Panthers ready to pounce on struggling Bruins

Tune into FOX Sports Florida at 7 p.m. to watch the Florida Panthers take on the Boston Bruins. NHL Panthers territory.

The Boston Bruins’ recent skid has allowed the Florida Panthers to gain ground in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

If the Bruins’ recent efforts in this series are any indication, however, a visit to BankAtlantic Center could be just what they need.

Looking to avoid a fourth consecutive regulation loss for the first time in more than two years, Boston concludes a three-game road swing Thursday night seeking a ninth win in 10 trips to south Florida.

The Northeast Division-leading Bruins (40-26-3), who were nine points ahead of Southeast-leading Florida (33-23-13) as recently as last Thursday, have since been outscored 15-6 during their slide. While Boston hasn’t recorded a point over that stretch, the Panthers have picked up five of a possible six to move to within four of the Bruins and stay a point ahead of Washington in the Southeast.

“We gotta get ready for Thursday, Boston’s a really good team and it’s gonna be a good test for us,” Florida forward Tomas Kopecky said.

Boston, which has trailed at least 2-0 in each game during its skid, fell behind 3-0 in the first five minutes and surrendered the first five goals in a 6-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Right winger Jordan Caron tallied his eighth point in six contests to prevent the shutout.

“What’s really throwing us off right now is we give those teams leads, and all of a sudden guys are getting frustrated, and we just kind of get away from our game plan,” coach Claude Julien said. “Instead of playing the way we should, we’re starting to cheat and we’re trying to get those goals back. In frustration, we’re making poor decisions and so on and so forth. It just snowballs.”

The Bruins haven’t made too many poor decisions versus the Panthers of late. Boston has taken six of seven in the series overall and eight of nine in Florida – including five in a row.

The Bruins, however, will likely need a better effort in net if they hope to continue that success.

Recently signed Marty Turco allowed three goals Tuesday before being pulled in favor of Tim Thomas. Julien later went back to Turco after Thomas gave up two on five shots.

“We can’t blame it on our goalies. They’ve had our backs so many times this season, and it’s one of those games when we had to have their backs and we didn’t do that,” defenseman Zdeno Charo said. “It was a tough game for all of us.”

Despite going 2-4-0 with a 3.92 goals-against average over his last seven games, Thomas could be back in goal. The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner is 6-2-1 with a 1.21 GAA versus the Panthers since 2008-09, surrendering two goals or fewer each time.

Florida is coming off back-to-back home victories, beating Carolina 2-0 on Sunday and Toronto 5-2 on Tuesday. Left winger Sean Bergenheim scored twice against the Maple Leafs while Jason Garrison, Marcel Goc and Kopecky each added a goal and an assist.

Jose Theodore made 26 saves to win his third straight home start. He ‘s compiled a 1.82 GAA over his last 16 home games.

Theodore had gone 9-0-1 with a 1.59 GAA in his previous 10 matchups with Boston before allowing four first-period goals and getting pulled from an 8-0 road defeat Dec. 23.

Panthers forward Kris Versteeg could miss his ninth straight game with a lower body injury. Versteeg is tied with Tomas Fleischmann for the team lead in goals (22) and points (49).

Florida is looking for its first four-game home winning streak since a five-game run Jan. 16-31, 2010. The Bruins last lost four straight in regulation during that same stretch, a five-game skid Jan. 18-29.