The New Jersey Devils' longest winning streak of the season is over, but they may have the perfect opportunity to start another one.
The Devils look to bounce back from their first defeat in more than two weeks and continue their dominance of the Boston Bruins on Thursday when the teams face off at TD Banknorth Garden for the second time in five days.
New Jersey (17-10-2) saw its five-game winning streak snapped, and suffered its first loss since Nov. 27 in Tuesday's 3-2 defeat to the Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo Sabres. The Devils outshot Buffalo 15-8 in the first period but failed to score, as Jamie Langenbrunner hit the post and Brian Gionta missed an open net on a rebound.
In the third period, Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski twice had the puck stripped in his own zone by Daniel Briere, who assisted on all three Buffalo goals.
"I thought the first period was as good as we've had," Devils coach Claude Julien said. "Later, we had a few breakdowns. They made us pay dearly for the mistakes we did make."
The loss dropped the Devils to 11-2-1 at home, but Thursday they travel to a rink where they seem to play just as well. New Jersey has four wins and a tie in its last five visits to Boston, where it has not lost since March 13, 2003.
Overall, the Devils have taken five straight meetings with the Bruins (14-12-2) since the lockout, including a 5-1 victory last Saturday at TD Banknorth Garden. Patrik Elias and Sergei Brylin each had a goal and an assist for New Jersey, which outshot Boston 42-20 and did not give the Bruins any power-play opportunities.
Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the win.
"They're a tough team to come back against, I know that," Boston coach Dave Lewis said after the loss. "You've got to get a lot of quality chances to get it past Marty Brodeur, especially with the way they play with their system and discipline."
Last Saturday's defeat ended a stretch of five wins in six games for Boston, which is struggling to escape last place in the Northeast Division after a 4-7-2 start. The Bruins lost again on Tuesday, 4-3 at Montreal.
It was Boston's first game without 19-year-old rookie left wing Phil Kessel, who is out indefinitely after undergoing cancer-related surgery Monday. Marc Savard, Kessel's roommate, scored two power-play goals in the second period and assisted on Petr Tenkrat's tally at 19:09 of the third, but the rally attempt fell short.
"We tried to pull one out for the kid, but we had some tough breaks," said Savard, who also scored in Saturday's loss to the Devils.
Hannu Toivonen made 36 saves as the Bruins allowed at least 40 shots on net for the second straight game. Toivonen also played the last two periods Saturday, stopping 28 of 31 shots. Starter Tim Thomas took the loss against the Devils after yielding two goals on 14 first-period shots.
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