BOSTON – One game into life without David Pastrnak for the foreseeable future, things were pretty okay with the Bruins.
Certainly it’s nothing to get carried away with because it’s just a one-game example, and because they were playing one of the worst teams in the league in the down-on-their-luck Chicago Blackhawks. But the Hawks had also won seven games in a row leading into Tuesday night’s game at TD Garden and the Bruins outgunned them in a 6-3 win where the Bruins took over the game after Chicago had scratched out the first goal.
Best of all were the players that stepped up, with Danton Heinen exploding for three points in his best game of the season, Jake DeBrusk snapping out of a 13-game goal-scoring drought with a second period game-winning strike and David Krejci making plays while stepping into Pastrnak’s spot on the top power-play unit.
That’s not to mention Brad Marchand perfectly executing backhand passes between his legs to wide open players for goals in the third period at a point when the mustard could have definitely been off the hot dog.
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There will be plenty of nights when it won’t be that easy for the Black and Gold without a guy that was on a pace for almost 50 goals and 100 points, and it remains to be seen just how long it’s going to take Pastrnak to come back from a tendon injury in his left thumb that required surgery. But on this first night without him, the Bruins looked like they might be able to cobble enough together to stay right where they are until their game-breaking scorer returns from his off-ice injury.
“We’re going to need contributions from everybody with Pasta going down there for a bit. Heinen was unreal tonight, made a lot of big plays; Jake was very clutch tonight as well, so great games by them,” said Brad Marchand. “It’s fun to see them play like that and add some much depth to our group. Heinen has been great the last little bit, so we need that to continue.
“It’s nice to win games like [we did on Tuesday]. You know, it doesn’t happen often and it hasn’t been the way we’ve been winning, but you know, you have to be able to win games like that. It’s nice to win them like that. It was a fun one.”
The challenge for the B’s obviously will be to consistently replace a player that was in on over 40 percent of Boston’s offense, was the top power play scorer in the entire NHL and was the one driving the engine for a team that’s struggled to score even strength all season. The hope is that the Bruins have found one of the answers in Heinen, who has been dynamite since being teamed with Patrice Bergeron and Marchand on Boston’s top line.
Heinen now has three goals, six points and a plus-6 rating in his last four games since being elevated to the top line, and was constantly around the net making plays against the Blackhawks after being missing offensively for much of this season.
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“It wasn’t like he was just cruising around out there, and he was the benefactor. I think he understands that he’s been given a nice opportunity here, and he’s going to the dirty areas for that line, getting rewarded and making plays around there. You go there enough, especially with those guys, the puck will end up there, so good for him,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I’m happy for him. He’s a good kid, he works hard, he’s a pro, he’s accountable away from the puck and he’s willing to block shots when need be.
“This is part of the game that’s more enjoyable. It’s fun to score. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that and make plays, so he’s getting that part of it down now. We’re going to need it from certain players and we got it tonight.”
Then there was DeBrusk snapping a cold streak that had lasted more than a month and had seen him demoted to the third line for a period of time. The 22-year-old winger was back with Krejci and Peter Cehlarik against the Blackhawks, however, after the loss of Pastrnak to injury, and DeBrusk stepped up and scored the game-winner in the second period. He camped down low similar to Heinen for his offensive chances, and redirected a pass down low from Krejci just as a Bruins power play possession expired.
Heinen and DeBrusk are the two biggest examples of young players that can and should step up with Pastrnak gone for at least the next few weeks, and that first game gave some hope that they might actually be able to do it semi-consistently.
“It’s just a matter of me actually going out there and scoring,” said DeBrusk. “I was just missing that feeling a lot, so it was just nice to see it go in and obviously see Krejci get two goals tonight and Heinen get on the board as well. It’s all good signs, especially with Pasta out right now. Hopefully, we can just keep it going.”
It remains to be seen how often the Bruins will be able to function as they did against the Blackhawks with desperate teams scrapping for points across the league. But the response from the Bruins in their first game without Pastrnak was strong and unmistakable, and a sign that they are once again ready to steer through the adversity they navigated so expertly in the first half of the season.
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