The Boston Bruins have clearly played like one of the Eastern Conference's top teams, which is perhaps why their last result was so disappointing.
A matchup at home Thursday night against the struggling Florida Panthers should provide Boston with a good opportunity to bounce back.
The Bruins (17-4-3) won three in a row and nine of 11 prior to a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Tuesday. With a 2-0 advantage going into the third period, they appeared set for a victory over another one of the league's elite teams, but threw it away with a series of defensive breakdowns.
Boston had been 8-2-1 when entering the final period with a lead.
"You hope that you can with a 2-0 lead going into the third, you hope you can get the job done," left wing Milan Lucic said. "We need to learn from this, giving up leads going into the third if we want to be an elite team."
It was the second leg of only the third back-to-back games of the season for the Bruins, but players dismissed that as an excuse - especially considering they still have three back-to-back sets remaining. The next is this weekend with a home game against Washington before they get another crack at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"It's nothing that you can control, that's your schedule," center Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his team-leading 16th assist Tuesday, told the team's official website. "I hope it's not an excuse, because we're going to go through that a lot more the rest of the year."
Before the back-to-back set over the weekend, the Bruins will face a Florida team that has the fewest points in the NHL and has dropped seven of nine in the series.
The Panthers (7-14-7) are trying to end a four-game skid and have also lost seven of eight. Florida has been plagued by numerous issues, but poor goaltending has been the most significant. No team has given up more goals (101) and the Panthers have yielded at least three scores in 10 of their last 11 contests.
That weakness was magnified in a 3-2 home loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, which came despite outshooting the Lightning 39-13, tied for the fifth-highest shot differential in franchise history.
"That's the nature of the game sometimes," said right wing Jack Skille, who has one point in each of his last four games. "You've got to battle through it. We've got to grind it out."
With Jose Theodore, the team's most veteran option in net, sidelined for three to five more weeks with a leg injury, the situation doesn't appear to have much promise moving forward. Jacob Markstrom has gotten the last five starts and struggled with a 3.41 goals-against average, and he's surrendered a goal in the game's first 2:35 in four straight.
Scott Clemmensen hasn't looked much better with a 4.28 GAA over 11 games - six starts - this season.
Goaltending hasn't been an issue for the Bruins, with Tuukka Rask's .927 save percentage ranking among the league leaders. Though he hasn't been announced as the starter for Thursday, Rask is 5-1-0 with a 0.98 GAA and two shutouts in six career starts against the Panthers. He turned aside 34 shots in a 4-1 win in Florida on Feb. 24.
The Panthers have been anemic on the power play, going 0 for 14 over the last seven games. Breaking the slump could be difficult against the Bruins, who lead the NHL with a 92.6 penalty-kill percentage.
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