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The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have been among the NHL's most improved teams all season.
But while the Blackhawks try to gain momentum as they prepare for their first playoff appearance in seven years, the Bruins are struggling to hold on to their shrinking Eastern Conference lead.
Boston would match its longest losing streak of the season if it can't beat Chicago in the finale of a six-game homestand Saturday afternoon, while the Blackhawks will be looking for their third straight win.
The Bruins' month-long funk may have reached a new low Thursday night, when they fell 2-1 at home to last-place Phoenix for their third straight loss. They've dropped four in a row once all season, and a regulation defeat Saturday would give them three straight for the first time since December 2007.
They remained stagnant in the offensive end in falling to 3-6-3 since Feb. 7, with their lead over surging New Jersey down to six points for the top spot in the East. Boston (42-14-9) is averaging 1.8 goals in its nine losses over that span after scoring 3.6 per game while going 34-5-3 in its previous 42.
"I can give you all the excuses, but there shouldn't be any," coach Claude Julien said. "If we are spending too much time looking at the standings, we aren't going to be able to get out of this."
A pair of additions at Wednesday's trade deadline didn't immediately help, with right wing Mark Recchi and defenseman Steve Montador making their Bruins debuts against Phoenix.
Recchi, especially, will try to help boost a team that has seen production fade from a pair of its young forwards. Phil Kessel, who had an 18-game point streak earlier this season, has four in his last 16, while David Krejci (60 points) has no goals and one assist in his last seven.
"We're a team that's looking ahead, not looking back," Montador said. "This is a team that's got the next five weeks ... to gain some momentum back."
The Blackhawks (36-17-9) stumbled on a three-game slide to close February, but they've rebounded with back-to-back wins, including Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim.
Martin Havlat scored the winning goal and added an assist for Chicago, continuing his recent surge. The oft-injured right wing has stayed healthy this season, and has four goals and 11 assists in his last nine games to take the team lead with 57 points.
"He's been unbelievable," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "He's been a big part of our offense. I love playing with him out there. He's made everybody around him better."
The Blackhawks have reached the playoffs once in the last 10 seasons, but the young team is firmly entrenched in the No. 4 spot in the West.
While newcomer Samuel Pahlsson - acquired from the Ducks on Wednesday - isn't yet ready to make his Blackhawks debut due to mononucleosis, Chicago is also playing without center Patrick Sharp and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, with Cristobal Huet carrying the load in Khabibulin's place.
A rival of Boston's while with Montreal from 2005 into last season, Huet is 10-3-0 with a 1.91 goals-against average in 14 career starts versus the Bruins.
Boston could counter with either NHL GAA leader Tim Thomas or Manny Fernandez, who is still looking for his first win since returning from injury early last month. He's 0-2-2 with a 3.42 GAA over that span.
Thomas made 31 saves in the Bruins' 2-1 shootout win in Chicago on Nov. 12 - their third straight victory in the series between Original Six clubs.
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