It seems likely that, in his daydreams and musings, in his idle moments and salary cap-based diagrams, this is the team that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli envisioned: The high-scoring right wing to complement Milan Lucic and David Krejci. The feistiness exhibited by Zdeno Chara and, on Saturday, by Adam McQuaid. The skill to shut down a top-tier offense.
The Bruins had spent much of the first half of the season stumbling, handicapped by their injuries, ineffectiveness, coach Claude Julien’s inability to put out consistent lines and pairings, and by the rust that came with those returning from long periods in the press box.
Now, the Bruins have seen flashes of brilliance from rookie David Pastrnak and they have seen flashes of what they can be as a team.
Against the Lightning — the top team in the Eastern Conference — the Bruins recorded their fourth straight win, a 4-3 victory at the TD Garden on Tuesday night. It was a game in which the Bruins looked confident, played with spark, and got two more needed points.
“We all knew that when we have our whole team intact, we’re a really good team,” Brad Marchand said.
“But that’s the thing: We’re a really good team, and when you’re missing parts, it’s tough to fill a gap in the lineup, especially when you have guys out like Zee and Krech. You can’t replace guys like that.
“We all knew that when we were all back, we were going to be a really good team. And we know we are. But it’s all about playing the right way and believing in the system and working hard. When we do that and we have our whole team, we’re a good team.”
That whole team might soon include Pastrnak, at least on more than just a trial basis. The rookie added two more goals on Tuesday, after his two on Saturday, as he makes every effort to convince the Bruins brass to burn the first year of his entry-level contract.
“You know,” Julien said, “I think he’s making a case for himself.”
That case now includes four goals and one assist in eight career NHL games, along with the sense that his speed can change games. That was in evidence on Pastrnak’s first goal of the night, which came 15:24 into the second period. As Tuukka Rask (16-of-19 saves) said, “We don’t necessarily have too many guys like that.”
Pastrnak started moving his feet once he hit the red line, and did not stop until he had come all the way down the left side of the ice, around Ben Bishop in net, scoring backhand-to-forehand.
He wasn’t done.
Pastrnak, who had seven shots on goal, added the winner at 1:30 of the third on a wraparound off a faceoff win. It was the fourth goal that he had been on ice for against the Lightning, giving him a plus-four on the night in his 17:10 of ice time.
One of those goals came from Marchand off a beautiful feed from extra attacker Carl Soderberg on a delayed penalty at 16:42 of the first. The other came from Lucic (off the skate of Anton Stralman) at 19:06 of the second, a tie-breaking goal that marked the second score in three shifts for the line of Lucic, Krejci, and Pastrnak.
Since the Bruins lost Jarome Iginla this summer, there has been angst about who might play alongside Lucic and Krejci. The Bruins have auditioned a number of candidates, from Seth Griffith to Simon Gagne to (briefly) Loui Eriksson. All that time, Chiarelli has been working the phones to find an outside winger to fill the spot.
But Pastrnak could be his answer, despite the weight issue and the age issue and the entry-level contract issue.
He could be the missing piece.
“If he keeps playing like that, we don’t need to make any trades,” Dougie Hamilton quipped.
Of course, that’s a lot to heap on an 18-year-old. But over their last four games, with Pastrnak in the lineup for three of them, the Bruins have looked and played better, and have beaten two of the top teams in the East (Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay).
They came back twice from one-goal deficits on Tuesday, both courtesy of Steven Stamkos. They played the way that they should play, at least in the way that Julien and Chiarelli drew it up, despite a bit of a slow start. They looked like the Bruins, which hasn’t always been the case this season.
As Hamilton said, “I think it feels like it’s back to normal now.”