Bruins Will Run Away With Atlantic Division; Other Stretch-Run Predictions

Patrice BergeronThe Boston Bruins have just 25 games left before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin. To say that 25-game stretch is going to fly by would be an understatement.

That’s because the B’s — and the rest of the NHL — have just about a month and a half to finish the regular season. The two-week break for the Olympics leaves the league with a condensed schedule the rest of the way. That schedule has the Bruins playing 17 games in March alone, which will come after they resume their season on Wednesday in Buffalo against the lowly Sabres.

A lot is going to happen between Wednesday night and the end of the season. Here are a few predictions as to how the rest of the season will shake out for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins will run away with the Atlantic Division.
The B’s enter the stretch run with a seven-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston also has an eight-point lead over both the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs and has at least a game in hand over all three teams. No one is going to catch the Bruins. They’ve been far and away the best team in the division this season. The schedule is tough, but only two of the Bruins’ first seven opponents out of the break would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today. If the B’s can hit the ground running, that should set the tone for the rest of the season. The Bruins also¬†could get some much-needed rest if they wrap up the division early, so that should be a motivator as well.

Tuukka Rask will go through a slump, but he’ll be fine when the playoffs roll around.
No one’s play will be examined more closely than Rask’s in the final month and a half of the season. The goalie’s workload will be discussed ad nauseam, especially after he backstopped Finland to a bronze medal at the Olympics. He’s going to hit a bump in the road at some point. There’s really no way he can’t. With the condensed schedule and coming out of the Olympics, it has to catch up with him at some point. However, he’ll be fine. The Bruins will be in a position to give him rest late in the season, and that should help. Don’t forget — Rask lost eight of his last 11 starts last season, allowing three or more goals in five of those games. He even struggled a little in the first round, but after that, he was dominant. He rises to the occasion when it matters most, and don’t expect this year to be any different.

The Bruins will do something (but not much) at the trade deadline.
When Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli wants to get a deal done, he usually gets a deal done — unless the Calgary Flames are involved. Chiarelli has made it known that he’d like to add a defenseman after losing Dennis Seidenberg for the rest of the season. He has some options, but it won’t be easy. The reduced salary cap is making movement difficult for all general managers, but Chiarelli should be able to make something happen. He’s happy with his team as it stands, but adding a little bit more depth on the blue line could make all the difference for a team like the Bruins.

Patrice Bergeron will win the Selke Trophy.
It’s tough to differentiate between Bergeron’s seasons. He’s so darn consistent every year. However, it feels like he’s been even better this season. Bergeron continues to impress when it comes to traditional stats. His 59.8 faceoff percentage is second in the NHL, and his plus-25 rating is tied for sixth in the league. Advanced stats also paint a good picture for Bergeron. He’s second in the league with a 10.2 Corsi relative percentage, which essentially means the Bruins get 10 percent better with Bergeron on the ice. A wild card here might be the Olympics. Bergeron was one of Canada’s most efficient forwards, which might have opened some eyes as to how good he really is on a game-to-game basis.

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