The Carolina Hurricanes' latest slide has cost them sole possession of the Southeast Division lead. Now they'll have to get past the best team in the Eastern Conference if they hope to get it back.
The Hurricanes will be trying to avoid their longest losing streak of the season on Thursday when they visit the Ottawa Senators.
Carolina (22-22-4) fell 5-4 in Toronto on Tuesday for its third three-game losing streak of the season. The loss, combined with Atlanta's 5-1 win over NHL-leading Detroit, dropped the Hurricanes into a tie for first place in the Southeast with the Thrashers.
Atlanta hosts Montreal on Thursday.
"We got better as the game went on, but it's unacceptable," left wing Cory Stillman said. "In the second period, we gave up three goals and you can't afford to do that at this level."
The Hurricanes, 2-6-1 over their last nine games, have been dealing with a flu bug that has been going around the locker room. However, Ray Whitney returned Tuesday after missing three games with the illness, and Trevor Letowski, Wade Brookbank and Glen Wesley were also back on the ice.
Still, the Hurricanes gave up at least four goals for the third straight game, including two on the power play. Carolina is averaging 2.98 goals per game, but is allowing 3.21 and ranks last in the league with a 76.0 penalty-kill percentage.
"We haven't had the best record as of late and this was a game we needed to win," defenseman Mike Commodore said.
The Hurricanes have dropped six of eight overall against the Senators (29-12-4), who own a conference-best 62 points, but have won four of six in Ottawa. The teams have split their two games this season, each winning on the road.
Ottawa beat Carolina 6-0 on Dec. 12 in the last meeting after falling 5-3 at home on Oct. 11 for their lone defeat in a 13-1-0 start. Ray Emery earned the win on Dec. 12, but left the game after facing just one shot because of a sore right hip and was replaced by former Hurricane Martin Gerber, who made 31 saves.
"We came out really hard, and it was a different game than the last one," Gerber said after the December matchup. "The last one, they had a step on us. And today, we had a step on them."
Carolina's Cam Ward, who took over for Gerber as the top goalie during the Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup title two years ago, has allowed 14 goals in his last three starts.
Daniel Alfredsson, who leads Ottawa with 29 goals and 60 points, has a point in 14 of his last 17 games against the Hurricanes. He recorded an assist in Tuesday's 4-2 loss to Washington and has nine goals and six assists during an 11-game point streak.
Dean McAmmond and Wade Redden scored Tuesday for the Senators, who have dropped two straight after a four-game winning streak. Dany Heatley, who ranks second on the team with 25 goals and 56 points, sat out his second game and will miss up to six weeks with a separated right shoulder.
Ilya Zubov was called up to replace Heatley on the roster and made his NHL debut against the Capitals.
"I thought he was fine, I think you can see he's a creative player. ... He has a chance, if he keeps developing, to contribute to some second line scoring at some point," coach John Paddock said.