Bruce Cassidy’s squad entered Thursday’s pivotal matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning with a chance to jump into a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division for the first time since October. They welcomed prized trade-deadline addition Hampus Lindholm to the lineup, but had to go without captain Patrice Bergeron (arm injury) for the fourth straight game.
The Lightning spent the week getting their two prime trade deadline additions in Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul acclimated to their club. Yet, they’ve encountered a bit of a slump of late, carrying a 4-6 mark over their previous 10 games.
Indeed, the Bruins had a trick up their sleeve against the Bolts. And they turned to one of their fashionistas to perform the headline act.
The sharp-dressed David Pastrnak must have forecasted his plans for the evening after donning his latest cap to compliment his tan suit. The crafty Czech playmaker earned his 12th career hat trick with his pair of equalizers and game-winning tally late in the third period to secure Boston’s 3-2 win in front of a raucous TD Garden crowd.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 40th victory of the 2021-22 campaign.
Pastrnak and Erik Haula are “feeling it”
The best athletes sometime can’t explain some of their unique moments. Pastrnak fell into that category with his second goal from Thursday.
The Bruins needed that third-period marker from Pastrnak. They found themselves trailing for the second time after Steven Stamkos capitalized on a shot from the slot after failing to clear the puck out of the slot following a Jeremy Swayman rebound.
From a tricky angle, Pastrnak somehow found space to tuck in his 35th goal of the year on a spin-o-rama equalizer. That feat is quite difficult in and of itself against any netminder, yet Pastrnak pulled it off against one of the world’s top goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I have no clue to be honest. I saw a quick replay on the Jumbotron and I was lucky,” Pastrnak said after recording Goals No. 34, 35, and 36. “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, and it was a big one for us and a big one for me. I’m happy it went in. Sometimes you just poke it in, and it went in. So I’m happy for that one.”
Pastrnak was feeling it. He used a breakaway, a spin-o-rama and a greasy marker to tally his 12th career hat trick.
Boston’s 2014 first-round pick entered a zone against the Lightning. So too did Erik Haula.
With his skating legs on full display, Haula followed up his two-assist outing in Montreal with a career-high three helpers against Tampa a few days later.
“I think he’s at his best when he’s skating, and listen, guys go through stretches where they’re feeling it,” Cassidy said of Haula. “And he’s feeling it right now.”
The Bruins didn’t receive a top-six upgrade at the trade deadline. Yet, Haula’s growing confidence with Pastrnak and Hall provided a much-needed short-term stopgap after Cassidy broke up the potent top trio of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak.
But GM Don Sweeney didn’t come away empty-handed. In fact, his marquee deadline pickup wasted little time finding his groove.
Lindholm made a good first impression
Cassidy knew he had a stout two-way minutes-eating defender in the 6-foot-4 Lindholm. Those traits came as advertised amid Lindholm’s first game as a Bruin.
Lindholm, who tallied a quartet of hits and shots on net in 23:26 of ice time Thursday, doesn’t hesitate providing offensive production either. He isn’t a marquee puck-mover like the Cale Makar’s and the Roman Josi’s, but the Swede provides a reliable scoring option from the back end, posting at least 20 points in all but one of his nine NHL seasons.
Boston’s bench boss wasn’t so much surprised with Lindholm’s puck-moving traits. But Lindholm’s production in the transition game stood out to Cassidy, especially on his second-period outlet feed to Haula in the defensive end en route to Pastrnak’s first goal of the night.
“I think he was a better puck mover in some areas than I anticipated. I’m thinking more of the size and the mobility to close plays and to be able to get a shot through the offensive blue-line,” Cassidy said. “But, he made a lot of small area plays on the breakout that’s going to benefit this hockey club.”
The Bruins will benefit from Lindholm serving in their top-four role. And they wasted little time pairing him with their top-right shot blue-liner in Charlie McAvoy.
The Lindholm-McAvoy pairing stood out in their first game together, with the Bruins holding a 21-9 edge in shot attempts and a 12-2 cushion in shots on net in 12:37 of 5v5 time, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“He’s one of those guys that anyone can play with. He’s such a good defenseman. Everyone knows it, and everyone sees it,” Lindholm said of McAvoy. “But I hope we can develop something here and that I can make him a better player, and he’s obviously going to make me a better player, so I’m excited about that.”
Boston’s success against Tampa provides confidence, but not cockiness
The Bruins have every reason to feel excited about their upward trajectory since returning from their COVID pause. They’ve moved their way up into the top three of the Atlantic with a 26-8-3 mark since Jan. 1.
Two of Boston’s 26 victories came against the Lightning. At one point, they trailed Tampa by 14 points and have since inched closer toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
Quite frankly, the Bruins have outplayed the Lightning in their three matchups this season. Their lone loss came in overtime back in December.
Indeed, the Bruins gained confidence during their trio of matchups against the two-time defending champs. But they’re not looking past Jon Cooper’s club either with one more regular-season meeting on Apr. 8.
“We’re excited that we won and played well, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves either. We know who Tampa Bay is. They know who they are, and the road runs through them eventually,” Cassidy said.
“But this is good. It’s good for the guys in the room to know that if we play a certain way, then we have a chance to beat them and can outplay them in certain areas. So that’s the positive of that, and we should be confident when you beat a really good team. I’m not taking that away from our group. I’ll never get down on Tampa. They’re too good a hockey club. They’ve accomplished too much. But good for us… a positive for us.”
The Bruins and Lightning represented the East in each of the last three Stanley Cup Finals. The Bolts went through the B’s in Round 2 of the 2018 and 2020 playoffs.
The two teams may very well embark on another postseason matchup in 2022. But the odds favor a lengthier series beyond Tampa’s five-game triumphs in ’18 and ’20.
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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