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After playing outstanding hockey for most of the season, the Boston Bruins currently find themselves in a bit of a funk.
The Eastern Conference-leading Bruins look to regroup during a six-game homestand that opens Tuesday night with their second meeting in four days against the Florida Panthers.
Boston (40-12-8) collected points in six straight games following the All-Star break (5-0-1) but has since compiled just four during a 1-4-2 slide.
That stretch was capped with back-to-back defeats in the state of Florida, as the Bruins fell 2-0 to the Panthers on Saturday night before losing 4-3 at Tampa Bay the following day. Manny Fernandez gave up the decisive goal with 1:33 left in regulation Sunday as Boston completed a 1-1-3 road trip.
Despite those disappointing results, coach Claude Julien remains confident his team can rebound, particularly because of its latest performance. The Bruins outshot their last three opponents by a combined 118-96 margin, totaling a season-high 43 shots to the Lightning's 18 on Sunday.
"We've got to work our way back to where we were," Julien told the Bruins' official Web site. "It took us a month to really slip and it's probably going to take a month to get back to where we want to (be).
"But we've got to take (another) step in the right direction in the next game by giving the same kind of effort."
The Bruins will try to do that at TD Banknorth Garden, where they are 19-4-4 despite losing four of their last six (2-1-3).
Boston has just one win in its last six home meetings against Florida (30-21-8), but has won two of three overall matchups in 2008-09. The Bruins will be trying to take the season series for the first time since a four-game sweep in 2001-02.
After spending 14 of their last 19 contests in Florida, the Panthers open a five-game trip - a stretch that includes stops against Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey and Washington - the Southeast's first-place club.
The trip could play a pivotal role in helping Florida earn its first playoff berth since 2000. It enters tied with Buffalo for seventh in the East with 68 points, one ahead of Carolina.
"Five games on the road right now against the top teams in the league. ... It will be a great test for us, and we are ready for that," winger Radek Dvorak, who scored both goals against the Bruins Saturday, told the Panthers' official Web site.
"The thing is, if you're gonna make the playoffs, it doesn't matter if you play at home or on the road. The big thing is, get two points each game and play good hockey."
The Panthers have been doing that behind Tomas Vokoun, named the NHL's second star of the week after posting two shutouts in his last three games. He stopped 115 of 118 shots in that span, turning aside all 41 versus Boston on Saturday.
Vokoun, though, sat out Monday's practice with the flu, and coach Peter DeBoer said he'd be a game-time decision. Florida backup Craig Anderson, who hasn't played since Feb. 3, is 2-2-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average in four carer games versus the Bruins.
It's unclear who will be net for Boston.
Tim Thomas made 27 saves in Saturday's loss at Florida, dropping him to 2-6-1 with a 4.31 GAA in 10 career matchups. Fernandez, meanwhile, is mired in a personal 0-1-2 slide but has stopped 57 of 58 shots in winning his last two games versus the Panthers.
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