By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — That was incredible. Simply incredible.

I’m not over it. The Bruins aren’t over it. The 17,400 fans who attended aren’t over it. This one’s going to leave a lasting memory.

Sure, the game — which the Bruins won 5-2 behind a David Pastrnak hat trick and three third-period goals for the home team — was great. It was typical of hard-fought playoff hockey being played between two teams. We’ve seen it dozens of times over the past decade. Full marks to them. Quality stuff.

But it really isn’t about the game. Not to me, at least.

Certainly everybody in that building has had different experiences over the past 14 months, as the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the world’s way of life for longer than any of us could have imagined. And we all lived it to different degrees.

We don’t need to rehash every tragic or frustrating moment of the pandemic. It was awful. And while it remains a worry to some degree, a night like Saturday at the Garden went a long way in convincing everyone here that we’ve achieved a significant milestone.

Even before gates opened, the atmosphere around Causeway Street was evident, as attendance restrictions were lifted for the first time since March of 2020. Bars had lines down the street, thousands of fans packed the Garden entrances before gates opened, and the grisly winter-like weather did nothing to limit the palpable excitement from building around the building. People were happy to have this moment. More importantly, they were ready.

Even though many of those fans ended up paying the cost of a hat on top of their ticket fee, they got their money’s worth, and the night was everything they could have imagined it to be.

The building was full. The roars were back. And the city celebrated. Together.

That hasn’t happened in a long, long, long time. It was incredible to see.

Whew. Leftover Bruins Thoughts? Sure. Let’s go.

–David Pastrnak had the hat trick, and the snazzy suit/hat combo, so he’s gotten plenty of pub. Rightfully so. But I quickly want to spotlight the plays that helped make those three goals happen, because it typifies the type of team effort that goes into the all-world goal scorer scoring all-world goals.

On the first Pastrnak goal, the Bruins had an offensive zone faceoff after Andy Greene thwacked Charlie Coyle in the face with a hockey stick. (Coyle taking the lumber to the schnoz before dropping an opponent to the ice counts as an unheralded play here, too.) The puck was loose off the draw, and Patrice Bergeron was tied up with Casey Cizikas. He found the puck, freed himself, and while falling to the ice, made a pass to David Krejci at the point with a certain calmness that should not be overlooked. (A player with less poise might have whipped that one 200 feet the other way.)

From there, Krejci shot on net, and Pastrnak went into All-Star Game Accuracy Competition Mode to casually pick the top right corner and tie the game at 1-1.

On the second goal, it was Bergeron yet again who made a rather difficult play to set up Pastrnak. Bergeron set up shot in the right faceoff circle before accepting a feed from Brad Marchand. Almost immediately after receiving the pass, Bergeron took a bump from Josh Bailey. Yet with no time or space to operate, Bergeron still generated a hard, low shot along the ice, forcing Ilya Sorokin to kick the rebound … directly to the tape of the stick of one of the world’s most talented goal scorers.

Bergeron obviously got assists on both goals, so his work wasn’t exactly unheralded. But don’t let Taylor Hall’s work go unnoticed on Pastrnak’s hat-shower-generating goal.

Just watch the man’s net drive. Is a net drive the world’s most exciting play? Not really. But look at this young man’s motor as he splits the uprights of Noah Dobson and Adam Pelech. It’s jaw-dropping.

Taylor Hall drives the net (Screen shot from NHL)

Taylor Hall drives the net (Screen shot from NHL)

Taylor Hall drives the net (Screen shot from NHL)

That type of work doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Hall was rewarded with an empty-net goal to ice the game. The hockey gods were attentive to this game, no doubt.

–The Bruins’ top line was stupid good. Obviously. Three goals from Pastrnak, two assists from Bergeron, and an assist from Marchand will let you know that. But beyond the goals, that trio absolutely owned the puck and spend nearly their entire night generating chances in the Islanders’ end.

Per Natural Stat Trick, the Bergeron line skated together for 12:43 at 5-on-5. They generated 23 shot attempts and 17 shots on goal, while the Islanders generated just six shot attempts and three shots on goal. Two of Pastrnak’s goals came on the power play, so they’re not even reflective of the type of dominant night that trio had. Barry Trotz is going to have to get work to try to stop that from happening again on Monday night. Because letting “The Best Line In Hockey” cook is a recipe for a short series.

–Tuukka Rask is still stopping everything he sees. He was so calm and deliberate out there, and it really contrasted with Ilya Sorokin. The Russian rookie was good, obviously, with his 35 saves in a raucous environment. But he wasn’t great … and he was more than a little leaky.

Numerous times, pucks dripped out of Sorokin’s body, lying free in the crease for tantalizing moments. The most notable instance came midway through the second period, when Sorokin stopped a a harmless shot from Taylor Hall but dropped the puck directly between his pads without knowing where the rubber had gone.

The Bruins didn’t capitalize on any of those opportunities — there were, give or take, five or six such moments — but be on the lookout for some crashing of the net in Game 2 (provided Trotz doesn’t go back his Vezina candidate, Semyon Varlamov).

–Rask’s best sequence came in the second period, with the score tied at 1-1. First he made his patented toe save on a Josh Bailey snap shot from the dot. Twenty-five seconds later, he made a shoulder save on a shot fired by Anthony Beauvillier coming down the left wing. Rask casually caught the puck after it bounced into the air off his pad. He remained cool as a cucumber 10 seconds after that, when Jean-Gabriel Pageau redirected a shot from the goalmouth.

It wasn’t necessarily highlight-reel stuff, but it was high-level goaltending in a tight playoff game.

Despite allowing just two goals, Rask’s 2021 playoff save percentage actually went down, from .941 to .937, because the Islanders mustered just 22 shots all night. It begs the question: Is It Finally Swayman Time?!!?!?!

(No, it does not. That was a joke.)

(I was joking.)

–I truthfully did not get a good look at the Charlie McAvoy penalty, but I know for certain that the hooking call on Nick Ritchie was an absolute whiff by the refs. A stick lift, quite obviously, is not a hook. It was such a bad call, and the Islanders were so feckless at 5-on-5, that I was waiting for one of those instant make-up calls that comes 7 seconds into a bogus power play.

Alas!

–McAvoy remains a monster. It’s evident just by watching him, and the numbers bear it out.

He skated a team-high 22:21. Boston generated 32 attempts and allowed 13 shot attemps when he was on the ice. That translated to a 24-7 shots on goal advantage with McAvoy on the ice. He was also on the ice for four Boston goals and neither of the Islanders’ goals. He also fired a decent shot that looked like it was straight out of Blades Of Steel.

He’s made progress all year, no doubt. But it’s been especially pronounced this postseason. The 23-year-old has blossomed into the 200-foot dominant player that he’s been expected to become for three years.

–The moment preceding that McAvoy go-ahead goal was such a critical moment of the game. In fact, because I am a dutiful reporter, I wrote “really critical moment” in my notes after the Bruins were penalized for too many men on the ice. Incredible insight.

The Bruins’ penalty kill limited New York to just two shots on that power play, and a mere 15 seconds after Ritchie left the box, McAvoy went to Hammer Town. That’s how you win a playoff hockey game.

–Boston:

TD Garden employees retrieve hats thrown onto the ice after David Pastrnak scored his third goal in Game 1 vs. the Islanders.(Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

–An underrated moment of Pastrnak’s hat trick is that he had two early Grade A opportunities but fired the puck directly into the middle of Sorokin on both occasions. That’s what made that patient delay stand out even more on his first goal.

–For as much as the 5-2 final score and the utter puck dominance of the Bruins’ top line indicated a blowout victory, I still don’t think this is an easy series for the Bruins. Not at all. Notably, Kyle Palmieri missed a wide-open doorstep bid, one of two or three plays where the Islanders sent some dangerous passes across the front of Boston’s net. They’re not the most explosive team, but they were closer to scoring three or four goals than their shot total would indicate. Trotz also knows how to smother an opponent when needed. I expect a much better plan for the Bergeron line going forward. And Varlamov, who went 5-1-0 with a .943 save percentage and 1.93 GAA vs. Boston this year, is still lurking. Also, Nassau Coliseum is going to be every bit as crazy — if not a little crazier — than TD Garden. There’s a long way to go here.

But the Bruins delivered the first punch, and it was a memorable one.

–I’ll shut up and let the people who were actually involved talk about this special evening.

Patrice Bergeron:

“The energy, the atmosphere was everything we expected and more. To say that we’ve missed them is an understatement. I think we appreciated it even more when the fans kind of were taken away from the game a little bit for quite some time, and you have to play without them, and it was still competitive, but it’s still not the same. It’s not the same energy and the same atmosphere.

“So special, special night. It was good to have them and good to have the win.”

“It seemed like it meant a lot to all of us. It seemed like for the fans, it was also special. It was a year of lots of ups and downs — more downs than not — and craziness and heartache. So I thought you could tell that everyone was trying to enjoy themselves and have a good night.”

David Pastrnak: 

“That was obviously a lot of fun. Outstanding to have the fans back. You could feel the energy already this morning. We were all excited.”

“On the warmup, it felt like 22 players playing their first NHL game. Everybody looking around, and so many people. Definitely a different game with the fans, and obviously a lot of fun today.”

“A hundred percent [it felt bigger than hockey]. It’s a different sport with them in the building. That’s when it kind of warms your heart and kind of reminds you why you play the sport, you know? It was awesome to have them back. And how I said, just coming out on warmups, it was so much fun and they’ve been our seventh player the whole night. So really good job by them, and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Bruce Cassidy:

“I was trying enjoy the moment, looking around the crowd [after Pastrnak’s third goal]. It’s been a long time since we had a full house here at the Garden, and they were behind us from warmup on. Obviously we want to play well for the group and for each other, but also for the fans that have continued to support us and came out tonight especially.”

“So I think it was just a good moment to look around and see a lot of joy.”

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.