Going into Thursday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Boston Bruins were sitting in the second wild card playoff spot, three points ahead of the Ottawa Senators and six points ahead of the Florida Panthers. Their win over the Panthers on Tuesday was in large part due to the efforts of the line of Milan Lucic, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak. Since being put together when David Krejci ended up out with a knee injury, there was some concern about if the recalled Spooner could step up his play. He’d been up before and in his prior chances had not been able to score.
Spooner’s first goal was an overtime winner against the New Jersey Devils and as often happens, once that monkey was off his back, he continued to find the back of the net. With the change in scoring of the Bruins second goal on Tuesday from Pastrnak to Spooner, he now has eight goals in 24 games played this season, along with nine assists for 17 points. He will be the first to tell you though that he doesn’t do it alone. He mentions his line mates frequently and considers himself lucky to have Lucic on his line.
For Lucic, he’s had to take on a Papa Bear role with his young lineys, which is definitely something new for him.
“Yeah, I’ve never really been in this position where you’re the oldest guy and, you know, a lot more games than both of them put together,” Lucic said after Tuesday’s game. “Just trying to enjoy it and trying to have fun with it—you see they’re having a lot of fun, just trying to have that, I guess, youthful fun like I had when I was their age. It’s become contagious between the three of us. You just want to—as an athlete and as a competitor—you just want to be able to contribute in any way that you can, and it’s nice to get some results.”
And despite being the youngest player in the NHL, it is clear that Pastrnak believes in himself, but he is also keeping his eyes and ears open. He was willing to go down to the Providence Bruins to work on some things. But his joy of the game is clear whether he’s at practice, in the locker room, on the bench or helping his line score.
“He’s been able to mature as a young kid,” Lucic said about Pastrnak. “It’s not easy to do, especially in the best league in the world, and him coming in here and just bring that youthful energy and having a lot of fun living the dream of playing in the NHL.”
Consider that for a moment. Pastrank is 18 years old and was drafted in the first round by the Bruins in June, 2014. He came to Boston for development camp and hoped he would get to stay. And that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of his time playing during the IIHF World Junior Championship, when he represented his home country of the Czech Republic. He spent a few weeks in Providence, but since being brought back up, he’s been an active contributor to the team.
The rookie has played 41 games and is just one goal shy of the number of goals that Tyler Seguin—the last true young phenom the Bruins had on the team—did in a full season, and has more assists for more total points. His motivation? Being chosen 25th at the Draft.
“When the draft came, you know, in the summer, I went 25 to become a Bruin, so that means 24 teams passed on me you know and that’s something that pushed me pretty much to work hard,” Pastrnak told media after Tuesday’s game and after being voted the season’s 7th Player Award winner. “Once I will get to the NHL just show the other teams they did wrong and I’m happy the Bruins trusted in myself and I’m trying to give it to them back.”
After their game against the Panthers, I had a chance to chat with Spooner and I asked him what he felt he needed to do to step things up with so few games remaining.
“Probably be more hard on the pucks in the offensive zone,” Spooner said. “I mean, as a line we’ve been scoring I think for us, I think we just need to have the mentality that we need to attack more.”
And attack Spooner did during Thursday’s game against the Red Wings. He had six shots on goal—the most of anyone dressed in black and gold—and had an assist on the game-winning goal.
Lucic did not have his usual minutes of play in Detroit and Pastrnak had the least of all the Boston Bruins. Pastrnak’s diminished time on ice could have been a result of how the Red Wings were targeting him with major hits whenever he had the puck or had just gotten rid of the puck. And some of the differences in lines and total ice times could also have been a result of the length of time that Patrice Bergeron was unavailable. Took most of the second period for him to get stitched up after a stick to the face on a faceoff.
Having been down two goals going into the third period, it’s clear that there was talk again during the second intermission, as they must have talked Tuesday when playing the Panthers. Whatever the leadership is saying appears to be working though, because they came out hard and kept it up for almost the entire third period, scoring three goals and winning the game in regulation. The core group has been through these games before.
“There’s probably 60 to 80 percent of the team, I’d say actually, that have won a Cup or been deep in the playoffs,” Spooner said Tuesday. “So for a guy like me, like I haven’t been in this spot before, and just to have guys like that that know like what’s gonna happen is great to have for me. I kind of just sit back and just try to take it all in.”
It will be interesting to see what the lines look like when the team hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, but Lucic has left an impression on both of his line mates.
“[Lucic’s] been in the league for a while now,” Pastrnak told media after the Panthers’ game. “I’m really happy I can play with a guy like [him] and he’s trying to help me and I try to pick up as much experience as I can from him, you know, and I really appreciate he’s been helping me like that.”