Thanks to their torrid three-month run to the top of the standings, the Boston Bruins have the NHL points lead and an ample cushion atop the Eastern Conference.
If they don't end their longest losing streak of the season soon, however, they could find themselves without either of those advantages.
Boston will try to avoid a fifth straight defeat as it continues a five-game road trip Tuesday night, with the Bruins looking to complete a four-game season sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Bruins couldn't have been much more consistent than they were from Nov. 1-Feb. 5, going 34-5-3 with the help of an explosive power play and the league's best defense. Boston leads the NHL with a 2.18 goals-against average.
The Bruins (39-10-8), though, are 0-2-2 since that stretch, as they've sputtered offensively and totaled four goals in the last three games. Boston's power play, third in the league at 25.0 percent at the All-Star break, is 0-for-14 during the skid and 2-for-36 in the last nine games.
Right wing Phil Kessel had an 18-game point streak earlier this season and leads the team with 24 goals, but hasn't scored in 12 straight games. He has three assists in nine contests since returning from a bout with mononucleosis.
"As I explained to him, don't wait for it to happen," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "Go out there and make it happen."
The Bruins managed only 25 shots on goal in Saturday night's 3-2 shootout loss at Nashville, and Julien said Monday that he'll shake up the top two lines against Carolina, pushing rookie Blake Wheeler up alongside leading scorer Marc Savard and Kessel down to the second line to skate with center David Krejci.
"We haven't been scoring as much as we'd like to lately, and you've got to kind of move guys around a little bit and see if that will spark things," the coach said.
Despite its slide, Boston has a nine-point edge in the East over New Jersey and Washington, and is three points ahead of West-leading San Jose despite losing 5-2 to the Sharks last Tuesday.
The Bruins have won all three meetings with Carolina this season, using empty-netters to secure a pair of 4-2 wins in late December. They dominated the Hurricanes in a 5-1 home victory Jan. 10.
"We won't be bragging about that game," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
Carolina (28-24-5) was proud of its most recent effort, however, as the club put 47 shots on goal in a 3-0 win at Buffalo on Sunday night.
The Hurricanes quickly got back on track after getting outscored 10-1 in their previous two games, home losses to Florida and Columbus. Staal was a minus-5 in those games, while Ward allowed eight goals on 32 shots.
"The bottom line is we had to respond," Staal said. "Any time you have embarrassing home losses, you remember that. And I thought everybody did tonight and responded well."
Wins are particularly precious for Carolina, which is three points behind the Sabres and Panthers - the teams occupying the seventh and eighth spots in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes are trying to avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season after winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.
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