BOSTON - -David Pastrnak isn’t going to ever have to worry about people wondering whether he’s a playoff performer ever again.
The 21-year-old broke Wayne Gretzky’s record for the youngest player to ever record a six point playoff game when piled on the three goals and three assists in Boston’s 7-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 on Saturday night. He also became the first Bruins player of any age to record a six point playoff game since all the way back in 1983 when Rick Middleton turned that trick against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins right winger now has four goals and nine points in two playoff games this spring, and has clearly made the jump to prime time performer with the Black and Gold after plenty of ups and down inconsistency in last year’s postseason debut. Pastrnak admitted after Saturday’s game that taking a step forward was his goal this spring, but nobody, himself included, envisioned him breaking the Great One’s early career outburst.
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“Well a lot, you know?” said Pastrnak, when asked how much he wanted to be a difference-maker in this spring’s playoffs for the Bruins. “Especially after last year, I felt a little bit of pressure to be honest but I liked it. I played with great players on a great team and we’re playing well now.
“It’s very easy for me to follow up the team. I think our leaders do a great job with us young guys. You guys know we have a lot of them. So, they prepare us well so do the coaches and I think that’s huge. We have a lot of guys who want it and they know what it takes.”
Clearly the Bruins have an excellent group of veteran leaders with guys like Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and David Backes leading the way among others, but a successful hockey club also needs young players willing to follow, take direction and work toward greater success. Pastrnak has always had the blazing skating speed, the rocket one-timer from the face-off dot and the hands to finish plays around the net, but the work he’s done to become physically stronger and more willing to battle has turned him into a lethal game-breaker.
It also means Pastrnak is much more comfortable attacking the net, and that’s where the first and third goal arrived in Saturday night’s hat trick where his hands dangled their way to successful scoring chances all alone in front. It’s really become a situation where Pastrnak can do offensive damage from any number of areas around the offensive zone, and he’s been hitting on every cylinder over the last two playoff games.
“[He’s] more comfortable in NHL playoff hockey, for one. I think last year was his first go-round.
Ottawa plays a stingy game, as we know, so it’s harder for those skill guys to find their ice and find creases and time and space. I think he was aware going in that it’s not easy [in the playoffs], so I’m going to have to make sure I take advantage of my opportunities when I do find the ice,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Breakthrough night? It’s a good term. You could look back and say it is. Six points in a Stanley Cup Playoff game with a hat trick? That’s special. Maybe it is, when you look back, but time will tell.
“Certainly, I think he’s more mature because of his previous experience last year. He’s stronger in general. We’ve talked about the difference in his game this year on pucks. He can escape some hits, and he can absorb 20 percent of a hit, stay on his feet and keep his momentum, 30 percent, 40 percent, whereas, in the past, some of that knocked him off stride. Some of it is maturity physically, some of it is maturity mentally knowing what to expect in the playoffs.”
Certainly Pastrnak has always been a talented forward in his own right as a 21-year-old really coming into his own as an NHL player in the last two seasons, but he’d also been kind of looked at as the third musketeer with Bergeron and Brad Marchand on their top line. Pastrnak is the young up-and-comer learning from one of the NHL’s best duos, to be sure. But it also looks like Pastrnak is taking his own talent to a whole different level in this postseason, and still has unlimited potential given how he good he already is at an extremely young age with four NHL seasons already under his belt.
“He’s got that confidence growing, so he wants to be the guy, he wants to make those plays and if we don’t have the puck he hunts it back. That’s what amazes me with him,” said Bergeron. “I think there are a lot of skilled players that are skilled when they have the puck; when they don’t have it they don’t necessarily want it as much as this guy right here. I think he’s taken a tremendous step this year by the way that he plays away from the puck.”
The challenge now for Pastrnak is that the bar has been raised, and the rest of the NHL is taking notice of No. 88. He’ll see even more attention paid his way through the rest of Boston’s playoff run this spring, so it’s up to Pastrnak to bust through that and continue creating offense while serving as one-third of the best forward line the NHL has to offer this spring. That’s probably a lot of pressure for a youngster like Pastrnak, but as he himself said about any pressure facing him this postseason, “I liked it.”