. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
What you’re watching is boy become a man in David Pastrnak. In just his 21st game of the season, it was the 20-year-old Pastrnak that came through with two key goals, including the overtime game-winner, in a 4-3 final over the visiting Panthers, his 14th and 15th goals of the year.
His clinic against the Cats was just par for the course in a game in which the Bruins simply devoured the Panthers D for 36 shots.
The weak point of the Panthers through the first two months of the season, the Bruins exposed their shoddy defensive play with some first period trickery. Or just some flatout mind numbing patience.
It was center David Krejci that set up camp behind the Florida net with enough patience and borderline boredom from No. 46 that lulled the Panthers into a puck-watching daze while winger Tim Schaller broke through a four-man box of Panthers, including Aaron Ekblad, and scored on Roberto Luongo for his fourth goal of the season.
Scored with just 1:28 left in the first period, Schaller’s tally as the game’s lone goal through 20 minutes of play.
But as they did in Buffalo two days prior, the Bruins allowed the opposition to claw their way back into contention behind a sleepy middle period that featured 11 shots on Tuukka Rask, with Jaromir Jagr finally putting the Cats on the board at the 9:44 mark.
The Bruins once again exposed some wrinkles in their opponent’s defense, however, as the Bergeron line danced around the attacking zone to the dismay of the Panthers. It began with a Patrice Bergeron shot that went a little high of Luongo, was continued with a Brad Marchand retrieval of the puck, and finished with a bullet from David Pastrnak.
With the goal, scored with just 3:23 left in the second period, Pastrnak’s total on the year jumped to 14, while his post-injury return line jumped up to four goals and six points in seven games since Thanksgiving.
Florida answered yet again, though, 7:54 into the third period behind an Aleksander Barkov goal (with an assist to ex-Bruin Reilly Smith) that featured a rarely seen sight: a Bergeron turnover and Zdeno Chara present goal against.
Like a boxing match, these teams continued to trade punches, as the Bruins jumped back out front with a David Backes deflection just over the 13-minute mark of the third period for his seventh goal of the season. But like they did all game, the Panthers responded late, on 6-on-5 goal scored by Jason Demers with just 1:29 to go in the third.
It was the Bruins that once again had their say, though, behind Pastrnak’s second of the night, scored just 1:23 into the overtime.
Here are four other things we learned in this one
Chara returns to lineup after six-game absence
After what felt like an eternity of an increase in participation in practices, drills, and morning skates, the 39-year-old Zdeno Chara finally returned to the B’s lineup tonight after missing the previous six games with a lower-body injury.
Paired with his normal partner Brandon Carlo on the club’s top pairing, Chara seemed to ease himself back in the game with an uptick in his overall comfort as the game went on. This has been the biggest issue for Chara in his road to a return, too, as it’s been alluded to that it wasn’t clearance that held the 6-foot-9 captain back, but rather his overall comfort/discomfort with whatever it was that had been ailing him since the second period of the Black and Gold’s Nov. 22 loss to the Blues.
Rask writes 21st chapter of mastery over Panthers
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask entered tonight’s game with some straight-up staggering career numbers against the Panthers. I’m talking lights out and then some kind of stuff. Coming into action with 16 wins and a .951 save percentage in 20 career games against the Panthers, it was more of the same from the 29-year-old stud early in this one, as Rask turned away all but one of the first 19 shots thrown his way, and all but two of the first 28 shots thrown on net by the Panthers.
What you liked from Rask in this one was what you’ve liked all night from Rask, too. He was calm around the front of his net, tracked pucks well, and came up with big stops when you needed them (for the most part).
In a game that finished with stops on 28 of 30 shots against, Rask improved to 17-3-1 against the Panthers in his career, although his save percentage dipped down a few points into the .940 range. Still, pretty decent.
Jaromir Jagr continues to find success against Bruins
It was in the summer of 2013 that the Bruins walked away from Jaromir Jagr. At 41, and after a postseason that featured zero goals and 10 assists in 22 games in an unsuccessful pursuit of the Stanley Cup Final, though the Bruins fell just two wins short, the Bruins seemed to believe that Jagr was done. Most of the league felt that way, too, apparently, as Jagr did not land a contract with a team until late July on a one-year deal with the Devils that was loaded with games played bonuses.
In the short term, it made sense for the B’s, who replaced Jagr with Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson. But looking back on it, the Bruins were without a doubt wrong about Jagr and his shelf life. And pushing 45, Jagr has made ’em realize it with every chance.
In his 13th head-to-head against the Bruins since leaving Boston — where tallied two goals and nine points in 11 games, and 19 points in 33 games overall if you care to include those aforementioned playoff totals — No. 68 came through with the Panthers’ first goal of the night, giving him two goals and 11 points in 13 games against the Black and Gold since 2013.
Spooner-Nash-Czarnik line shows some promise
You never want to lose a player like Matt Beleskey — the 28-year-old missed tonight’s game with a suspected lower-body injury and underwent further evaluation this morning — but if you do, it’s important that you see nights like the one you saw from the Bruins’ makeshift third line with Ryan Spooner in Beleskey’s spot on the left side with Riley Nash and Austin Czarnik. In a complementary scoring role and a line with three centers, the trio really appeared to generate some stellar offensive opportunities with the help of the speed on the wings (Czarnik and Spooner might just be the B’s fastest skaters) and strong puck movement through the neutral zone. This may have also been the best game of the year put forth by Spooner — who was straight-up robbed by Roberto Luongo on a top shelf chance on a first period power play — all things considered.
Spooner would take some third period shifts with the David Krejci and David Backes combination, as has become somewhat of a tradition when the Bruins are looking for more offense from that line, and would take the shot that put the Bruins in front 3-2, though it would Backes that collected the goal with his net-front tip.
Still, if Beleskey’s injury is anything serious, it would make some sense for the Bruins to keep this group together.
The Bruins return to the ice with a Wednesday night road tilt against the Capitals.