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Defending champs hit stretch run seeking answers

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Boston Bruins wrap up a three-game road trip Thursday night at Florida looking to avoid being swept. Just as important, the defending Stanley Cup champions are looking for answers.

Boston didn't just lose at Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in its last two games, the Bruins were embarrassed by scores of 5-2 and 6-1.

The blowout losses have given Thursday night's game against the Panthers added importance beyond the tightening Eastern Conference standings, and center Patrice Bergeron realizes the level of urgency his team is feeling.

"It's high," he said. "We need to find answers. We need to build some ground and get those points. It's a huge game for us right now. We know there's not much time left before the end of the season and we need to get on a roll. We're not happy with the way we're playing right now and we need to find answers."

Boston will enter Thursday's game on an overall three-game losing streak, during which it has been outscored 15-6. The 15 goals represents the most goals the Bruins have allowed over a three-game span all season.

There have been problems lately in all facets.

Over their last six games, the Bruins are 0-for-13 on the power play. In their last five, they've allowed five power-play goals on 16 chances.

And then there's the slow starts. In their last three losses, the Bruins have found themselves down by at least two goals in the first 8:15 every time. Against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, it was 3-0 after only 4:31.

"I wish there was one answer because then it would be easy to address it," center Chris Kelly said. "When you get behind the 8-ball like we have, you put yourself in a tough, tough position, especially at this point in the year. Teams have found their game, especially defensively when they go up by one, let alone two or three or even four. Our starts are key, and we need to be much, much better starting hockey games."

Coach Claude Julien looks at the overall picture and says the Bruins need to go back to playing more of a team game.

"We're not a team that relies on one or two players to bail us out, we've done it by community in the past," Julien said. "We also realize what we have here and what we're all about, and our strength has been as a pack, not as individuals. So we need to play within our strengths, and if we're going to get ourselves out of it, like a lot of players have told you, it's not about one guy. It's about all of us picking up our game and putting us back in the right direction."

Despite the Bruins' recent struggles, don't think for a second the Panthers will be taking them lightly. If nothing else, they remember too well the teams' Dec. 23 meeting in Boston that ended in an 8-0 rout for the home team.

"That's a team that put a pretty good Christmas beating on us on the 23rd, sent us on our break licking our wounds a little bit," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "You know what, every team has their stretches where you go through droughts. Boston's success has come in great quantum bunches. Right now it's not happening that way, but too much respect for that organization and that coaching staff to (think) that they won't be ready and prepared for tonight's game."

As they try to break out of their funk, the Bruins can found some solace in their ability to overcome adversity last year on their way to the Stanley Cup title.

They could even look at their only other three-game losing streak this season, which occurred in late October. After the third consecutive loss, 4-2 at Montreal on Oct. 29, the Bruins reeled off 10 consecutive victories -- the longest winning streak in the NHL this season.

"No one is feeling sorry for us around the League or around the hockey world," Bergeron said. "We're in this together, and that's how we're going to get out of it. We can learn from experiences in the past that we have the character to come out of it. We've just got to go out there and do it."
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