David Pastrnak is a Hart Trophy candidate, and other thoughts on the Bruins

3 takeaways from the Bruins' unexpected season so far.

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88), center, celebrate after scoring his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game at Notre Dame Stadium, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

COMMENTARY

Things didn’t go quite as planned for the Boston Bruins during the first three months of the NHL calendar. Yet, halfway through the 2018-19 regular season, they find themselves in the heart of playoff contention.

The Bruins are still looking up at Tampa and Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings. But they are in a much better spot than they were a week or two ago as they sit in third place in the Atlantic with 54 points (25-14-4).

“Well I feel good about it, to be honest with you,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about the state of the B’s following their 6-4 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

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“I mean right now we’re halfway through the year, and, as you said, Game 41 and we’re at 50 points. So, if we replicate the first half we’re at 100 points. How do I feel? I feel pretty good, but we’re always going to push to get better and strive for that complete 60-minute game.

The Bruins followed the impressive Calgary win with two additional victories against Minnesota and Buffalo to kick off the second half of the year.

Before looking ahead to the storylines for the remaining 39 games, let’s flashback and share a few takeaways from Boston’s first half of the season.

David Pastrnak is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate.

Etch the following statement into the back of your mind: David Pastrnak is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate in 2019.

The young Czech winger showed flashes of unbelievable talent during his first four years in Boston. But he has taken his game to a whole new level in Year 5.

At just 22 years of age, Pastrnak — with his mitts of marinara — leads the Bruins with 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists). His 25 goals put him in a three-way tie for seventh in the league while his 52 points sit him in a tie for 13th.

Pastrnak’s speed, dynamic agility, unparalleled skill set and overall feel for the game provides nightmares for opposing defenses on a nightly basis.

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But just how good of a season is Pastrnak having? Well, for starters, he is on pace to eclipse the 100-point and 50-goal threshold. Joe Thornton (2002-03) and Cam Neely (1993-94) are the last two Bruins to notch those respective single-season milestones.

The eye-test and the stats don’t lie. The first-time all-star is playing his way into Hart Trophy consideration.

The Bruins overcame injuries to marquee players.

Every team deals with injuries in the NHL. It comes with the territory. But not to the extent of the Bruins, who had several marque players miss time with ailments.

Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron missed a whopping 35 games combined. Charlie McAvoy (25 games), Torey Krug (11), Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo (nine each) also missed extended periods of time during the first three months of the year.

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The Boston Bruins, at times, have looked more of the part of the Providence Bruins, as call-ups such as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Colby Cave and Jeremy Lauzon have all had to step in and fill the shoes of proven veteran talent. But their team depth and mental fortitude have kept an ailing Boston squad afloat.

“We’d like to think we’ll get better, simply because a lot of the guys that were out that are key contributors are now healthy and the only one left is Charlie,” Cassidy stated about the team’s current health status. “Charlie’s progressing well.” 

McAvoy is still day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and Joakim Nordstrom is out at least three weeks after sustaining a fibula injury at the Winter Classic. But the Bruins are closer to getting a clean bill of health and are finally providing a tough out for the rest of the league.

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are providing a dynamic goaltending duo.

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Simply put, the Bruins would not be in this position without Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask. The two goalies have been up to the task aside from the occasional shaky outing.

Halak, 13-6-2, has been one of the more pleasant surprises for Boston thus far. The veteran signed a two-year deal in the offseason to replace Anton Khudobin as Rask’s backup. Or so we thought.

Now in his sixth stop, Halak is exceeding everyone’s expectations as he ranks second in the league in save percentage (.926) and fifth in goals-against average (2.36).

Rask, meanwhile, has turned things around following a horrid October. He’s been no slouch since returning from a personal absence in November and his stellar Winter Classic performance against the Chicago Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium marked the biggest win of his regular season career.

Most people were clamoring for a goaltender controversy early on. That’s far from the case. The Rask-Halak tandem is one of the best things going for the Bruins this season.

The Bruins will need fresh goaltending come playoff time. Splitting the starts between Rask and Halak — and limiting the wear and tear that comes with the position — is already helping that cause.