The Boston Bruins have surprised the NHL with their improved play for much of this season. If they don't show further improvement soon, though, they could miss their third consecutive postseason.
The Bruins look to snap a season-high five-game losing streak when they visit the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday.
Earlier this season, goalie Tim Thomas was the primary reason for Boston's surprising success following a last-place Northeast Division finish in 2006-07. Since missing seven games with a groin injury, though, Thomas has allowed 11 total goals while suffering three straight losses.
The Bruins' defensive struggles have been exacerbated by injuries to blueliners Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts and Bobby Allen, who all missed Friday's 4-3 loss to Carolina.
Thomas made 33 saves but the Bruins (18-15-4) were outshot 37-21.
Boston has allowed at least four goals in each of its last four games, the first time that's happened since November 2006.
"I wish I could have let in a couple less because we need wins no matter how we get them," Thomas said.
The Bruins are hoping to avoid finishing their three-game road trip winless. They had gone 4-0-1 in their last five road games before the trip, but have lost at Pittsburgh and Carolina to drop to 10-9-2 away from home.
Atlanta (18-19-1) will be trying to avoid its fourth losing streak of at least three games this season. The Thrashers started the 2007-08 season with six straight losses, then dropped three in a row to close November and four straight from Dec. 8-15.
They spent Christmas enjoying a four-game winning streak, but lost 2-0 at Columbus on Wednesday and 5-3 at home to Florida on Thursday. League-leading goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk found the back of the net twice against the Panthers to increase his season total to 31, but Kari Lehtonen allowed four goals on 28 shots before a Florida empty-netter sealed the game.
"Any time you get down in this league, it's so hard to come back," Atlanta right wing Mark Recchi said. "We battled hard and kept trying to do the right things. Tonight was one of those nights you deserve better."
Poor goaltending has hurt the Thrashers this season. Kari Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg have respective goals-against averages of 3.18 and 3.16.
Lehtonen had played better recently, allowing two goals in each contest of a six-game stretch, but struggled again Thursday. One Florida goal bounced off his glove, while he swept another across the line after making the save.
"You usually get one goal like that every few games, but tonight they got four," Lehtonen said. "Very frustrating. We played well enough to win. Everyone showed up today and played very hard. They were just lucky. They got the breaks."
The Bruins visited Atlanta on Dec. 12, winning 5-3 despite two goals from Recchi and one from Kovalchuk. That contest ended a six-game winning streak for the Thrashers against Boston.
Atlanta right wing Marian Hossa has at least one point in his last five games against the Bruins, with three goals and six assists in that span.