Halfway to 50 goals, David Pastrnak is now proving he can handle pressure

Dec 1, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) reacts after scoring the go ahead goal during the third period against the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

First, an out of context Bruce Cassidy -- "David Pastrnak's a big boy."

It feels like we do this after every Pastrnak goal, but here's something fun to consider: Pastrnak's 25 goals in 27 games to begin the year is the best start to any season since Jaromir Jagr did the same almost 25 years ago. And Sunday's comeback-opening goal against Canadiens netminder Carey Price in the third period of a 3-1 win was yet another highlight-reel tally from No. 88.

But it was also one that showed that Pastrnak, who is halfway to 50 goals, is not going to slow down for anybody.

If you watched how the Canadiens handled Pastrnak throughout the night, Claude Julien made one thing clear to his team: Make life hell for this kid. It's not a bad strategy, all things considered. I mean, he's basically tormented the league for fun this season, and slowing him down by any means necessary should be at the top of any team's to-do list. The Canadiens tried doing that in the second period, too, with Brendan Gallagher playing the role of verbal irritant while Shea Weber brought the muscle that battered Pastrnak on the ensuing faceoff. Still, Pastrnak got up and did what he needed to do to create chances for the B's.

This is an obvious sign of the growth, as well as the physical and mental maturity, everybody has seen Pastrnak show both on and off the ice this season, and something Pastrnak admitted may not have been the case as recently as two years ago.

"That’s hockey, right? That’s sports. You can’t really protect him," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted. "I mean, you can get matchups where you keep him away from certain people, but that’s just going to take away from his game.

So you can put him on the ice with certain type of players, but I think those days it used to be, well, you’ve got [Wayne] Gretzky and [Jari] Kurri, we’ll put [Dave] Semenko out there. You just don’t see a lot of that anymore. So some of it is, when he’s receiving the puck, he’s going to have to pre-scout, work back some of these more physical guys so he doesn’t put himself in vulnerable positions. Certainly we can push back and I thought we did, it upped our emotional energy. We got in there and battled as a group, and that sometimes tempers it as well.

"If you don’t back each other up, teams feel like they can take liberties."

But so long as there's backup in some way, Pastrnak will continue to light the lamp.

Even if there's no backup out there for his goal celebrations.

Here are some other thoughts and notes from yet another comeback win at TD Garden...

David Backes makes big impact in return to Boston lineup

It's been a tough Boston ride for David Backes.

Now in the fourth year of a five-year, $30 million deal that simply hasn't paid off (and prevented the Bruins from being able to shed Backes off their books last summer), it seems like Backes is constantly battling something. If it's not an injury -- Backes has fought everything from multiple concussions to diverticulitis to a gash on his leg -- it's finding his spot within a crowded Boston roster. His latest setback, a concussion-they-won't-call-a-concussion, knocked him out of action for 13 games, and put Backes in true no man's land as a possibly permanently damaged piece. I mean, it was fair to wonder just what they were going to do given the amount of trauma you would suspect would be on No. 42 given his history in this regard.

But Backes assured everybody that he was given a clean bill of health, and turned his return to action into a feel-good moment, as he came through with the game-winning power-play goal in the third period of the 3-1 victory.

"To have some adversity, to put hard work in, to be back in the lineup and have that opportunity and then to make good on it is really cool to have that micro story line," Backes offered. "Two weeks ago I wasn't even skating and didn't know if I was done for my career. To go through the steps I went through to get healthy, to have that moment was special."

The 35-year-old Backes' night went beyond just a cool moment, though, as his line with Par Lindholm and Joakim Nordstrom dominated, with the Bruins holding a 8-1 edge in shots in just under seven minutes of five-on-five play.

"We’re happy it worked out, happy for him," Cassidy said of Backes' return to action. "Listen, he’s been working hard to get back in the lineup, we didn’t know what he’d have to be honest with you, he hadn’t played in a while. I thought he gave us some good energy, had a couple of looks, was banging bodies and his pace seemed fine."

Now, we've seen this before: Backes plays well, has a moment, and then it dips out of frame in the second and third showings. That really can't happen this time around, as the Bruins are nearing some crucial decisions with their roster limits.

A sneaky-important sequence sparked another Bruins comeback

The Bruins were hunting for the equalizer when Brendan Gallagher found himself with a breakaway chance on Tuukka Rask.

But Gallagher, seemingly one of the biggest PITAs the Bruins have dealt with in their recent era of Bruins-Canadiens hockey, was denied by Rask. The 32-year-old Rask came through with yet another stop a couple seconds later, this time on a deflection, and kept the Bruins within one. The Bruins responded with that Pastrnak rip just three minutes later, and off they went.

Huge, huge stops for a goaltender who's rattled off six straight wins and posted a .943 save percentage over that span.

And don't look now, but the Bruins have as many wins when trailing after two periods of play as they do losses, with a 4-2-2 record when down after 40 minutes of play. That's tied with the Capitals for the best mark in the NHL. No shock that these are two of the best teams in the NHL, mind you, as elite teams have the ability to routinely turn bad nights into something.

Is it almost lights out for Claude Julien? 

I honestly thought that the Bruins were going to fire Claude Julien for the second time in less than three years on Sunday night. I mean, just think about the last week alone for Julien and the Bruins; Boston hammered his team for eight goals on home ice last Tuesday, and then smoked them for three unanswered goals in a third-period comeback on Garden ice. They were perhaps the two most glaring losses of what's become an eight-game slide for the Canadiens (their worst in 80 years), who are straight-up free-falling out of the Atlantic Division, and now sit four points out of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

And this is a painfully dull Canadiens team, really. They still don't have a legitimate center at the top of their roster, Carey "$10.5 million per year" Price has posted a career-worst .898 save percentage on the year, and Montreal has just two players in the league's top 84 scorers. As a team, Montreal has the worst penalty kill in all of hockey, while their goal differential currently ranks as the ninth-worst in all of hockey. All while being one of the best possession teams in all of hockey. (I remember this.)

But speaking with reporters after the loss in Boston, Julien decided to moan about the officiating screwing his team.

"I thought we played really, really well and then that penalty behind the net changed the outcome of the game," Julien said. "And it’s unfortunate, it was a bad call. His stick, Krug’s stick, is stuck under his own player and as a referee in a 1-1 hockey game you’ve got to make sure when you make those calls, and I’m pissed off at the way that was handled."

I'm sure Montreal's pissed off at how everything is being handled, Claude.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.