BOSTON – In a season full of milestones, accomplishments and sign-posts of greatness, another hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night was a big one for 23-year-old David Pastrnak.
The Bruins game-breaking winger didn't do much in Wednesday night's 4-1 win over the Habs aside from score his fourth hat trick of the season, re-take the NHL scoring lead with his 39th, 40th and 41st goals of the season, surpass the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his NHL career and become the team's first 40-goal scorer in almost 20 years. Glen Murray was the last Bruins player to do it back in the 2002-03 season.
To put that in perspective as to how long it's been since it actually happened, Muzz's 44-goal year was the season prior to Patrice Bergeron's rookie campaign in the NHL as the youngest player in the league at 18 years old. Yawn, just another evening when long-held Bruins records are getting smashed by the happy-go-lucky goal-scorer from the Czech Republic.
"We have a great line and we've been together for a long time, so we know what to expect from each other. I couldn't do any of it without them," said Pastrnak, who had gone 10 days and four games without scoring a goal and had watched a couple of players pass him by in the NHL scoring race over that time. "Obviously I'm happy for [40 goals]. It's something I hadn't accomplished in my career. But I couldn't have done it without my teammates. I just want to keep it rolling."
It wasn't even a particularly dazzling night for the game-breaking Pastrnak as it was linemate Brad Marchand that made a highlight reel dangle and dish to set up a tap-in for him on the first goal, and a transition play with a nice feed from Sean Kuraly that set up his second goal. The third score was Pastrnak cleaning up a loose puck in front of the Montreal net on 4-on-3 power play, and then the hats came raining down from above.
Now Pastrnak is back on pace for 60 goals and 115 points on the season, and he should be part of an exhilarating scoring race with Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews after passing both with Wednesday night's second hat trick of the season against Montreal.
"The [40 goals] is a career-high, right? So that means he's moving forward. That's what you want, your younger players to keep taking steps. There's a lot of growth in his game that I like. Obviously, we want to see him continue to score; it helps us win games. So now he's at forty and who knows what's next, right?" said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "There's still a lot of hockey left. I think the way he started this year, we'd all thought he'd be in that area anyway, challenging for fifty [goals].
"That'll be the next conversation I assume, and good for him. He deserves it. He's done a lot of things well and he goes to the right spots, worked on his shot, worked on his strength to handle pucks. Let's see him keep going."
The natural question to ask is what the sky-high limit is for Pastrnak?
We might just see it this very season as Pastrnak is in a prime spot for a young scorer. He serves as the right winger on the Perfection Line with Patrice Bergeron and Marchand still at their prime level of performance, and with Pastrnak himself just 23 years old and entering the prime years of his NHL career. It remains to be seen how much longer Pastrnak will have this kind of talent surrounding him and supporting him in Boston given that it's an aging group of core players on the B's roster.
The talent isn't going to go anywhere for Pastrnak, though, with his speed, creativity, deadly shot and flashy hands firmly intact, so he should be one of the NHL's top goal scorers for the next decade provided he remains healthy. He might even be the kind of rare, elite player that could someday threaten for some truly big numbers like the 700 career goals that Ovechkin is approaching while he battles with Pastrnak for the NHL's scoring title this year.
He's already showing the ability to make adjustments and score in different ways as opponents attempt to contain him by any means possible. For example, Pastrnak didn't score a single goal in last night's hat trick on his patented one-timer from the face-off circle. Some scorers are rendered totally ineffective when their favorite spot on the ice is taken away from them, but Pastrnak's creativity and array of skills allow him to score from just about anywhere.
"[Pastrnak] has really become an elite player in the league. The fact that he's been able to still find ways to score even though teams are honing in on him is very impressive," said Marchand. "There are not many players in the league that can do that. He puts up with the abuse and guys shadowing him and still finds ways to score in different situations.
"He cares about the [defensive] aspect, he wants to win and he's a great teammate, so he's going to be a hell of a player for a long time. It's kind of scary to look at where his ceiling might be. He continues to push it and get better. It's fun to watch. It's fun to play with him. You always have to be on your toes because you never know what he's going to do. I don't even think he knows what he's going to do half of the time. It makes it dangerous for other teams and other players because he's so unpredictable."
There are still questions looming for Pastrnak when he gets to the postseason after last spring's inconsistency during the Cup Final run, and it goes without saying the young winger needs to remain healthy after a freak thumb injury adversely impacted both his fate and that of his team last spring.
But Wednesday night was a stopping point in a brilliant career year for Pastrnak to appreciate everything he's already accomplished, and wonder if this might be the start of the greatest game-breaking scorer in Bruins history truly starting to get things going. It certainly feels that way after watching another night of the Pastrnak Show in Boston.