The last time the Panthers visited Ottawa they were a zombie team mired in a seven-game losing streak that had just gotten their coach fired.

That was the careful-what-you-wish for situation that Peter Horachek walked into on Nov. 9 for his long-awaited first game as a head coach in the NHL.

"You could feel that they weren't a very confident team. They didn't believe at that point, so that was a tough situation," Horachek said Wednesday.

The Panthers return to the Canadian capital on Thursday riding their first four-game winning streak since 2012. That they have climbed to the fringe of playoff contention by winning six of the past seven is a testament to the dramatic transformation since losing Horachek's debut 3-2.

The losing streak would reach nine before gaining traction that has them 10-8-1 since the coaching change. Impressive as that is, it has not yet gotten the interim tag removed from Horachek's title.

Horachek said his future isn't an immediate concern.

"Down deep, do you want things to progress further and [have] a longer future? Yes," he said. "You can't control that.

"In this situation, our guys are in a better place and they're working at it and they're believers now. The next step is to keep winning."

Likewise, Horachek isn't getting caught up in considering playoff possibilities. The Panthers have moved to within three games (six points) of Toronto for the final spot in the Eastern Conference under the format instituted this season. Five other teams were within three points ahead of them going into Wednesday's action.

Panthers? Playoffs?

The notion would have been ludicrous even two weeks ago. Now they are back in the conversation, which began following Tuesday's 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. Cautiously.