Mired in a protracted offensive slump, David Pastrnak broke out with a pair of early goals Saturday night in Tampa, helping the Bruins to make quick and easy work of the two-time Cup champs with a 5-2 win over the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
The goals, his 10th and 11th, delivered Pastrnak his first two-goal game of the season, and perhaps signaled a turnaround for the star Czech winger who had scored but once in his prior 11 games — denied on 36 of his 37 shots over the last six weeks.
Brad Marchand also scored twice, one of them an empty netter, and Taylor Hall picked up a pair of assists as the Bruins improved to 18-11-2 (.613) for the season, picking up 2 more points in their attempt to solidify a wildcard playoff spot in the East.
Linus Ullmark (27 stops) improved his record to 5-1-0 over his last six starts, his game rounding into form now just as veteran Tuukka Rask appears ready to rejoin the club after offseason hip surgery.
“He’s such a dominant player and he knows what an impact he has on games for our group,” said Marchand, reflecting on Pastrnak’s recent travails. “I think he holds himself to a very high standard, wants to be a difference maker every night. Yeah, when it doesn’t go his way it is frustrating, being a guy that’s relied upon to score. You want to produce for your group, especially if things aren’t going your way as a team … it’s just great to see him get rewarded.”
Pastrnak’s poor scoring luck finally changed, and dramatically, in the first period with his two pots against Andrei Vasilevskiy. He connected at 1:11 and 6:10, good for the 2-0 lead. Both of Pastrnak’s goals came at even strength — the first time since Nov. 20, when Derek Forbort knocked home a pair vs the Flyers, that a Bruins player connected for two at even strength in the same game.
The Bruins booted the lead up to 4-0 with strikes by Marchand and Anton Blidh in the second, and Marchand iced it for good with an empty netter late in the third after Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point closed it to within 4-2.
“There was a lot to like,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “I liked our puck battles. I think a lot of our goals were generated by winning pucks on the wall, playing north, minimizing mistakes in terms of them getting easy chances. I guess that’s what I liked best about our game — we played a hard-to-play against style tonight.”
On the downside, the Bruins lost veteran Nick Foligno to an unspecified left leg injury midway through the first period, Cassidy forced to go with 11 forwards the rest of the night. Post-game, the club offered only scant details about Foligno and how long he could be lost. He appeared to be in considerable pain and discomfort as he left the ice.
“We knew right away he wouldn’t return,” said Cassidy. “Give us a couple of days, but my guess is we’ll probably rule him out for Monday.”
The Bruins also were without top defenseman Charlie McAvoy, scratched for a second game in a row due to a lower-body injury. Cassidy sounded assured the McAvoy will be good to go for Monday night’s game in D.C.
Foligno, limping and grimacing, disappeared down the tunnel after only six shifts and 3:45 in ice time.
Marchand and Blidh book-ended their goals in the second, leaving the Bruins with a meaty 4-0 lead headed into the second intermission.
Marchand struck only 26 seconds into the period with a clever backhand tip of a Mike Reilly slap pass. It was Marchand’s team-high 13th of the season and it came on only the eighth shot of the night against Vasilevskiy.
Only 5:06 remained in the second when Blidh struck, with help from fellow Swede Oskar Steen, who set up Blidh with a relay after helping to disrupt Cal Foote’s possession in the neutral zone.
Blidh and Steen both have begun to gain traction in their game as emerging members of the bottom six — and that could be of vital importance if Foligno now is forced to miss any significant time.
Steen, in only seven games since his callup from AHL Providence, has produced a 1-4—5 line.
“Steen wins pucks … very competitive along the wall,” said Cassidy. “For his lack of height, he is able to get low and win pucks that way, similar to Marchy. He’s competitive in those areas. He doesn’t bail. He’s willing to take a hit if he has to, does a good job of establishing position. Usually that has something to do with his first step. Hockey IQ as well — a smart player.”
The Bruins came up with a huge penalty kill in the second, forced to go two-men short midway through the period when Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were whistled off only 1:13 apart for minor infractions. The Lightning had a prime chance to cut the lead down to 3-1 or 3-2, especially with Boston’s two best penalty killers sitting in the front row.
But the Bruins killed off both penalties, allowing only one shot on Ullmark, and Blidh salted it away just over three minutes after the kill was complete.
“We pressured them in the right moments,” said Ullmark. “There were some bobbled pucks and we got them out, forced them to make mistakes, by what I saw at least. We were in the right positions to keep it away from the net.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.