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Consecutive losses to the Boston Bruins sent the Toronto Maple Leafs into their current tailspin.
They'll get a chance to end a season-high five-game losing streak Thursday when they face their Northeast Division rivals at TD Banknorth Garden.
Toronto (13-11-5) was one of the league's best teams in the beginning of November, winning seven of eight at one point. Since then, however, the Maple Leafs have lost eight of 10 to drop into fourth place in the Northeast, only three points ahead of last-place Boston.
Undisciplined play and a struggling offense contributed to Toronto's fifth straight loss, 5-2 to visiting Atlanta on Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs, booed off the ice by their home fans, were short-handed a season-high 10 times and registered only 19 shots, matching a season low.
"We can't spend that much time in the penalty box," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. "We lost this game in the second, not the third."
Since a 7-1 victory Nov. 24 at Washington, Toronto has scored only seven goals during its five-game skid, and the power play is 3-for-28 during that span.
"I don't know if Atlanta had more energy than us or a bit more determination, but bottom line, it was a disgrace on our side," center Michael Peca said. "It's like we get that lead, sit back and wait for something bad to happen."
Ironically, the Leafs' losing streak coincides with the return of captain Mats Sundin to the lineup. Sundin missed three weeks with an elbow injury before returning in a 3-1 loss to Boston on Nov. 25.
While Toronto has been sinking, Boston (13-10-2) has nearly climbed its way out of last place by winning four of five and nine of its last 12 games.
Defenseman Brad Stuart scored his second goal of the third period with 1:42 left, lifting the Bruins to a wild 6-5 victory Monday at Montreal, overcoming a brutal second period in which they blew a three-goal lead.
"Coming in after the second, we were all pretty upset with ourselves, and it was a good thing that we had a little time to regroup," Stuart said. "We talked about things that we stopped doing that allowed them to come back and we tried to get back to doing those things."
One area of concern for the Bruins is the workload on goaltender Tim Thomas, who made his 19th straight appearance - his longest in the NHL - on Monday. Thomas played in 18 straight last season between Jan. 10 and March 1.
In 2004-05 with Jokerit Helsinki, Thomas played in 54 of 56 games. He recalled that he saw action in more than 50 straight matches that year.
"The NHL schedule is more condensed," Thomas said. "At the beginning, we didn't have a lot of games. Now we have a lot. I try and take care of my body as much as I can with rest on off days."
This is the fifth of eight meetings this season between the division rivals. Toronto won the first game 6-4 at Boston on Nov. 9, but the Bruins have outscored the Leafs 9-3 in winning the next three.