As playoff talk picked up toward the end of last season, neither the Anaheim Ducks nor the Columbus Blue Jackets were involved in any such discussions.
With 2013 brings a much different vibe.
Anaheim looks to build off a big victory in its quest for the Western Conference's top seed Sunday night as its road trip continues versus a Columbus team very much in the postseason hunt.
The Ducks finished 15 points out of a playoff spot last season and returned many of the same players in 2013 from that disappointing campaign.
Anaheim (23-7-4) has been much better in its first full season under coach Bruce Boudreau, though, sitting three points behind Chicago for the West lead after sweeping the three-game season series with the Blackhawks with Friday's 2-1 victory.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak as the Ducks made their second stop on a four-game road trip.
"That's the way we have to play," said Corey Perry, whose goal gave him four points in the last four games.
Anaheim scored first after having fallen behind by at least two goals to begin each of its previous three games.
"We wanted to have a good start. It was the focus of our night," said defenseman Sheldon Souray, whose goal with 2:08 left broke the tie. "It's been our Achilles' heel the last few games. First-period goals have hurt us more than last-period goals."
Though Boudreau was pleased with the result, he knows his team must make some improvements to ultimately catch Chicago. The Ducks have scored two goals or fewer in four of their last five.
"It was a really good test for us," Boudreau said. "We're not out of the woods by any stretch."
While Columbus is hoping to make its second playoff appearance in the franchise's 12-season history, it still has plenty of work left to make that happen.
The Blue Jackets finished with an NHL-worst 65 points in 2011-12 and traded cornerstone Rick Nash in the offseason. Coach Todd Richards' team, though, is within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Columbus (14-14-7) hurt its cause by dropping the first three of a four-game road trip but salvaged the finale with a 6-4 win over Calgary on Friday.
Vinny Prospal, R.J. Umberger and Mark Letestu each had a goal and an assist as the Blue Jackets tied their season high for goals.
"What stands out is the two points, no matter how you get them," said Prospal, who scored his team-leading 10th goal after going 11 games without one. "Sure, maybe coaches or goalie coaches would love for the scoring to be a little lower but for the offensive guys, it's great."
Columbus now returns home, where it has gone 8-0-3 over its last 11.
"We've been finding a way to win these games lately and those are the games that help get you into the playoffs," winger Matt Calvert said.
Perry and Ryan Getzlaf each scored and Jonas Hiller made 25 saves in a 3-2 win over Columbus on Feb. 18 as Anaheim improved to 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings.
Hiller is 4-0-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average in his last six starts versus the Blue Jackets, who could counter with Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky, who made 26 saves in the first meeting, has dropped each of his three career starts versus the Ducks while posting a 3.74 GAA. However, he's 7-0-2 with a 0.88 GAA at home this month.
The Associated Press News Service
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