A recent surge has moved the Boston Bruins into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Their strong play on the road has been largely responsible.
That bodes well for a team that will play its next seven games away from home, a stretch that begins Saturday against the New York Islanders in a matchup of two of the league's weakest offenses.
That the Bruins (28-23-11) are even in danger of missing the playoffs is surprising after they finished first in the East last season with 116 points, the franchise's best total since 1971-72. Boston, though, has been hit hard by injuries to key players and has struggled to fill the void following the offseason trade of 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel to Toronto.
A 10-game losing streak Jan. 16-Feb. 6 left the Bruins out of the top eight spots in the conference, but the team has won five of six to climb to seventh, one point ahead of Atlanta, the Rangers and Montreal.
Boston swept a four-game road trip to Montreal, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida going into the Olympic break and has since split a pair of home games. The Bruins now look to win five consecutive road games for the first time since midway through last season.
They play their next seven on the road -- all in the Eastern time zone -- and don't return to TD Garden until facing Pittsburgh on March 18.
With No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask out with a knee injury, Tim Thomas made his first start in more than a month Thursday night and stopped 24 shots as Boston beat Toronto 3-2 in a shootout.
Miroslav Satan scored in regulation and had the only goal of the shootout to give the Bruins their first home win since the New Year's Day Winter Classic.
The victory was Thomas' first since Jan. 14.
"I was trying to show the team they can have some confidence in me again," said Thomas, the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner. "I'm not going to lie: This feels really good right now. It's the first one I've had in a long time, and it's the first one at home in a long time."
With Rask day to day, Thomas could start again Saturday. He usually performs well against the Islanders (26-30-8), going 7-4-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average in 12 starts.
Rask, walking without any discernible limp, entered Friday leading the NHL with a 2.15 GAA.
Boston hopes to have forward Patrice Bergeron back after he missed his second straight game with a groin injury. Bergeron tops the Bruins with 37 points, the fewest of any team leader.
The Islanders appear likely to miss the playoffs for a third straight season, dropping to 13th in the East after losing 10 of 13.
Despite scoring 16 goals in the last four games, New York is averaging 2.50 goals per game to rank 27th in the league. Boston is last with 2.32 per contest.
Poor goaltending also has hurt the Islanders.
In a 6-3 loss at Atlanta on Thursday night, Dwayne Roloson yielded three goals on seven shots before he was replaced by Martin Biron midway through the opening period. Roloson is 1-5-0 with a 4.24 GAA in his last seven starts, while Biron is 2-7-0 with a 3.70 GAA in his past 10 appearances.
The Bruins had won seven straight over the Islanders before losing the last two meetings, including a 3-2 overtime defeat at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 12.