(AP) — Claude Julien was upset but didn’t overreact recently when the Boston Bruins dropped a home-and-home set with one of the league’s best teams. After watching his team blow a third-period lead against one of the worst, the coach was much less forgiving.
Another bottom feeder awaits in the opener of a six-game road trip Thursday night, but this one is suddenly surging and the Bruins are trying to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss as they face a New York Islanders club seeking a fifth consecutive win.
Boston (31-19-7) beat Montreal 8-6 last Wednesday – its fourth win in five games – for a four-point cushion over the second-place Canadiens atop the Northeast Division heading into a pair of games against Central-leading Detroit.
The Red Wings outscored the Bruins 10-3 in two defeats that had Julien lamenting his team’s mistakes, but it took a loss to Toronto on Tuesday for the coach to vent his frustration. Boston led 3-2 with less than seven minutes to play but gave up two goals – including one with 1:01 remaining – in a 4-3 loss.
“Unacceptable,” Julien said. “I think it’s one of those situations where if you have any sense of pride, you’re embarrassed about tonight.”
That may have been particularly true because the loss came at home to a Toronto team which is one of only eight yet to reach 60 points. The Islanders (21-29-7) are also in that group.
After surrendering 20 goals in four games, the Bruins – who allowed an average of 2.15 goals in their first 53 contests – are no longer the league’s stingiest team. More importantly, they’re now tied with Montreal for the division lead.
A six-game road trip could be what Boston needs. The Bruins are 15-12-3 at TD Garden, but they’re 16-7-4 away from home.
“I think it’s important to take a step back and look at what we need to rectify,” Julien told the team’s official website. “Obviously, we have quite a few games coming up and haven’t had the opportunity to practice as well as we have.”
Figuring out what’s wrong with their penalty kill could be the first step. Boston has let its opponents score nine times in 22 chances (40.9 percent) with the man advantage over the past five games.
That’s left the Bruins rumored to be looking for defensive help prior to the trade deadline, but after Tuesday’s loss they acquired some offensive help. Boston sent a second-round pick to Ottawa for center Chris Kelly, who has 12 goals and 11 assists.
Kelly has two goals and three assists in four games versus New York this season.
These days, though, the Islanders hardly look like pushovers. New York has scored 20 goals during its winning streak, which hit four with a 4-3 shootout victory Tuesday at Ottawa.
“That’s another big step for us because we did not have our best game and we found a way to get two points,” forward Kyle Okposo said.
A victory Thursday would give the Islanders their first five-game winning streak since a six-game run Feb. 12-21, 2008.
Michael Grabner has been more responsible than anyone for their improved play. The rookie forward has totaled 10 goals while scoring in six consecutive games.
“Every shift he’s out there, you notice him,” goaltender Nathan Lawson said. “He’s flying around and he always seems to get pucks in great areas. … It’s unbelievable.”
Grabner went scoreless in a 5-2 loss at Boston on Dec. 9 in the teams’ only matchup this season. The Bruins are 9-1-1 in the last 11 meetings, and Tim Thomas has gone 6-0-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average in that span.
Updated February 16, 2011
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