The Boston Bruins’ lingering slump has left their position atop the Eastern Conference in jeopardy, but they’ve shown signs lately that they could be turning it around at home.
The Los Angeles Kings have shown little reason for optimism on the road, and their recent skid seems likely to have more dire consequences.
The Bruins will try for a fourth straight home win Thursday night against Los Angeles, which has lost six consecutive road games as it fades from playoff contention in the West.
One of the NHL’s most consistent teams for the first four months of the season, Boston (45-17-9) has been anything but steady over the past six weeks, stumbling on a 6-9-3 stretch that has New Jersey and Washington quickly closing what was once a wide gap in the race for the East’s top seed.
The Bruins’ latest loss was 6-4 at Pittsburgh on Sunday, as the Penguins scored four third-period goals to come from behind. Boston’s beleaguered penalty kill allowed two goals on eight chances, with opponents going 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) in the last nine games.
“You can’t look at anybody but yourself,” rookie right wing Blake Wheeler said. “Obviously there’s calls you don’t really like, but that’s part of the game. We can’t put them on the power play that much, and we did.”
Boston has been erratic offensively during its swoon, but defense was the problem against the Penguins as Tim Thomas matched a season high with five goals allowed.
Bruins opponents have scored at least four goals seven times in the last 18 games - more times than in Boston’s previous 45.
“Our guys, I thought, competed hard (Sunday), but they did not compete well,” coach Claude Julien told the Bruins’ official Web site. “And it resulted in penalties and it resulted in scoring chances against. I mean, the slot opportunities that team had against us last game was as (many) as I’ve seen our team give.”
Still, Boston is hoping a three-game home winning streak is a sign of progress. On the heels of their first three-game home skid of the season, the Bruins have beaten Chicago, Ottawa and the New York Islanders to improve to 24-6-5 at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The Kings (29-30-10) used a five-game road winning streak last month to climb back into contention, starting that run with four victories against East teams. But they’ve now lost six in a row (0-5-1) away from home, falling to 13th place in the West.
Thursday opens a six-game road trip for Los Angeles, which plays 10 of its final 13 away from home and knows it needs to improve its play on the road.
“We know we can do it,” center Michal Handzus said. “We did it when we went to the East Coast earlier in the year. We’ve got to get better.”
Los Angeles enters the trip having dropped three straight and nine of 13 overall, including Monday night’s 4-3 loss to Nashville. Handzus tied the game midway through the third period, but Erik Ersberg allowed the game-winner with 2:18 left.
“I don’t want them to put this game behind them,” coach Terry Murray said. “There’s learning points in the season and this is real important here for us to understand what is going on.”
Jon Quick could return to the net against Boston. A Connecticut native, Quick starred collegiately at the University of Massachusetts.
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