The Boston Bruins forward has scored 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in his first 48 career NHL postseason games. If he scores one point in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), he will become the seventh active NHL player to score 50 points before playing in 50 postseason games.
The others to do it are Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (37 games), Pittsburgh Penguins centers Sidney Crosby (37) and Evgeni Malkin (40), Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (46), Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (46) and Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (49).
Pastrnak made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in 2016-17 as a 20-year-old. It was his third season in the NHL, and he scored four points (two goals, two assists) in a six-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference First Round.
The next season, he scored 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 12 games, including 13 (five goals, eight assists) in seven games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. He had seven points (one goal, six assists) in a five-game loss to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Second Round, including four assists in a 6-2 win in Game 1. Six of his points (one goal, five assists) in the 2017-18 playoffs came on the power play.
Pastrnak followed that up by scoring 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 24 games in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, and has scored six points (two goals, four assists) in his first six games this postseason.
“I think the first year we had him, he had a lot to learn his first playoffs, like a lot of guys,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who was in his first season in that post in 2016-17. “It was tougher the next year, now you’re against Tampa [Bay] the second round, a really good series against Toronto, a completely different animal in how they defend, how physical they play.”
Cassidy said Pastrnak learned lessons about patience, being productive at even strength and how the Stanley Cup Playoffs are not the same as the regular season.
“Certainly, power play can help trigger those numbers but at the end of the day, 5-on-5, you need to produce if you want to be a point a game guy in the playoffs and he’s able to do that,” Cassidy said. “So that’s what I’ve seen out of [Pastrnak] — his growth, his second effort, his willingness not to get discouraged or frustrated when he gets shut down for a game or a period.
“Sometimes David gets lost in our lineup when we have a lot of penalties. He loses some shifts, so he’s got to mentally stay in the game and I think he’s done a better job with that.”
The Bruins also have gotten better at making sure Pastrnak is right back out on the ice after a penalty kill, to ensure he doesn’t lose his steam or get lost.
And he has rewarded them. After training camp opened on July 13 as part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, the 24-year-old was ruled unfit to play and missed all but one practice. Pastrnak played in all three of Boston’s losses in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers but failed to score a point. He had a goal and an assist in the Bruins’ 4-3 double-overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the first round, but missed Games 2, 3 and 4. He returned with two assists in the series-clinching 2-1 win in Game 5, and had a goal and an assist in Boston’s 3-2 victory in Game 1 win against Tampa Bay.
That included scoring on the power play for the Bruins’ second goal against the Lightning, off a cross-ice pass from center David Krejci at 4:34 of the second period.
“The one thing about [Pastrnak] is his release is so fast,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “When you look at the power-play goal he scored [on Sunday], now Krejci makes a [heck] of a pass to him, but that’s on and off the stick. A lot of guys can’t do that. It looks like you can, but they can’t, especially to put it where you want to.”
Pastrnak, who tied Ovechkin for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 48 goals in 70 games this season, lamented not only missing the chance to score 50 goals after the NHL season was paused on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, but also missing an opportunity to score 100 points for the first time in his NHL career, finishing with 95.
“To be honest, it’s a little sad, but I was actually more mad about the 100 points than scoring 50, to be honest,” he said in June. “But overall it was a good season. Sometimes in the world things happen that you can’t control and that’s what happened.”
Pastrnak began the regular season with with 25 goals in 27 games, prompting questions about whether he could become the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games since Brett Hull in 1991-92. That mark has been hit eight times by five players: Maurice Richard for the Montreal Canadiens (1944-45), Mike Bossy for the New York Islanders (1980-81), Wayne Gretzky (1981-82, 1983-84, 1984-85) for the Edmonton Oilers, Mario Lemieux (1988-89) for the Penguins and Hull (1990-91, 1991-92) for the St. Louis Blues.
But he couldn’t quite get there, slowing from that torrid pace to score three goals in the next 12 games.
Pastrnak can join another elite group with a point Tuesday. More importantly, though, he has a chance to try to help his team take a 2-0 series lead against the Lightning.
“I think he’s put a little more responsibility on his shoulders knowing that he has to produce,” Cassidy said. “He’s a top-end guy now. He’s paid like that. He’s respected like that throughout the League and our team, so he knows that there can’t be very many nights off if we want to be successful.”