By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Finally, mercifully, the hockey gods rewarded David Pastrnak.
With the minutes ticking down and the Bruins clinging to a 5-4 lead in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, Pastrnak was presented with the latest in a long line of scoring chances since his unforgettably dominant Game 2 performance. "Pasta" barely came up short time and time again in his previous four contests, whether it was a puck that clanged off the post or a show-stopping save by Frederik Andersen.
The dynamic 21-year-old, who became the youngest player to ever score six points in a playoff game in Game 2, wasn't missing by much. Bitten by the proverbial playoff snake, Pastrnak was unable to light the lamp despite 16 shots on goal from Games 3-6. It took until over 51 minutes into regulation in Game 7, but Wednesday night ultimately proved different. Left alone in the slot, Pastrnak took a pass from a lunchpail effort by Patrice Bergeron, weaved around a diving Jake Gardiner, and buried it past Andersen for his first goal since that magical Game 2.
After a rough series of games, Pastrnak expressed relief at his line's ability to finally come through when the Bruins needed their best 20 minutes of the season.
"Yeah, you know, I mean we had a not very good first two periods, so you know, tried to get back in the third, and you know, hell of a job by Bergy and March, you know, and it was a great period for us," said Pastrnak.
Some insurance ????. pic.twitter.com/oWsXPqY80C
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 26, 2018
"We Were In Sync"
Despite the rocky first two periods, which had the Bruins down 4-3 after two frames despite out-shooting the Leafs 25-16 at the time, the Bruins' top line had already broken the ever-tightening seal. Bergeron cashed in on a golden opportunity after missing out in a solid Game 6, corralling a savvy intentionally wide shot by Kevan Miller to tuck the rebound in past Andersen.
Both his goal and Pastrnak's goal represented a return to the kind of hockey that has made the Bruins' No. 1 line so successful all season. Tenacious team forechecking, winning puck battles, and - most importantly - finishing on the most sterling of chances. Bergeron certainly agreed.
"I guess we got back to getting to the net and feeding off each other and reading off each other," said Bergeron of the Pastrnak goal. "I thought that was a perfect example of the type of goals we can score on the forecheck. We were in sync. That was the example right there."
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 26, 2018
The Final Nail
On the whole, Brad Marchand's night was a bit more forgettable than his linemates. The Leafs' fourth goal was especially ugly. It started when Marchand woefully mishandled the puck at the offensive blue line on a power play, then blew his backcheck against Kasperi Kapanen as he dangled shootout-style around Tuukka Rask.
But late in the third, Marchand gave himself what felt like a much-needed boost of confidence, and an opportunity to ride some momentum into the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite the Bruins holding a 6-4 lead in the final minute, the Garden crowd sure could've used one more dagger as the Leafs pressed with an empty net. Marchand plunged the stake into the Leafs' hearts as he lofted a backhand into the gaping goal, quickly waltzing over to the Bruins bench as he declared "It's [expletive] over."
Marchand explained to reporters after the game how the Bruins were able to head into what turned out to be a dominant third period. Much like the previous three losses, in which the top line scored precisely zero points, Marchand still knew that the trio simply needed to keep plugging away before they could open the floodgates.
"We didn’t have to cheat to win; we just wanted to continue to play our game," said Marchand. "We were getting opportunities and we just figured it was a matter of time and luckily, again, it went our way."
Answering The Bell
In Game 6, the Bruins' top-3 forwards didn't look like a group that felt confident it could beat Andersen, who stole at least two wins for the Leafs in the series. Marchand and Pastrnak, especially, tried to do too much with the pucks on their sticks. Too many unnecessary dangle attempts, too many turnovers on ill-advised passes. But they returned to their true strengths in Game 7, and triumphantly so.
The timing could not have been better for the B's and their leading forward group. They finished the series with a combined 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists), finishing the job in an uneven series but a dominant offensive effort overall.
More consistency would be nice against the more defensively sound Lightning. But it's clear that the Bruins' No. 1 line is capable of taking over a game when they're focused, working together, and keeping things simple. Their speed and forechecking got back to its highest level, especially in the third period - and lo and behold, they helped boost the Bruins toward a potentially season-defining win.
Jake DeBrusk may have been the true hero for the Bruins in Game 7. But in a do-or-die situation, the B's best soldiers gave the squad a heroic battle of their own.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].