Four bold Bruins predictions for remainder of 2021-22 NHL regular season

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Four bold Bruins predictions for remainder of 2021-22 regular season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins were red-hot before the NHL All-Star break and have posted a 12-4-1 record since New Year's Day. Only the Colorado Avalanche have earned more wins over that span.

The last half of the regular season won't be easy for the Bruins, though. Their remaining schedule, due to a weird October and a two-week COVID-19 pause in December, is jam-packed with games and few off days. It's going to be a great test of the Bruins' stamina and depth.

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What can we expect from the B's over the next few months? Here are four bold predictions for the Bruins post All-Star break.

David Pastrnak reaches 45 goals

Pastrnak had a slow start to the season, scoring just eight goals over his first 26 games from Opening Night through New Year's Eve.

But in 2022, the superstar right winger has been on fire with 14 goals in his last 17 games -- tied for the most in the league during that span. He lifted the Bruins to a much-needed win over the Seattle Kraken just before the All-Star break with two goals, including the game-winner in the third period.

Pastrnak now has a total of 22 goals in 43 games. Moving off the first line and playing alongside Taylor Hall and Erik Haula on the second line has rejuvenated his game. Pastrnak currently is on pace to score 42 goals this season, but with a new-look second line and plenty of confidence, he should be able to reach the 45-goal mark for the second time in his career.

Linus Ullmark, Jeremy Swayman will be playoff goalie duo

Tuukka Rask's return has not gone as planned.

He's currently dealing with a lower body injury, and according to head coach Bruce Cassidy, the veteran netminder won't practice this week. Rask's last appearance was Jan. 24 in a 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. In four starts since returning to the Bruins in January, he's posted a 2-2-0 record with an underwhelming .844 save percentage and 4.28 GAA.

Rask deserves more starts before deciding whether his comeback is worth continuing, but it doesn't look promising right now. Ullmark should be the clear No. 1 goalie based on his recent performance. He's posted a 11-3-1 record, a .914 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA since Dec. 8. His .851 high-danger save percentage is the eighth-best in the league over that span. Ullmark should be the playoff starter barring a sudden decline.

Swayman will start Tuesday against the Penguins and it's a big opportunity for him. A strong couple starts during Rask's injury absence would make the backup competition pretty interesting. Swayman has tallied a .927 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA over his last seven appearances dating back to early December.

What are the chances Rask bounces back from injury and his performance improves quite a bit? Well, you definitely can't rule it out. He made a quick and strong recovery from offseason hip surgery.

But right now, the Bruins having Ullmark and Swayman enter the playoffs as their goalie tandem makes the most sense.

Bruins make multiple trades before deadline

This isn't based on any reporting, just general manager Don Sweeney's previous trade deadline history and what the team's needs are at this moment.

The Bruins' top need is a No. 2 center. Erik Haula has performed well in this role since the calendar turned to 2022, but he's not an ideal fit in that role. He's better suited on the third line. Boston's other top need is a left-shot defenseman, preferably of the top-four variety but a depth player would be a solid addition as well.

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The Bruins needed a top-six forward and a left-shooting defenseman at last year's trade deadline and Sweeney made deals to address both spots, acquiring Taylor Hall from the Buffalo Sabres and Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators. Both trades turned out to be good moves and each player re-signed with the B's before this season.

Sweeney has been particularly aggressive acquiring forwards. In fact, he's acquired at least one in each of his six trade deadlines as Bruins general manager. He's not afraid to make bold moves, too, evidenced by his deals for Hall last year and Rick Nash in 2018.

Sweeney has been particularly aggressive acquiring forwards. In fact, he's acquired at least one in each of his six trade deadlines as Bruins general manager. He's not afraid to make bold moves, too, evidenced by his deals for Hall last year and Rick Nash in 2018.

The Bruins' window to win the Stanley Cup with its veteran core is closing fast. We also don't know what the future holds for captain Patrice Bergeron, who's 36 years old and has an expiring contract. The time to go all-in is right now.

B's secure top wild card spot, play Hurricanes in Round 1

The B's are a pretty good bet to clinch the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference at some point. They are currently in the No. 2 wild card position but trail the Washington Capitals by just four points with four games in hand.

The ideal scenario for the Bruins is being the wild card team that plays in the Metropolitan Division bracket for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Going through the Atlantic Division side and having to play the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning would be extraordinary difficult. There's very little chance Boston beats two of those three opponents and reaches the Eastern Conference Final.

It's not like facing the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Capitals would be a cake walk, but that group is far more beatable than what the Atlantic Division has to offer.

If the Panthers finish with the best record in the East and the Bruins secure the top wild card berth, the B's would likely play the Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs on the Metro side of the bracket. The Bruins are pretty familiar with the Hurricanes after defeating them in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and 2020 first round.