David Pastrnak retook the top spot in the NHL goal-scoring race during the 750th all-time Bruins-Habs matchup. And he did so in triumphant fashion.
Pastrnak became the first player since Gordie Howe way back in 1951-52 to record two hat tricks against the Canadiens in the same season; scoring his 39th, 40th and 41st goals of the season during Boston’s 4-1 victory Wednesday night at TD Garden.
“Obviously playing Montreal — a big rival — these games are always fun for fans and the players are always excited to play this game,” Pastrnak said postgame.
Pastrnak and the Bruins earned an important win to extend their lead to three points over the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning atop the Atlantic Division. Here’s what we learned after the Bruins earned their seventh victory in their last eight games.
Hats off for Pastrnak (again) as he reaches 40-goal mark
The Bruins had quite the luxury of riches in their top-six over the last decade. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron became elite NHL forwards under the watch of Claude Julien and Bruce Cassidy. David Krejci transitioned seamlessly from a top-line center to a second line cog developing a strong tandem with Jake DeBrusk in recent years.
Yet, with all that talent, the Bruins went nearly two full decades without a 40-goal scorer. That changed on Wednesday when Pastrnak became the first Bruin to reach that mark since Glen Murray back in 2002-03.
A dynamic personality both on and off the ice, Pastrnak appreciated reaching the 40-goal mark for the first time in his NHL career. Yet, he remained thankful to the peers who helped pave his path.
“It’s obviously something that I haven’t accomplished yet in my career,” Pastrnak said. “I’m obviously excited, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Pastrnak started his eventful night burying a brilliant feed from the double-dangling Marchand to give the Bruins the 1-0 lead. He ended it watching as the TD Garden faithful turned the frozen ice surface into a sea of hats following a 4-on-3 power-play tally.
The talented Czech winger has four hat tricks and 41 goals through 58 games. It’s quite astonishing to imagine what he has in store for the remaining 24 regular-season tilts.
“It’s kind of scary to look at where his ceiling might be,” Marchand said of his linemate for the better part of three seasons. “He continues to push it and continues to get better. So, it’s fun to watch him and it’s fun to play with him.”
“You always have to be on your toes because you never know what he’s going to do, and I don’t think he even knows what he’s going to do half the time,” Marchand added. “So it makes it very dangerous for other teams and other players when he’s so unpredictable. But yeah, he continues to grow and I’m excited to see where he’s going to be in a couple of years.”
Pastrnak now has 173 goals in 378 career games. His coach, Bruce Cassidy, thinks 700 goals — a feat that remains in striking distance for fellow Rocket Richard hopeful Alex Ovechkin — might be in reach given his current trajectory.
“I’m going to say Pasta [Pastrnak] because I love the kid, and he’s young, and he’s scoring,” Cassidy said. “So, I think it’s always about health, it’s always are you surrounded by good players to help you. I mean, if you’re the only guy out there on your team, I think it would be hard every night for 82 games to try to push that. He’s got good support. So yeah, I think he’s [going to be] one of those guys.”
Fourth line shines in supporting role
The Bruins received some welcoming news Wednesday when Joakim Nordstrom returned to his fourth-line role with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. Cassidy didn’t waste any time trotting the trio out for the very first shift against Montreal’s top line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Gallagher.
Their only blemish came in the second period when Kuraly, Nordstrom, and Wagner were on the ice for Nick Suzuki’s 12th goal of the season to cut the Bruins’ lead to 2-1 at 4:52 of the middle stanza. Before that, Kuraly paved the way for Pastrnak’s second of the night on a beautiful tape-to-tape pass to give the Bruins the two-goal cushion at 4:16.
“Montreal’s got balance in their lineup, but Gallagher is one of their, to me is their guy that can really get it going for them. Danault is a solid player and obviously Tatar is, I think, their leading scorer. That’s the assignment they had most of the night and I thought they handled it well,” Cassidy said in his assessment of the fourth line.
“[They] pitched in offensively, did the job on the kill…physically were able to deliver in that area. Great game for them, to me, to see them hopefully — well, they definitely take a step forward and hopefully keep taking some steps forward.”
The Bruins have some holes to fill in their middle of the lineup between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline. They have themselves a solid foundation with Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak with Nordstrom, Kuraly, Wagner and even Par Lindholm solidifying the forward group on a nightly basis. Establishing a deep, well-rounded forward core will only help them in the long run.
Things got chippy — and that’s a good thing for this rivalry
The Bruins-Habs matchups over the last handful of seasons haven’t had the same pizzaz since the league realigned after the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
The two teams met during the 2014 postseason when the Canadiens knocked off the President’s Trophy winning-Bruins in the second round. Since then, they’ve met four times per season, down from six per year during the early part of the 2010s.
And no, we’re not going to put Wednesday’s matchup on a pedestal along with some historic moments of hockey’s greatest rivalry. But a Bruins squad trying to fend off the red-hot Lightning and a desperate Habs side didn’t showcase the civility we’ve seen in recent years.
The chippy nature of the rivalry showcased itself in a couple of moments when Gallagher displayed extra theatrics during Zdeno Chara’s cross-check in the second period and Marchand and Jeff Petry exchanged a few slashes before the two took one another down with them on the ice.
“It’s good to see it. I mean, we only play them four times; that’s another reason why you lose some of the [rivalries importance],” Cassidy said.
It’s a shame we only see these two teams match up four times per year. And it’s unlikely we’ll see these teams reunite for another postseason meeting this spring.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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