey and Calgary have more points over that stretch.
The Sharks' 72 points, though, only put them slightly ahead of two teams with 70 and several more with 68 that are fighting for the West's last few playoff spots.
"We're not out of the woods," coach Todd McLellan said. "Tough road trip coming up."
San Jose will face Detroit, Pittsburgh and Calgary on the road swing. The Sharks and Red Wings have split two meetings in 2010-11, with each winning on the road.
Antti Niemi has been a major reason for the Sharks' surge, going 11-2-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average while starting every game since Jan. 15. He notched his third shutout in the last eight outings with a 25-save performance in a 4-0 victory over Colorado on Saturday.
"It always looks good when the team is playing so well," Niemi said. "For me, it's more experience, more comfort and being more patient."
Niemi has posted a 1.63 GAA in winning all three of his starts at Joe Louis Arena.
"I think early in the year we tried to rely on certain individuals to carry the team and when they weren't going well, we didn't get a push from anybody underneath them," McLellan said. "And right now, everybody seems to be finding a way."
The former Red Wings assistant probably won't be happy to see Detroit winger Todd Bertuzzi, who has six goals in his last five games.
The 36-year-old Bertuzzi failed to score in his 1,000th game Sunday, though he came through with the shootout winner in a 2-1 victory at Minnesota. He became the 263rd player in NHL history to reach the milestone.
The Red Wings won a defensive battle after scoring 20 goals over their previous four games. Dan Cleary has six points during the team's five-game run.
Both clubs excel on the power play, with San Jose at 22.8 percent and Detroit at 20.8. The Sharks have three power-play goals in their last two contests following an 0-for-11 drought, while the Red Wings are in a 6-for-50 slump.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard has a league-leading 30 victories and is 3-1-1 with a 2.56 GAA in his career against San Jose.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every NHL game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.