After a late stumble brought an end to their five-game winning streak, the Boston Bruins are out to prove it was just a hiccup during their surprisingly strong start.
The Bruins will look to begin a new run on the road on Monday, when they'll play their fourth straight game against a different Original Six rival and their third this season versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Boston was perhaps the NHL's hottest team entering its game at the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Saturday night, having won five straight games and eight of its last nine.
With a 2-0 lead more than halfway through the final period, the Bruins (10-3-4) looked primed for another victory, but the Rangers responded with a pair of late tallies and beat Boston 3-2 in a shootout.
Coach Claude Julien's club has still allowed two or fewer goals in six consecutive contests, and behind strong play from goaltenders Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, has the best team goals-against average (2.06) in the East. Boston's previous two games had been victories against Chicago and Montreal, Original Six clubs with a combined 17-8-7 record this season.
"I don't think one overtime loss should cause us to push the panic button, but I think we just have to realize what got us in trouble (Saturday)," Julien told his team's official Web site. "I thought in the third period they just came at us hard and we did not respond well enough."
The Bruins' stingy defensive unit will now have to respond without one of its most consistent players. Veteran Andrew Ference, who missed Saturday's game after blocking a shot during a 6-1 win over Montreal on Thursday, was ruled out for six to eight weeks with a broken tibia.
"It's an opportunity for (Matt) Hunwick to get back in the lineup," Julien said. "Good clubs find ways to compensate for losses of good players."
Just how good the Maple Leafs (7-7-4) are remains unclear, especially since Toronto has alternated wins and losses in its last five games.
The Leafs closed out a three-game road trip through western Canada with a 4-2 loss to Vancouver on Saturday despite outshooting the Canucks 30-15. Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala, whose .878 save percentage is the worst in the East, was chased after allowing four goals on nine shots in 29 minutes.
"We felt like we let some points get away on this trip, we know that," forward Matt Stajan said. "We've got some big games coming up, on Monday a chance to regroup and then Saturday (against Chicago). We've got to put this one behind us and learn from it and hopefully get back on a winning track."
The Northeast Division rivals have already met twice in Boston this season, with the Leafs earning a 4-2 win on Oct. 23 before the Bruins responded with a 5-2 victory Nov. 6.
Traveling to the Air Canada Centre typically hasn't fazed the Bruins, who've earned at least a point in 10 of their 12 games in Toronto since the NHL's season-long lockout in 2004-05. They're 7-2-3 over that span, including a 3-0-1 mark last season.
It's unclear which of Boston's goalies will play Monday, but Fernandez - a Toronto native - has never won in his hometown, losing all three of his starts there.
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