Bruins back on NHL map behind new lines, Rask

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Prior to the break in late December, the Bruins were struggling to score goals. 

After 26 games, the Bruins’ offense ranked 22nd in the NHL. They were scoring 2.67 goals per 60 minutes in all situations, which worked out to 70 goals. Only four teams (Blackhawks, Islanders, Canadiens and Coyotes) had scored fewer goals at that point. 

The difference between the Bruins and those teams, however, is that Boston is actually good. The Bruins’ fortunes started to change when coach Bruce Cassidy finally split up the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, giving the team the one-two punch it should have had all along. These days, the Bruins control the majority of shot attempts and scoring chances on any given night. 

Since the league returned to action after the holidays, the Bruins have scored 40 goals in just nine games, which works out to 4.43 goals per 60 minutes. Only the Panthers have scored more goals than the Bruins during the span.

The Bruins’ defense has improved, too. While the team has always been good defensively — it’s why they were able to stay in the playoff picture to begin with — over their last nine games the Bruins have allowed 0.3 goals fewer on a 60-minute basis than they did in their first 26 games. With Tuukka Rask back in the crease, it’s quite possible this team hasn’t even reached its full potential yet.

Looking at the schedule the rest of the way, the Bruins have about a dozen games left against other elite teams such as the Avalanche, Golden Knights, Panthers, Lightning and Hurricanes. The rest of the schedule is full of games they should win more often than not. 

Although the Bruins are a long shot to win the Atlantic Division, their chances are better than zero. I shopped around and the best price I could find was 17-1 at FanDuel. By my estimation, the Bruins have about a 5.5 percent chance of winning the Atlantic, so 17-1 is fair but isn’t value.

Bettors should concern themselves with trying to handicap the Bruins on a game-by-game basis, as the team should be able to make easy work out of the bottom half of the league. With the trade deadline just over a month away, the Bruins’ brass could look to improve the team. Either way, the Bruins are going to be a very motivated squad between now and the end of the season. And motivation is something that many of their opponents may lack as the weeks go by. 

The Bruins likely won’t have home-ice advantage in the playoffs, so a Stanley Cup run will be an uphill battle, but they look the part of a contender more now than they have in years.

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