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Three post-NHL trade deadline Bruins storylines to follow before playoffs

Three post-NHL trade deadline Bruins storylines to follow before playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The NHL trade deadline was not an eventful one for the Boston Bruins.

They made two small moves -- acquiring forward Pat Maroon from the Minnesota Wild and defenseman Andrew Peeke from the Columbus Blue Jackets -- but neither addition is expected to move the needle much.

The Bruins have typically been pretty aggressive in upgrading their roster before the trade deadline, especially when they are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. But this year was a little different because the Bruins lacked sufficient draft capital, prospects and salary cap space to make major deals.

Now that we know what the roster will look like for the remainder of the regular season, let's look at three storylines we should be following closely before the playoffs.

How will Linus Ullmark finish the season?

Ullmark was mentioned in a few trade rumors in the weeks leading up to the deadline and reportedly nixed one potential deal using his no-trade clause. He told reporters after Saturday's win over the Pittsburgh Penguins that he's "very happy" to be with the Bruins. The Swedish netminder also admitted he's glad the trade deadline has passed.

"Oh thank God, yes. It's tough," Ullmark said. "You try to act tough beforehand. You don't want to show any emotion. It's kinda like in a playoff situation. But it is tough on players. This is the first time when I've had to go through actually be rumored about. I've always felt safe. But then once it actually starts picking up more and more and you hear those outside noises, it takes a toll on you.

"Then there's the emotional part of it and you start thinking about your family, and then there's all these questions you don't have any answers to. So yes, I'm very happy that it's over with. I'm very glad and happy to be here."

It wouldn't be surprising if the uncertainty surrounding his future and the trade rumors had a negative impact on his performance over the last two months. Ullmark posted a lackluster .896 save percentage and 2.84 GAA in 13 games between Jan. 6 and last Friday's trade deadline. Jeremy Swayman tallied a .922 save percentage and 2.46 GAA in 17 games during that span.

Ullmark made a season-high 38 saves against the Penguins in an excellent performance. He showed the kind of poise in net that helped him win the Vezina Trophy last season.

The Bruins could still move Ullmark in the offseason, but he'll be with the team for at least the remainder of the 2023-24 campaign. It's fair to wonder if that short-term certainty will result in better performances from the veteran netminder.

Will Jake DeBrusk's scoring production increase?

DeBrusk wasn't moved at the trade deadline and still doesn't have a contract extension.

"We'll continue to talk," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Friday at a press conference when asked about DeBrusk's future. "Last year, David (Pastrnak) got done before the deadline. Jake's didn't, doesn't mean we won't, doesn't mean we don't value and clearly value Jake because he's a good part of our hockey club. The game last night is a great indication of how much he can impact in a positive way.”

The last month-and-a-half of the regular season, plus all of Boston's playoff games, represent a massive opportunity for DeBrusk. A strong finish could help him make even more money with his next contract, whether it's with the B's or another team.

DeBrusk has become a much better two-way player since he made his debut in 2017. He's a good penalty killer and works hard in the defensive zone. But his most meaningful contributions come offensively, and he's too inconsistent as a goal scorer. He has scored just three goals in his last 20 games. He has three separate goal droughts of at least seven games this season.

DeBrusk has 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 65 games entering Tuesday. Here's a look at his scoring on a monthly basis:

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DeBrusk has been productive post-trade deadline over the past two seasons. He scored 10 times over his final 19 games in 2022, and he tallied eight goals during the final 21 games of last season. The difference this time is DeBrusk isn't signed for the following year, but perhaps knowing that he's not leaving Boston during the season will give him a boost.

"It was definitely a sense of relief, you obviously don't know until about 4-4:30 p.m. (on deadline day), and then you go from there," DeBrusk told reporters after Monday's morning skate. "I'm happy to be here and just excited to move forward into the playoff push here."

Is the No. 1 seed worth pursuing?

The Bruins really wanted the wins and points records last season and ultimately achieved them. But they were not as healthy as you'd like entering the playoffs and it contributed to their shocking first-round series loss to the Florida Panthers.

Health and figuring out the best line combinations should be the top priorities for head coach Jim Montgomery and his staff for the remainder of the regular season. Playoff seeding doesn't matter much. Home-ice advantage doesn't matter much, either. In fact, since the beginning of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins have won just 16 of their last 30 postseason games at TD Garden. They lost three home games to the Panthers a year ago, including Game 5 and Game 7 in overtime.

The Bruins have a very good chance of winning the Presidents' Trophy again and earning the No. 1 overall seed. They are tied for the second-best record in the league at 38-14-15 and trail the Florida Panthers by one point for first place.

However, the best outcome for the B's might be finishing second in the Atlantic Division behind the Panthers and playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. Boston has won seven consecutive games versus Toronto. It's a matchup that favors the Bruins in pretty much every facet, especially in net.

Ultimately, seeding is irrelevant if the Bruins are banged up and/or not playing well entering the postseason. Those two areas need to be the focus over the next five weeks.