By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — David Pastrnak stepped to the podium Thursday in the aftermath of the Bruins’ Game 1 win against Toronto in the Eastern Conference first round at TD Garden wearing an unusual wide-brimmed, round hat.
The 21-year-old’s headdress gave you an idea of what the pilgrims would’ve worn had they landed in Brooklyn and become hipsters. Asked after his press conference whether his hat has a name, Pastrnak avoided coining it an urban sombrero or any other fancy moniker and explained: “This is when I wake up too late from my nap and I don’t have time to fix my hair.”
The Maple Leafs wish Pastrnak had overslept a lot more.
The Bruins’ top-line right wing had one goal and two assists and attempted 10 shots (four on net) in the 5-1 series-opening win, and those were the contributions he made to the Bruins’ cause that could be measured. Over the course of his 16:02 of ice time, Pastrnak was a whirling dervish putting the Maple Leafs back on their heels, finishing checks and helping the Bruins break out of their own end quickly and cleanly.
This was the type of dominant performance, complete with a 75 percent Corsi For percentage, that the Bruins thought they’d get from Pastrnak when they signed him to a six-year contract worth $40 million as a restricted free agent in September. He responded during the regular season by setting a new career-high with a team-leading 35 goals. He also set career bests with 45 assists and 80 points.
He impressed linemate with his ability to continue to improve under the pressure of more money and more attention.
“The biggest thing that I was happy to see was how he came back from the year that he had and he signed the big contract. A lot of guys will kind of take a step back and be comfortable,” linemate Brad Marchand said before the series started. “But he still had that drive to come out and want to have another really good year. His consistency was better this year and he came up big in a lot of big games. So it’s another step for him, he’s becoming a good pro, and that’s the biggest thing is being able to play at that level every night.”
Pastrnak was mediocre against Ottawa in last year’s first-round, six-game playoff loss. He had four points (two goals, two assists) in his first foray into the NHL postseason. In Game 1 against Toronto he proved that at 21 and with 254 regular-season games of experience he won’t let the playoffs bully him anymore. Surprisingly, he didn’t do all he did in the win with his dynamic speed and creativity. For most of the night, he made simple plays, opting for dump-ins when he normally would try to gain the zone with the puck on his stick, and roaming the area below the dots near the Toronto net rather than trying to beat the Maple Leafs on the cycle.
Although Pastrnak scored in three of the last five games of the regular season, his line with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron looked uncharacteristically ragged on its way to the finish line. The simplification was a line-wide effort to turn things around in time for the start of the playoffs, and Pastrnak showed his veteran savvy in buying in.
“It was huge. We talked about keeping things simple, especially early on in the playoffs,” Bergeron said. “He was a perfect example tonight. He’s got the skills to make move and plays, he stuck with it and he put the puck deep and we got some good zone time because of that.”
Of course, Pastrnak still made some breathtaking plays. He got behind the Maple Leafs defense and to the net before hitting the crossbar leading to Sean Kuraly’s goal on the rebound to make extend the Bruins’ lead to 4-1 at 7:41 of the third period.
And he showed a combination of skill and savvy when he scored. His one-timer failed to get past goaltender Frederik Andersen, but after Marchand retrieved the puck and passed it to the high slot, Pastrnak decided to stop it and then beat Andersen with a wrist shot to the other side of the net.
He became the 12th player in Bruins history to record a three or more points in a playoff game at 21 years of age or younger.
With less than four minutes to go in the third period, Bergeron’s snap shot on the rush found Pastrnak’s nose. It drew some blood and Pastrnak figured his visor slowed it down to prevent more severe damage. Although he returned to the bench after repairs, Pastrnak didn’t get back on the ice the rest of the night.
The next Pastrnak sighting came when he made his postgame remarks in his big hat and window-pane zoot suit. The $6.66 million player was dressed like a million bucks after the Bruins cashed in a Game 1 win and his simplified game had paid off.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.