The Chicago Blackhawks have drifted away from their usual dominance in recent weeks, a trend that could leave them on the road to begin the playoffs.
They’re in fine shape compared with the Boston Bruins, whose poor play could keep them out of the postseason entirely.
The Bruins visit Chicago looking to end a six-game losing streak.
Chicago (35-19-5) has gone 10-9-3 in 2015 and matched its worst defeat of the new year with a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday.
Niklas Hjalmarsson and Patrick Sharp took third-period penalties that led to two power-play goals for the Avalanche, and Corey Crawford whiffed on a bouncing shot from center ice to allow Colorado’s final tally – all in the span of 3:08.
"I don’t think there’s a whole lot of emotion, judging by the way we played," center Jonathan Toews told the Blackhawks’ official website. "Not too many good things to say about our effort tonight. It’s up to us to be prepared. … It’s up to each individual to bring a little bit more. We just didn’t have anyone giving us that spark tonight."
Penalty killing and goaltending had been the Blackhawks’ primary strengths. Chicago entered the night ranked atop the league with an 88.0 penalty-kill percentage, and Crawford, who will be in net again Sunday, had allowed only four goals in his previous three starts.
”(Friday) we just fell off the horse,” Toews said of the Blackhawks, who are in third place in the Central Division.
Patrick Kane is among the league leaders with 63 points, but was held without a point for the third consecutive game – his longest drought of the season. Kane last went four contests without a point March 28-April 2, 2010.
He’ll look to end that drought against Boston (28-21-9) and Tuukka Rask, who figures to make his 17th consecutive appearance.
The Bruins failed in their attempt to give Rask a rest Friday. The veteran was forced into service after rookie Malcolm Subban allowed three goals on six shots in his first career start and was pulled in the second period of Boston’s 5-1 loss in St. Louis.
”We’d like to get a little bit of a break with some good goaltending from our backup,” coach Claude Julien said. ”And I guess we’ll have to go back to the drawing board and look at how we want to approach this.”
Boston is in the midst of its longest skid since a 10-game slide Jan. 7-Feb. 6, 2010, dropping itself into a tight race for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot with Florida.
The Bruins have averaged 2.13 non-shootout goals this month, putting them in the bottom third of the league but still above the Blackhawks’ February output of 2.11. Boston outshot the Blues 27-15 but managed two or fewer goals for the fifth time in eight games.
"I see encouraging signs. At the same time, I don’t want to accept losing, but I think we’re heading in the right direction here," Rask told the Bruins’ official website. "But we’re running out of time, and when I say running out of time, we’ve got to start winning soon here. Our next challenge is Chicago, and we’ve got to go there with the same intent of putting the same effort."
Boston won’t have David Krejci for this one after he left Friday’s game with a lower-body injury, and it learned Saturday that defenseman Kevan Miller will miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery.
The Bruins lost 3-2 to the Blackhawks on Dec. 11.