BRUINS (40-26-3) at PANTHERS (33-23-13)
TV: NESN (HD), FS-F
Boston 4-6-0; Florida 6-3-1
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season. Boston has won two of the first three, including a 3-2 shootout win in their last visit to South Florida on Jan. 16.
Big Story: Two teams with slim leads on their respective divisions will look to create some space when they face off Thursday in South Florida. With three straight losses, Boston's lead in the Northeast has dwindled to two points over Ottawa. Florida has won two straight, keeping the Panthers atop the Southeast - at least for the time being.
Bruins: After challenging for the top spot in the East in January, Boston has been little better than a .500 team over the past month and a half -- and has been outscored 15-6 in losing its last three games. A three-game road swing started with a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, then devolved further on Tuesday in Tampa Bay. With Tuukka Rask sidelined with a lower-body injury and starter Tim Thomas struggling, Marty Turco earned the start. But the veteran didn't last long.
Turco was beaten three times in the first 4:31 and was replaced by Thomas, who allowed two goals on five shots. Turco returned for the third period, allowing the final goal - Steven Stamkos' 50th of the season - in a 6-1 loss.
"Our goaltenders, both of them, know they probably have to be better for us, but so does the rest of the team when you look at the mistakes that are made," coach Claude Julien said Wednesday. "So right now, today was one of those days where we're trying to fix things a bit and bring a little bit more stability to our game and confidence.
"The guys ... are just as discouraged as anybody else as far as the results are concerned, but what we're trying to do right now is to create some determination and turn things around."
Panthers: Florida has won the first two games of a four-game homestand to stay a point in front of Washington in the Southeast Division race. More important is that Winnipeg has dropped seven points behind the Panthers, who are trying to end a playoff drought that dates to 2000. On Tuesday, Florida thwarted a desperate Toronto team with a 5-2 win. Sean Bergenheim scored twice and Jose Theodore stopped 26 shots for his third straight home win. Florida converted two power-play chances, just their second and third in 21 tries spanning seven games.
"We knew the power play needed to put up the momentum, if not some goals," defenseman Jason Garrison said. "We kept things simple and just tried to put pucks on net and we were able to create some stuff out there."
Who's Hot: Theodore has two straight wins and three in a row at BankAtlantic Center. He has a 1.82 goals-against average over his last 16 home games. Theodore was 9-0-1 with a 1.59 GAA in 10 matchups with Boston, but allowed four first-period goals before getting pulled in an 8-0 defeat on Dec. 23.
Injury Report: Boston winger Benoit Pouliot (lower body) is doubtful for Thursday, while Adam McQuaid (upper body) is questionable. Rask is out 4-6 weeks, and Rich Peverley (sprained right MCL) and Nathan Horton (concussion) are on injured reserve. ... Jack Skille (shoulder), Kris Versteeg (lower body), Matt Bradley (upper body), Scottie Upshall (sports hernia surgery) and Dmitry Kulikov (knee surgery) are all on injured reserve for the Panthers, though Versteeg and Kulikov are practicing and could be back within days.
Stat Pack: This game could come down to the opening shifts. Boston has trailed at least 2-0 in its last three games, while Florida has taken 2-0 leads in its two recent wins.
Puck Drop: With a day off between games in the Sunshine State, Julien decided that Wednesday was a good day to hold a back-to-basics practice in an effort to get his team out of its funk.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back," he told the team's website. "The one thing we have to do is minimize our goals against and we have to do that by being in better position and having the right number of people in the right places so we don't have as many breakdowns."