Road success helped the Boston Bruins work back into the thick of the Eastern Conference race prior to the All-Star break, and that's where they will have to steady themselves following a disappointing homestand.
The Bruins start a road-heavy stretch on Thursday night by opening a home-and-home set against the Buffalo Sabres.
Boston (26-18-6) ended a miserable 2-7-1 stretch with a 4-1 win at Buffalo on Jan. 15, snapping a two-game skid against its Atlantic Division foe. That opened a 5-1 spurt for the Bruins with three victories coming in as many road games.
But just as they started to trend upward again, the Bruins dropped home games on each side of the All-Star break. Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto was especially bitter after Brad Marchand and David Krejci scored 26 seconds apart early in the third period before Boston gave up a pair later in the third.
"It's called focus," coach Claude Julien told the team's official website following Wednesday's practice. "We kind of lose track of that at times, and get away from things that we used to do well to make us successful."
The Bruins rank third in the NHL with 2.94 goals per game, a number they feel should give them plenty of chances to win. However, they have surrendered 10 in their back-to-back losses, exposing a defense that has allowed an average of 2.94 in 17 games since Dec. 26.
The Maple Leafs scored three of their four goals with tips in front of the net.
After hosting Buffalo on Saturday and Los Angeles on Tuesday, the Bruins embark on a season-high six-game road trip that will last 10 days. The Bruins are 15-5-3 away from home while outscoring their opponents 72-49.
"Fortunately for us, we've had more success on the road (than at home)," Julien said.
It's a similar story for Buffalo (21-26-4), which is 9-15-2 at First Niagara Center. Since winning 6-3 at Boston on Dec. 26, the Sabres are 6-10 overall with losses in six of seven home games.
However, they earned wins on the final two stops of their three-game road trip after rallying for Wednesday's 4-2 victory at Montreal. Buffalo trailed 2-1 entering the third period but Jamie McGinn and Johan Larsson scored before an empty-netter from Brian Gionta sealed it.
''We just stuck with it,'' McGinn said. ''We stayed positive. We got shots to the net and fortunately we found the back of the net.''
It's been difficult for opponents to do just that against Robin Lehner, who has a .939 save percentage in five starts since returning from an ankle injury. But Chad Johnson might get the call against his former team in the second of back-to-back games.
Johnson, who made 27 appearances with Boston in 2013-14, surrendered five goals in a 6-3 loss at the New York Rangers on Jan. 25. He earned the win after making 30 saves in the Dec. 26 matchup in Boston, improving to 2-1 against the Bruins with a .931 save percentage.
Jonas Gustavsson started for Boston in each of this season's first two games against the Sabres, but he was pulled from his last start due to an elevated heart rate. Tuukka Rask has just a 3.26 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in his last four starts, though he has won his last three against Buffalo with a 1.65 GAA.