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Austin Czarnik is used to top-line duties. The 25-year-old leads Providence with 42 points in 38 games this season and anchors the P-Bruins’ lead trio.

But when Czarnik was recalled to Boston for Saturday night’s showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he knew he would have to make an impact in a different way. Playing instead in a fourth-line role, Czarnik was tasked with creating energy and momentum each time he hit the ice.

The Detroit native delivered, forming a solid unit with Frank Vatrano and Sean Kuraly. Czarnik did not land a shot on goal in just over nine minutes of ice time, but did pick up an assist on Torey Krug’s power-play tally.

“I think he was good. Lots of energy, on the puck, made a play on the power play, which we’re used to seeing him make. So, I thought that whole line did their job pretty well,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “No complaints…and that’s what we need.”

While playing in a slightly different role, Czarnik felt comfortable alongside Kuraly, his former teammate at Miami (Ohio), and Vatrano, his former linemate in Providence. While with the P-Bruins, Czarnik and Vatrano were a lethal combination that combined for 56 goals during the 2015-16 campaign.

“I played with Sean in college for three years and Frank in Providence and a little bit here so I know what type of players they are and what they like to do,” said Czarnik, who will be back in the lineup on Tuesday night in his hometown against the Red Wings. “I think we are just one step off from getting a lot of chances, but it was a good game for us…it was exciting, just create energy out there was my goal and our line did a good job of forcing a lot of turnovers.”

Czarnik was placed on Boston’s second power-play unit against the Maple Leafs, which proved to be a sound decision when he delivered a feed to Krug, who ripped home a one-timer to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead in the second period.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into [Saturday night], so it was nice to get that [opportunity] – and we scored on one of them, so it was perfect,” said Czarnik, who has two assists in seven games with Boston this season.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward’s previous two stints with the big club this season came prior to the team’s 25-4-4 run. This time around, he said, there is a noticeably different feel within the group.

“We were struggling there a bit more then,” said Czarnik. “But now the team is playing together and they are doing everything they need to do every night. So, it’s a fun time to be a part of it.”

Opposing View

The Bruins will be making their second visit to Detroit on Tuesday night. Boston’s first trip to Little Caesars Arena resulted in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory, during which Brad Marchand notched the winner in the extra session.

Detroit has posted a 4-5-1 record over its last 10 games and is currently 7 points out of the East’s second wild-card spot. The Rangers, who the Bruins will visit on Wednesday, have dropped two straight and have just three wins in their last 10.

As a result, Boston is expecting two teams with an added level of urgency.

“I think we’ve tried to always worry about ourselves first. I think we understand that the majority of the teams that we’re gonna be playing are in a little bit more of a fight than we are,” said Cassidy. “We all want our points…they are a little more desperate than we are – we have to be cognizant of that, but at the same time play our game.

“There’s too many games to get caught up every night in what the other team is doing. We always address what they do well, where we can attack them and go from there and try not to worry about the standings too much, to be perfectly honest. There’s no easy games in this league.”

Marchand’s Return Near

Brad Marchand will be back in the lineup on this trip, with the winger serving the final game of his five-game suspension for elbowing on Tuesday in Detroit. Boston’s leading scorer will be eligible to return on Wednesday against the Rangers.

“Time goes by slow when you’re out, but it’s been a lot of fun to watch the guys play the way they have,” said Marchand, whose teammates have posted a 3-1-0 record in his absence. “They’re playing very well. Looking forward to getting back. It’s fun to watch, but it’s not fun to be out. It just shows how good of a team we have. But you hate to miss time and be out. It will be great to be back be in the room.”

Noel Acciari (lower-body), Anders Bjork (upper-body), and Kevan Miller (upper-body) all missed practice. Bjork will not travel with the team on the road trip, while Miller and Acciari “are unlikely to travel [with the team] but could join us,” according to Cassidy.

Acciari, who has missed the last four games, has been skating on his own. Miller and Bjork have not yet resumed any on-ice activities.

Split Duties

Cassidy said that Tuukka Rask would be in net on Tuesday night in Detroit, while Anton Khudobin is expected to get the call on Wednesday in New York.

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Charlie McAvoy remembers the fear.

The Boston Bruins rookie was playing against the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 26 at TD Garden when his heart started beating irregularly and fast.

McAvoy also remembers the good news.

“I think it was relief first off to find out it was not life-threatening and not dangerous to my overall health,” the 20-year-old defenseman said during a news conference at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday, his first comments since undergoing a procedure Jan. 22 to correct his condition.

“To realize that obviously I’m in there, kind of nervous, was this going to be something that’s really bad, will I be able to play again or anything like that? So to find out that it was something that was not dangerous … something I could still continue to play with, that was a good takeaway from the overall situation.”

McAvoy said he’d had similar episodes in the past but the one against the Oilers was the longest. He alerted team internist Dr. David Finn and trainer Don Del Negro. Tests confirmed Finn’s diagnosis of a supraventricular tachycardia, a condition not considered dangerous.

An ablation, the removal of tissue, was done through a small catheter that entered through the lower abdomen and up into the heart.

Doctors assured McAvoy he could keep playing with little risk of anything worse than another episode. He continued to play and didn’t miss a game until the day after the procedure.

“Charlie talked about the time frame about when the decision was made, it was about the best medical decision for Charlie regardless of what games he was going to miss,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. “That’s probably been one of the most amazing things, is how well he’s handled knowing that this was on deck and going out there and playing at the level he was. It says a lot about him.”

McAvoy leads NHL rookies in ice time per game (22 minutes, 49 seconds) and has five goals and 20 assists in 45 games. He hadn’t missed a game until Jan. 23 and gave no indication of what he was going through.

He put aside the prospect of another episode but was buoyed by knowing there was a plan should he have a reoccurrence.

“Were it to come back, I knew I would be fine,” McAvoy said. “We kind of talked about a little strategy if it did come back, kind of remove myself from the game and allow myself time to get my heart back [to normal] and feel good. Luckily we didn’t get to that point.”

McAvoy is to have a follow-up appointment with his doctor this week when his path to returning to the lineup will be determined. The Bruins initially predicted he would miss two weeks.

Under doctor’s orders he did no physical activity in the week after his procedure. But Monday he briefly skated on his own before the Bruins held their first on-ice practice since the All-Star break.

McAvoy doesn’t expect his play to be much different when he returns. Maybe he’ll need a little extra time to get in full shape, but that’s it.

“I’m still the same person,” he said. “I’m one week removed and I feel good. So we’ll get back out there and we’ll get on the ice and see how things are going. And when the time is right I’ll get back out there.”

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Brad Marchand didn’t have the best night, but he made the most of it.

Despite finishing seventh in accuracy shooting and being stoned by Marc-Andre Fleury on two shootout attempts during the goalie save streak event – all while hearing it a time or two from the Tampa crowd – Marchand’s experience at the GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition was not diminished.

“It’s fun. I also get a good laugh when [Sidney Crosby] gets booed more than I do here,” Marchand joked following the event at Amalie Arena on Saturday night. “It makes me feel good. Just being around a relaxed group and getting to know each other outside of the game, it’s always nice when you play each other. It’s a lot of fun being here and being in this atmosphere.”

Marchand participated officially in only one event, the Honda Accuracy Shooting competition, and placed seventh out of eight participants with a time of 44.692 seconds. Vancouver rookie Brock Boeser won it with a time of 11.136 seconds.

“I thought the goal was to miss the targets, if you can tell,” Marchand quipped. “Panic mode set in, you get in there and everyone is booing you…pressure was on and I completely buckled.

“It’s definitely a little harder than it looks, a little more pressure involved. That’s the one I kind of wanted to do, but after doing it I might have to stay away from that one if I were to come again.”

The two-time All-Star said playing in real NHL games is far easier than having the spotlight solely on you during a timed competition – with a hostile crowd against you.

“When you’re in a real game you don’t notice the crowd, but in a situation like that you kind of notice it a little bit more and it was fun,” said Marchand. “A lot of eyes on you…even though I didn’t do great I enjoyed it.”

Marchand was also one of Fleury’s victims during the inaugural GEICO NHL Save Streak. The Vegas netminder turned away 14 straight breakaway attempts, two from Marchand, to take the title over Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (13).

“I was having a tough go,” said Marchand. “I almost fell as soon as I picked up the puck. I thought I was gonna lose it so I just pushed it in. He made a good save. Gotta give him credit, he was hot today.”

Other winners included Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (fastest skater), Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (hardest shot), St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo (passing challenge), and Johnny Gaudreau (puck control).

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With an impressive first half of the season in the books, three Bruins forwards are being recognized for their performances on the ice. Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara were all included on the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s Midseason Awards list announced on Friday. The awards, which included the eight traditional end-of-season honors and two new awards, were voted on by more than 150 writers and broadcasters and 2,000 fans.

Bergeron finished first in voting for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game, in front of Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar. Bergeron has already won the award four times during his career, claiming it in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017. If he earns the honor again, he will break his tie with former Montreal Canadiens forward Bob Gainey to become the first player in NHL history to win it five times.

The 14-year veteran is having yet another stellar season both offensively and defensively. Bergeron has registered 20 goals and 22 assists for 42 points in 42 games this season while winning 57.4% of his faceoffs and accumulating 39 takeaways.

The Calder Trophy, awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition, featured rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy as a finalist. The Long Beach, New York native finished third in voting behind New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal and Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser. McAvoy has been turning heads in his first season, tallying five goals and 20 assists for 25 points through his first 45 games, while racking up 102 hits and 56 blocked shots. He will look to become the first Bruin to win the Calder since goaltender Andrew Raycroft did so in the 2003-2004 season.

One of the new honors featured on the list was the Rod Langway Award, given to the defenseman who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara finished second in voting behind Los Angeles King defenseman Drew Doughty and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. With 1,397 games under his belt through nearly 20 seasons, Chara continues to shut down his opponents’ top threats, blocking 83 shots and throwing 97 hits in 47 games this season. His +25 rating is second in the NHL behind only Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson’s +26.

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Brad Marchand spoke on Thursday morning for the first time since the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced his five-game suspension for elbowing New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson in Boston on Tuesday night.

The Bruins winger addressed a large media contingent following Boston’s pregame skate at the Canadian Tire Centre ahead of Thursday night’s tilt with the Ottawa Senators.

“I’ve been trying to play a certain way for a while now, and it was never my intent to get into a situation like this, to injure Marcus, so hopefully he has a full healthy recovery very quickly,” said Marchand. “I let my teammates down – I know that – and I let the organization down. I have to be better, there’s no question.

“I respect the league’s decision on the matter. They’re in the right to make the decisions that they do, and I’m going to live with it.”

The suspension, which was levied on Wednesday night, marks the eighth time Marchand has been disciplined by the NHL (six suspensions, two fines) in his career. This one comes at a time during which the Bruins have collected points in 17 straight games. Marchand is also leading the league in scoring this month with 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists).

“The last thing I want to do is do anything to hurt the team, and that’s obviously what I’ve done here. It wasn’t what I was trying to do,” said Marchand. “We have a great team, and they’re going to battle hard and do everything they can to win the games. I’ll be there rooting them on, but I put my team in a disadvantage at the end, and I feel very bad about that.”

Marchand is allowed to participate in this weekend’s All-Star festivities in Tampa and said he will still attend. It is the 29-year-old’s second consecutive selection.

“I’m going to go. I’m very proud of that opportunity,” said Marchand. “It is something I’ve worked very hard for and never thought I’d have the opportunity to do, so it’s something I’m very proud about, and I’m going to go and enjoy every second of it.”

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has had a relationship with Marchand since the winger’s first professional season in Providence, when Cassidy was then an assistant with the P-Bruins. Cassidy chatted with Marchand during Thursday’s morning skate and encouraged him to think about what he would like his legacy to be.

“The thing with Brad is I’ve known him since he was a first-year player, so I know him as a person,” said Cassidy. “That’s what sometimes has disappointed me, that gets lost. I hear opinions out there, they don’t know him as a teammate, as a father, the work he puts in to be a better player. After games he’s always with children in the family room signing something – he’s just a great person with a big heart.

“But Brad does have to take responsibility for his actions, he’s aware of that. He’ll sit his five games and we’ll welcome him back.”

Despite this latest misstep, Marchand believes he has made progress in buttoning up his on-ice actions.

“Obviously, I want to be known as a good player. I’ve worked very hard to become a decent player in this league, and things like this obviously hinder that,” said Marchand. “It’s something that I will continue to work on and be better at, but [Cassidy] is not wrong. I think that some things behind the scenes get lost when things like this happen, but I think that I have good teammates and the organization, my family and friends, they know what I’m trying to do and where I’m trying to be and how much I care about this team, organization, the guys in the room.

“That’s not going to change. Obviously, I am going to be better in areas. I’m going to continue to work on it, but it’s just another step in the road.”

With Marchand out of the lineup, Anders Bjork was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis on Wednesday night. Bjork played in eight games for the P-Bruins after being assigned on Jan. 3 and notched two goal and two assists. The 21-year-old, who has four goals and eight assists in 28 games with Boston this season, will likely start in Marchand’s spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak against the Senators.

“He’s played well. He started offensively very well,” Cassidy said of Bjork’s play in Providence. “What we’re trying to get out of Anders is play a little bit more straight line, understanding when he can make plays, when he’s got to manage the puck better. That was the biggest issue for him coming to this level, where the open ice is, how to get there.

“He’s been working on that. We’ll see where he’s at. He played very well for us earlier this year. We’re confident he can do the job. We’re not asking anyone to replaced Brad – that would be unfair – but just to go play his game and contribute.”

 

Bjork is hoping to make the most of his chance to play on what has been the hottest line in hockey for the better part of two months.

“It’s exciting. It’s obviously a great opportunity, tons of players would die to be in my position right now,” said Bjork. “I’ve just got to stay focused and make the most of it, do what I can to keep up with the line and be a positive impact.”

Acciari Out, Too

In addition to the absences of Marchand and Charlie McAvoy (ablation procedure), Boston will also be without Noel Acciari on Thursday night as the winger battles a lower-body injury. Frank Vatrano will slide into his place on the fourth line.

“Hopefully the All-Star Break will do him some good,” said Cassidy. “And then we’ll see where he’s at on Tuesday against Anaheim.”

Pushing Through

As they did during the season’s first six weeks when they were beset by an unseemly amount of injuries, the Bruins will have to battle through some adversity as they look to extend their points streak to 18 games.

“We’ve had to find ways and simplify our game, make it blue collar and do what we do best,” said Backes. “This is no different of a scenario than if [Marchand's] hurt or suspended. Same with Charlie being out. Hopefully it’s short term and we’re going to have to patch holes, different guys step up to be the hero each night.

“Those guys are significant players, but we’ve done it before and we’ll have to do it again. Every team’s got injuries this time of year or guys out.”

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Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand was suspended five games Wednesday by the NHL Department of Player Safety for elbowing Marcus Johansson of the New Jersey Devils, the maximum amount allowable without an in-person hearing.

The NHL told ESPN on Wednesday that despite the suspension, Marchand is still eligible to play on the Atlantic Division team in Sunday’s All-Star Game as well participate in the skills competition and all events related to the game.

This is the sixth time Marchand has been suspended by the NHL in his nine-season career, for a total of 19 games. His last suspension was in April 2017, for spearing Jake Dotchin of Tampa Bay. This suspension matches the longest of his career, having been previously suspended five games for clipping Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo in 2012.

Marchand has also been fined three times. In total, he has lost $872,521 to supplemental discipline in his career.

In the third period of Tuesday night’s Boston win over New Jersey, Marchand hit Johansson in the head as he attempted to chase down a rebounded shot near the Devils’ goal. There was no penalty called on the play. Johansson suffered a concussion on the hit.

Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Wednesday that he believed Marchand was trying to protect himself on the play from an onrushing Johansson and didn’t have intent to injure the Devils forward.

“In talking to Brad this morning, he said he just saw a Devils sweater there and he was protecting himself from contact. Brad’s taken a couple of hits this year, missed some time, so I absolutely think a player should protect themselves if they see a hit coming. It’s up to the league to determine whether it’s legal or not,” Cassidy said.

The Department of Player Safety determined it was illegal, saying in its judgement on Marchand: “While we acknowledge Marchand’s argument that he is attempting to defend himself from oncoming contact, it is Marchand who initiates the contact on this play. This is not a defensive maneuver, made for Marchand’s protection.”

Marchand has 50 points in 38 games (21 goals, 29 assists) for the Bruins and had been named to the Atlantic Division team for this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game game in Tampa.

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Matt Grzelcyk knows perhaps better than anyone in the Bruins dressing room what the New England Patriots mean to the region. The 24-year-old blue liner grew up in Charlestown as a Patriots fan and has watched firsthand the team’s dominant run of five Super Bowl titles over the last 17 seasons.

“I can remember when they won their first Super Bowl,” said Grzelcyk. “Obviously they’ve been unbelievable, this stretch they’ve gone on is insane. There’s a reason why they’re so good, you can see how they are on the sidelines with each other, how passionate they are.

“It gives us a little bit of motivation to try to keep up with them. It’s awesome to see and it’s been great to be a part of it and see it firsthand growing up in Boston.”

Grzelcyk was one of several Bruins who attended the Pats’ thrilling 24-20, comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Also in attendance were Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Paul Postma, and Tuukka Rask.

“It’s nice to be a Patriots fan the last few years, a great day yesterday,” said David Krejci. “A few guys went to the game so I’m sure they had a blast. We do have lots of Americans on the team, they have their own team, but playing here I think you have to become a Patriots fan, they always win. It’s good to be a Boston fan.”

The Pats’ victory clinched a spot in their eighth Super Bowl of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, an unprecedented run of success that has highlighted the golden age of Boston sports.

“You can’t help but get caught up in it. I’ve been in New England 10 years…you can see how teams continually can’t put the Patriots way…they’re in people’s heads,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who visited Patriots training camp this past summer and met with owner Robert Kraft.

“It’s an amazing quality that this team has, the culture that they’ve created, their identity. We’d love to be that, where we’re coming at you, we’re coming at you and it doesn’t matter what happens right until the bitter end. We’ll see where that goes.

“You’ve got to be champions to do that, there’s guys in this locker room that were and would like to again. The younger guys that haven’t hopefully that’s one of the things that they embrace.”

Grzelcyk, one of the Bruins’ five rookies, believes the Patriots provide plenty of lessons he and his fellow youngsters can draw from.

“I think they’re just really good at not overcomplicating things,” said Grzelcyk. “The motto is do your job, just very simple, just go out there and do what’s asked of you. I think that’s something that’s stuck with us. We’re trying to take it one game at a time right now and apply that to our game.”

One of the other special things about Boston sports is the camaraderie between all the teams in town. Last spring, Patriots safety Patrick Chung joined the B’s for a skate at the end of practice and earlier this month Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead, Jordan Richards, Shea McClellin, and Geneo Grissom attended the B’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Cooks, who purchased a Patrice Bergeron jersey before the game, then joined his teammates for a visit with Boston’s alternate captain following his four-goal outburst in the 7-1 win over the ‘Canes.

In addition to Cassidy’s visit to training camp, a group of Bruins, which included Rask, Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Nash, Brandon Carlo, and Tim Schaller, took in a Patriots practice earlier this fall.

“Year after year, they’ve been really good. Obviously Tom Brady has been around a long time and they have a good coach. It’s fun to watch,” said Krejci. “I picked good years to be playing for Boston and becoming a Patriots fan…once our games are done we try to support the other teams as well.”

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Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy underwent a heart procedure to treat an abnormal rhythm and will be in recovery for two weeks.

The 20-year-old complained of heart palpitations after a Nov. 26 game and was diagnosed with a supraventricular tachycardia. The team said in a release that the condition was not dangerous, but it does cause significant symptoms. McAvoy had been cleared to play but was monitored closely.

McAvoy finally decided to be treated and underwent an ablation at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he will stay overnight. During the procedure, scar tissue is created inside the heart at the place where the irregular heartbeat is originating.

McAvoy was taken by the Bruins in the first round of the 2016 draft and made his NHL debut in last season’s playoffs. This year he has five goals, 20 assists and is a plus-18 in 45 games. He has played a big role in the Bruins’ surprise season. Thought to be a rebuilding team, Boston has the second-most points in the Eastern Conference.

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Coming into the season, the Boston Bruins appeared to meet all the qualifications of a team whose window to win a Stanley Cup was closed.

The B’s looked as if they would be heavily reliant on stars who were either in the latter years of their prime or past it; they’d made questionable trades of young stars and had a goalie coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons.

Instead, Boston is not only competitive, but they’re also making a case as the NHL’s second-most-dangerous team behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boston ranks No. 3 in team Corsi for percentage, second in even-strength goals for percentage, ninth in power play percentage and eighth on the penalty kill.

Simply put: The Bruins’ Stanley Cup window is wide-open.


Elite players are still elite

Years down the road, we might find that age curves shifted in the 2010s. With an emphasis on health, fewer fights and head hits as well as more work being done to study factors like dehydration and workload, it’s possible that hockey players’ primes will last into their 30s instead of ending in the late 20s, as current age curve models suggest.

The Bruins could be evidence of this effect. Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, ages 32 and 29, respectively, are having among their best seasons in 2017-18.

With a hat trick on Thursday night, Bergeron has 19 goals and 19 assists in 39 games. His 57.9 percent Corsi for percentage ranks third in the NHL among forwards, with only Chicago’s Brandon Saad and Columbus’ Artemi Panarin ahead of him. When Bergeron has been on the ice this season, the B’s have taken 161 more shots than their opponents and outscored them 30-9.

Bergeron’s longtime linemate Marchand is leading the team with 46 points, placing him just inside the top 20 in the league despite missing a handful of games. He ranks fifth in even-strength scoring rate, with 3.39 points per 60 minutes.

These numbers are all on par or better than when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11. Bergeron produced 57 points in 2010-11 with a 54.2 Corsi for percentage, while Marchand had 41 points in 77 games.

Zdeno Chara, who will turn 41 in March, is still playing more than 23 minutes per game, down about just two minutes from 2010-11. And while his shot differential numbers have slipped from seasons past, the 6-foot-9 blueliner still isn’t letting anyone get in front of the net. With Chara on the ice, the Bruins have produced 158 high-danger chances to their opponents’ 129, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Veteran stars David Backes (33) and David Krejci (31) have missed time this season, but when in the lineup they are each making significant contributions. The former Blues captain has 18 points in 27 games and wins 52.9 percent of his faceoffs, while Krejci has 23 points in 26 games.

The combination of all of Boston’s veterans clicking at once has helped push the Bruins to an 8-0-2 record in their past 10 games and moved them into the top five in even-strength goals for and fewest goals allowed.

The youth movement

Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, Backes and Krejci aren’t driving the Bruins’ success alone. For a team that has rarely drafted early in the first round during the past decade, Boston has a remarkable number of key players under the age of 23 playing key roles. In fact, of the Bruins’ top six scorers, four are 23 and under.

That group starts with David Pastrnak, 21-year-old right winger flanking Bergeron and Marchand on Boston’s deadly top line. Last season, the Czech forward broke out to the tune of 70 points in 75 games. He’s been even better this season, with 41 points in 44 games.

The Bruins selected Pastrnak with the 25th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The knock on him was size and strength, but his high-end skill allowed an instant jump from playing in Sweden. Of all the players drafted in 2014, only Leon Draisaitl has more points than Pastrnak.

Another first-rounder Jake DeBrusk, 21, has made an immediate impact in his rookie campaign, scoring 20 even-strength points in 40 games while largely playing alongside Krejci.

The pleasant surprise of the group is Danton Heinen, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who scored more than a point per game at the University of Denver and had a solid 2016-17 in the minors. He’s made the jump smoothly, adding 19 even-strength points in 40 games, playing the majority of his minutes with Riley Nash and Backes.

The biggest difference-maker in the bunch is 20-year-old rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. He joined the Bruins in the postseason last spring and immediately took on a top-four role. He’s built on that experience this season, averaging 22:47 per game in ice time. The former Boston University blueliner has 24 points, 15 of which have come in even-strength assists. McAvoy has become a consistent puck-moving partner for Chara.

Boston’s collection of under-23s isn’t just bringing them value in the form of impressive production; those players are also allowing the B’s to survive huge veteran contracts.

Take the Chicago Blackhawks for example. With mega deals handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Chicago struggles to find cheap depth that will support its stars. For the Bruins, the total cap hit of DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy is just $2.65 million. Boston saved in per-season spending by doing a six-year deal with Pastrnak, whose cap hit is a reasonable $6.66 million.

The youngsters also give the Bruins the type of depth required to go deep in the postseason. Even if players like DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy are inexperienced, Boston has them playing alongside veterans who have made deep postseason runs.

The goalie

No matter how deep we dig into the numbers or what technology arises, we might never fully understand a team’s impact on goalie performance. But in Boston’s case, it’s pretty easy to draw a connection between a stronger, deeper team and a better defense corps this season helping out Tuukka Rask.

At his absolute peak, Rask’s even-strength save percentage was an otherworldly .943. That mark slipped for three straight seasons, all the way down to .919 in 2016-17. Normally a goalie’s even-strength numbers are more predictable from season to season than his overall save percentage, so a three-season slide would be cause for concern. But he’s rebounded to a .928 save percentage in 2017-18, which may have something to do with the Bruins allowing the fewest high-danger chances in the NHL, per Natural Stat Trick.

Debates will rage for eternity as to whether teams should pay big money for top-notch goalies, but one thing is clear: Good goaltending is a requirement to win the Stanley Cup. Rask has been excellent in his postseason career, posting a .928 save percentage and giving the B’s quality starts in 62.3 percent of his starts.

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Bruce Cassidy expected some rust in Adam McQuaid’s game.

After all, the burly defenseman had not played in three months, the result of a broken right fibula from blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 16.

But after a solid all-around performance in his return during Boston’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, there was little indication that the veteran blue liner had missed the last 36 games.

“Very solid, thought he handled the puck very well, especially at the offensive blue line,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Thursday morning at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I thought that’s where the rust would be, to be honest, not having pressure around him. But handled it very well. Penalty kill is one of his fortes -obviously delivered there, solid defensively. Very pleased with his game.”

With Kevan Miller still sidelined with an illness, McQuaid will be back in the lineup tonight against the New York Islanders. The 31-year-old played 15 minutes, 12 seconds versus the Habs and logged a team-high four shots on goal and two hits, while playing alongside Matt Grzelcyk on Boston’s third pairing.

“Not too bad. I wasn’t sure what to expect, just went with the first shift and then the second and just went down from there,” said McQuaid. “I wanted to try to keep things really simple. Grizz made life pretty easy to play with – he played really well. All the guys did, so it was nice to be back, be a part of the win. I’m happy to be back.”

During the defenseman’s absence, Cassidy spoke on numerous occasions about how valuable McQuaid is on the kill and he showed why against Montreal. McQuaid logged 1:34 on the kill, all of which came during the Canadiens’ unsuccessful 5-on-3 bid midway through the second period.

“I was a little tired,” McQuaid said with a laugh. “I tried my best not to overstay or overextend my shifts, I didn’t have much choice in that case. I felt that one a little bit…I think guys thrive off of wanting to kill that and be in those situations. Even though I was a little winded at the end of it, it was a good feeling for sure.”

McQuaid’s strong work in the D-zone also led to the deciding goal. After rubbing out Jacob de la Rose along the left wall, the puck squirted to Jake DeBrusk, leading to a rush up ice that resulted in Ryan Spooner’s backhanded tally that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

“It goes without saying that I was looking forward to getting back out there,” said McQuaid. “A few nerves [before the game], just settled into the game…it felt good just to be a part of the win.

“As fun as it has been to watch the guys win and when you’re actually on the ice and on the bench and a part of the battle it’s that much more gratifying.”

Captain Iron Man

Like McQuaid, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill against the Canadiens. Chara logged 2:25 of shorthanded ice time on Wednesday, including a consecutive stretch of 4:18 before and through Charlie McAvoy’s holding penalty. It is just the type of situation that the 40-year-old thrives on.

“It’s something that we feel that the guys that are on the ice, that’s our job to prevent them from getting a goal,” said Chara. “For the most part, I thought we did a really good job of keeping them on the outside…at that point in the game it was a turning point, they could easily get two goals and that would be a different story.

“That’s my job and that’s our job to make sure we do our best to prevent that…I was tired but nothing that didn’t happen before…it takes some energy out of you, but at the same time, that’s my job and I train to do that.

“Those are the times and moments where I absolutely love to be on the ice. Whatever the team needs, I’m willing to give.”