David Pastrnak couldn’t contain his excitement.
“Oh man, I was so happy to have him back. You have no idea,” Pastrnak said after Thursday night’s game, speaking about who else but Tuukka Rask.
“I was ready to leave it all out there for him. I told him I was going to get a hat trick before the game. He didn’t believe me.”
Pastrnak made good on his promise to the returning netminder, connecting with his newfound mates on the No. 2 line for one goal, and pounding home two more on the power play, in the Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Flyers.
Rask, in familiar, fine form, stopped 25 of 27 shots in his first game since last June 9, when he was struggling with a tear in the labrum of his hip in a second-round playoff series loss to the Islanders.
“It was [emotional],” said Rask, who was showered with “Tuuuuuuk” calls every time he was involved in the play. “It was very much out of the normal, I guess, the way I was feeling before the game … It was great to see the fan support. The best fans.
“It felt like I was home, basically.”
Rask later revealed that, while compromised last spring, he couldn’t attempt some of the kick saves he made in the first period: “Totally out of the question.”
The toughest was shooting out his right pad while dropping into a butterfly. But that’s what he did in the second period, denying Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson for one of his three breakaway saves. Coach Bruce Cassidy said in terms of tracking, stopping, and playing puck, he “looked like old Tuukka.” Rask reported no medical issues postgame, beyond normal soreness.
The Bruins (21-11-2) enter a Saturday matinee with Western Conference-leading Nashville (1 p.m.) having won four in a row, and seven of eight since Jan. 1. Their bargain-bin goalie (one-year, $1 million contract) may trade spots with Linus Ullmark.
The Bruins, who used a defensive six-pack including AHL-seasoned Tyler Lewington, Jack Ahcan, and Urho Vaakanainen (the latter gaining traction), won a tighter contest against Philadelphia (13-16-7) than their previous beatdowns of Tampa Bay, Washington and Montreal. Veterans made mistakes, too, particularly in a sloppy second period and late in the third, when a pair of puck-over-glass penalties (Brandon Carlo, Charlie Coyle) gave the Flyers a two-man advantage.
Flyers netminder Carter Hart stopped 33 of 36, keeping the Bruins from extending their lead beyond Pastrnak’s 14th, 15th, and 16th goals of the season. Pastrnak, like All-Star snub Brad Marchand, has eight strikes in the last 10 days.
“He certainly looks like he’s turned the corner,” Cassidy said of Pastrnak. “It looked like he could have had five or six goals.”
Pastrnak struck on the first shot of the game, at 1:51 of the first, the second line of Taylor Hall, Erik Haula, and Pastrnak jumping all over the Flyers’ poor passing and high-zone coverage.
“Big goal for us as a line,” Pastrnak said. “We got a turnover, and I think none of us had the puck on our stick longer than a second, but we all touched it, and it ended up in the net.”
Pastrnak had his second, at 5:27, before Rask faced a shot. On the power play, Marchand sold a shot and expertly hooked a cross-ice pass to his right wing.
Rask swallowed up Ivan Provorov’s wrister from the point at 9:19 of the first (shots to that point: 7-0, Boston) and made one of his biggest stops with 9:28 left in the second. After Justin Braun sprung Joel Farabee with a stretch pass, Rask closed the pads to deny Farabee’s backhand, five-hole deke attempt. Rask also made that breakaway save on Atkinson, whose redirect of a point shot at 8:02 of the second cut the Bruins’ lead to 2-1.
Farabee made good with 5:00 left in the second, tying the game at 2 with fantastic, coordinated skill. He took another pass up the middle, corralling it with his skates and stick. Charlie McAvoy, waiting at the far blue line, was on his heels and made a poor attempt at a hip check. His fellow Boston University Terrier played give-and-go with Atkinson and dunked the return feed.
The Bruins went on the power play 16 seconds later, Craig Smith drawing a trip. Pastrnak drew a hooking call, giving the Bruins 48 seconds of five on three. He pumped home a one-timer for the hat trick at 16:45.
Pastrnak had eight goals in his first 28 games. He has eight goals in his last 18 periods. In celebration, he picked up a black-and-gold toque. It wasn’t as “sexy” as the one Marchand collected the night before, but no matter.
The last instance of hat tricks in back-to-back nights scored by different Bruins was Peter McNab and Barry Pederson on April 3-4, 1982, against the Nordiques and Whalers. This is the sixth time it has happened in Bruins annals.
Don’t tell Pastrnak that his buddy “Tuuks” didn’t make it possible.
“It’s really good to have him back,” Pastrnak said of Rask. “He’s one of my closest friends and I missed him, obviously. He was outstanding, the saves he made. Great to have him back. I could be sitting here for 15 minutes talking about him.”