BOSTON - Despite the Bruins' resurgence following their lengthy bye week, it was not the easiest stretch for David Pastrnak. For the team's leading scorer, that, of course, is all relative.
Over the six-game run, which included the Black & Gold racking up five straight victories, the winger registered eight points, an impressive total, for sure.
Goals, however, were hard to come by. Entering Wednesday night's tilt against the Montreal Canadiens, Pastrnak - the league's No. 1 goal scorer for much of the season - had just three over his last 12 games.
During that time, Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Toronto's Auston Matthews surged past Pastrnak to take over the NHL lead with 40 goals apiece. For the first time in nearly three months, the 23-year-old was no longer king.
That was until Wednesday night.
Pastrnak broke through his brief cool down with his fourth hat trick of the season to pace the Bruins to a 4-1 victory over the Canadiens - Boston's seventh victory in the last eight games - while taking back the league's goal lead with his 39th, 40th, and 41st of the season.
"He's never had that [selfishness], so good for him," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said when describing Pastrnak's recent string of assists. "I think it's what makes him a special player, and especially at a young age, because sometimes it takes a while to sort of learn those sort of traits. But he's had good character since he walked in the door, and I think it will just continue to grow."
Video: MTL@BOS: Pastrnak takes goal-scoring lead with hatty
With his fourth three-goal game of the season, Pastrnak became the first Bruin since Phil Esposito in 1974-75 (he set the team record with seven that season) to accomplish that feat. Ovechkin is the only other NHL player to notch four hat tricks this season.
It was also the eighth regular-season hat trick of Pastrnak's career, tying him with Bill Cowley for the fifth-most in Bruins history. Including the playoffs, Pastrnak now has nine, making him just the second active NHL player - along with Ovechkin - to reach that mark prior to his 24th birthday.
"He's really become an elite player in the league, just the fact that he's able to continue to find ways to score when teams are really zoning in on him, it's very impressive," said Brad Marchand, whose sensational effort led to Pastrnak's first goal of the night.
"There's very few guys in the league that can do that, and he consistently puts up with the abuse, and guys shadowing him. His ability to find ways to score in different situations, it's very impressive.
"Even his defensive game is continuing to come along, and he cares about that aspect. He wants to win and he's a great teammate, so he's gonna be a hell of a player for a long time."
Pastrnak's opening goal at 6:59 of the first period gave him 39 on the year, a new career high. His 40th (4:16 of the second) and 41st goals (15:45 of the second, on the power play) of the season followed in the middle frame as Boston opened up a 3-1 advantage after 40 minutes
The former first-round pick also became the first Bruin since Glen Murray in 2002-03 (44) to reach the 40-goal plateau. Pastrnak hit the mark in 58 games, the fewest by a Bruin since Cam Neely did it in 36 games during the 1993-94 season.
Video: MTL@BOS: Pastrnak goes upstairs on rush for 40th goal
"Obviously it's a huge honor, especially in an organization like the Bruins, you know, with a history like that. Obviously couldn't have done it without my teammates," said Pastrnak. "[Forty goals is] something I hadn't accomplished yet in my career, so obviously excited. But how I said, I couldn't have done it without my teammates and big thanks to them."
Perhaps the most telling part of Pastrnak's evening was the effort he showed on his second goal of the contest. Pastrnak, at the tail end of a shift, was patrolling the slot when he sneaked in from behind and lifted the stick of Montreal blue liner Jeff Petry just enough to allow Sean Kuraly to swoop in and steal away the puck.
The two then set off on a 2-on-1 up the ice, which ended with Kuraly delivering a perfect feed to Pastrnak, who buried it to put the Bruins ahead, 2-0, at 4:16 of the second.
"Sean and [Nordy] was in the shooting lane so Petry had to kind of skate away from the shooting lane and he came right to me so I just lifted his stick up and Sean picked up the puck and then we had a rush on the other end," said Pastrnak. "They have a pretty good back check so I always [try] to turn up on my forehand and get myself a better chance to score…[Kuraly] made a nice play and a good pass so I had mini breakaway and it's hard for a goalie to go the other way for him."
From beginning to end, the play showed off Pastrnak's growth - as both an all-around NHL player and one of the sport's blossoming superstars.
"That means he's moving forward," Cassidy said of Pastrnak hitting the 40-goal mark for the first time. "That's what you want, your younger players to keep taking steps…there's a lot of growth in his game that I like. Obviously, we want to see him continue to score; it helps us win games.
"So now he's at 40 and who knows what's next, right? There's still a lot of hockey left. I think the way he started this year, we all thought he'd be in that area anyway, challenging for 50. That'll be the next conversation I assume, and good for him.
"He deserves it. He's done a lot of things well and he goes to the right spots, worked on his shot, worked on his strength to handle pucks. Let's see him keep going."
Video: Pastrnak talks with media after hat trick performance