The hottest goal scorer on the planet passed with a chance to win the game.
And that’s why the Boston Bruins might be the most dangerous team in the East Division, and David Pastrnak might challenge for the Hart Trophy despite missing the first seven games of this truncated season while rehabilitating from offseason hip surgery.
Pastrnak already had a hat trick to run his goal total to five in three games — a league-best 1.67 goals per game (read it and weep NHL leading goal scorer Tyler Toffoli) — when he got the puck during a 4-on-3 power play in overtime Wednesday.
Although his shot, especially during a man-advantage from one of the faceoff circles, is lethal, Pastrnak didn’t just fire away. He deciphered what the Philadelphia Flyers were trying to do defensively and he opted to feather a one-timer to the front rather than hammering it.
“Yeah, definitely I saw the D was really close to us and 4-on-3 you know it’s a very hard play, usually all three killers are playing really high. So it was a split-time decision, but I just saw the D really close to me so I didn’t want to risk another blocked shot,” said Pastrnak, who had four shots blocked on the night.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 4, 2021
Patrice Bergeron deflected Pastrnak’s shot on goalie Carter Hart, who made the save. Bergeron ended the game for the Bruins, and their 4-3 win capped yet another comeback. By overcoming a 3-1 deficit the Bruins came back from at least two goals down for the third straight game and they have five out of six points from those contests. It’s no surprise that that streak coincides with Pastrnak’s return to the lineup.
But it should be a surprise that Pastrnak has caught fire so quickly after an arduous way back from major surgery. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said “everybody expected that” but come on, no one expected Pastrnak to be on pace to score 50 goals in 30 games. It’s supposed to take time for a NHL player to find his timing and hands, and to get used to having a surgically repaired hip.
Just ask Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
“I told him my experience is sometimes what happens with guys when they miss that much time, or it’s a whole offseason, is you lose your timing a bit,” Cassidy said. “Your hands and your timing are a little bit out of sync.
“Ha, he showed me.”
Right now Pastrnak is showing everyone. In a league that’s constantly throwing Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby out front to promote its brand, Pastrnak is seemingly left out other than when a donut chain wants to sell its wares with a little comedy. Even after scoring 48 goals in 70 games last season, Pastrnak is seemingly snubbed when talk turns to best players in the game. Maybe it’s anti-wing bias or the fact that he plays on the best line in the league and can be overshadowed by Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
The only way to change that is to do something remarkable. It’s a shortened season and there’s little time for long-term accomplishments — but how about scoring 50 goals in 49 games (assuming he’ll cool off a little bit from his current pace)? That’d finally get him in the conversation among the best all-around players in the league.
Of course, the Bruins’ continued success as a team will also help Pastrnak’s argument. If two- and three-goal deficits continue to be little hindrance to them soaring toward the top of the league standings, it’ll boost Pastrnak’s profile. In turn, if they keep up their winning pace (7-1-2 now), it’ll probably be because of Pastrnak both scoring a ton, and making the right play, even a pass when the game’s on the line.