Nobody likes to play the Boston Bruins. After all, would you like your odds against a team that employs a 6-foot-9 skyscraper on defense and a guy on the verge of his first 100-point season in the NHL who also happens to be infamous for licking opponents? Yeah, no thanks.
But if opponents feared the Bruins before, they're starting to fear them even more now that David Pastrnak, who was sidelined more than a month after suffering a thumb injury at a team sponsorship dinner in early February, is back and thriving on the top line.
During Pastrnak's absence, the Bruins didn't miss a beat, recording a 12-3-1 record during his 16-game absence, but Boston has looked even more dangerous with Pastrnak back in the lineup. Since March 19, the Bruins have gone on a 4-1-0 tear, and Pastrnak is leading the way with four-consecutive multi-point performances totaling 11 points over that span. He is on the verge of his second straight 80-point season in the NHL, scoring at a rate of 1.27 points per game and his hat-trick against the New York Rangers on Wednesday was his third of the season, with his five-point night marking the best single-game output of his career. For a guy who has 66 points in 56 games, it's hard to say Pastrnak is just starting to find his stride, but it really looks like he is playing the best hockey of his career. Imagine what he could have produced had he stayed healthy. For Pastrnak, a dynamic goal scorer with an array of weapons, hitting 100 points would not have been out of the question.
More than individual success, though, Pastrnak's return has resulted in the reassembling of arguably the best line in the NHL, which sees Boston's No. 88 line up beside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Marchand and Bergeron didn't really slow down while 'Pasta' was out of action – the former recorded 22 points in 16 games, the latter was a point-per-game player in that frame – since Pastrnak re-joined the lineup, Marchand and Bergeron have been even better, putting up nine points and 10 points in five games, respectively.
The line's scoring surge couldn't come at a better time with the post-season on the horizon, either. Though the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning remain the clear Stanley Cup favorites this season, the Bruins aren't far behind. Entering Thursday's action, Boston sits second overall in the NHL with 103 points in 77 contests and boasts one of the best records in the NHL, 25-7-5, since Jan. 1, making the Bruins the next-most threatening team in the Eastern Conference.
If you want to look at how Boston's top line has played against the Lightning, Bergeron and Marchand have three points each, with Pastrnak leading the way with four. Tampa did win two of the three meetings between the two teams, but Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson only mustered a point each, while Kucherov, the NHL's leading scorer with 121 points, only has two against the Bruins this season.
If the playoffs were to start today, Boston would face a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has gone through a rough couple of weeks, and the Bruins have feasted on the Leafs this season, winning the season series by a count of 3-1-0. It's Pastrnak who had led the way, too, recording nine points in four games (including a four-point effort on Nov. 10). And if the last post-season is any indication, Pastrnak, who had 13 points in seven games in the first round against Toronto, likes playing against the Maple Leafs.
It might not matter who the Bruins draw in the first round or at any point in the post-season, though. With Pastrnak returning and hotter than perhaps any other player in the league right now, Boston is proving again that it has the most dangerous top line in the NHL, and that makes an already excellent Bruins team that much better.