David Pastrnak, Bruins’ Game 7 OT hero, breathes again: ‘A little relief’

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BOSTON — In overtime, David Pastrnak received a breakout pass from Brandon Carlo just above the Boston Bruins’ blue line. Pastrnak tapped the puck into the Boston end for Hampus Lindholm and started to swing up the ice.

Lindholm knew exactly what was happening.

By the time Lindholm settled the puck at the blue line, the defenseman saw that Pastrnak was flying. Lindholm’s job was to gain the red line and send the puck down the ice to Pastrnak. Lindholm knew good things would happen.

Like a 2-1 Game 7 overtime win.

“I’ve played with him for a long time,” Lindholm said. “Enough to see when we swing, he swings like that.”

In games 5, 6 and 7, the Toronto Maple Leafs excelled at occupying middle ice. By stacking the neutral zone with three men, the Leafs kept the Bruins from gaining speed into the offensive zone.

But by gaining the red line before John Tavares could seal off his advance, Lindholm knew he could bypass the Leafs’ three-wide perimeter. He placed his cross-corner dump perfectly. Pastrnak, in full flight, had gotten behind Mitch Marner. By the time the puck caromed off the end boards and onto Pastrnak’s stick, Ilya Lyubushkin, the closest Toronto defender, had no chance of catching up.

The Bruins’ most gifted goal scorer was not going to botch a backhand OT winner.

“Pasta did his magic,” Lindholm said.

Pastrnak settled the puck on his backhand. Even at an all-out sprint, he had the touch to bring it to his forehand, switch to his backhand again and beat Ilya Samsonov.

“Obviously, a lot of excitement,” Pastrnak said of the winner. “You could say a little relief as well.”

Pastrnak has made a living — at an $11.25 million annual payday, no less — off putting pucks in nets. What had come so easily for the No. 1 right wing during a 47-goal regular season, however, was nowhere in sight during the playoffs. Pastrnak had just two goals through six games against the Leafs.

It wasn’t just that. He was fumbling pucks. He was not shooting enough. Pastrnak was not himself, and his coach let him know it after Game 6.

Pastrnak concurred.

“If I’m the coach and you were me, I would say the same thing,” Pastrnak said. “I had no problem with him saying that. He’s trying to bring the best out of every single player. He expects more. I’m trying to be better, I admit it. I need to be better. I still have ways to be better.”

Before Game 7, Montgomery came up with a plan to express more out of Pastrnak. He moved Pavel Zacha, his usual center, to left wing. He moved Morgan Geekie to center. It would give the line more strength on the puck and perhaps give Pastrnak more opportunities to do his thing.

Pastrnak, in turn, reassured his coach that things would be just fine.

The Bruins turned Game 7 into a road-like business trip. On Friday, upon returning from Toronto, they checked into a Boston hotel instead of going to their own homes. They held a video meeting at the hotel before calling it a night.

On Saturday, they reported to TD Garden, not Warrior Ice Arena as they usually do, for their morning skate. Pastrnak greeted Montgomery with his usual good cheer.

“He had a smile on his face, ear to ear,” Montgomery said. “He goes, ‘What’s up, Coach? You sleep well?’ As soon as I know he’s in that frame of mind, I knew he was going to be good tonight.”

Pastrnak hasn’t always been smiling in Round 1. During games, he spent more time on his back than usual. That occurred in Game 7, too. In the first period, Joel Edmundson flattened Pastrnak.

But Pastrnak doesn’t mind physical play. Edmundson’s body slam did not discourage him from pressuring the net on later shifts alongside Zacha and Geekie.

“I feel like we spent more time in the O-zone against our matchup than they did in our D-zone,” Pastrnak said. “We had a good game. We had a couple chances. We spent a lot of time in the O-zone. I like the way our line played today. Hopefully we can contribute even more and help the team moving forward.”

Round 1 was not easy for Pastrnak. He expects to score, and score often. But the best players persist amid blunted opportunities.

“He’s our star player,” Lindholm said. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re a player like him. But the way he carries himself, the way he comes to the rink and works every day, the stuff the fans and you guys don’t see, it’s so fun to see a guy like that succeed.”

(Photo: China Wong / NHLI via Getty Images)

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