BOSTON - David Pastrnak scored a winning goal in overtime on Monday that will surely dominate the highlight reels over the next couple of days. But it was what happened before the goal that stood out to Claude Julien and signified the growth in the 20-year-old's game.
Pastrnak won a battle in the corner and delivered the puck to David Krejci at the point, before circling into the neutral zone. The winger then swooped back into Florida's end and picked up the puck that Krejci had left for him.
Pastrnak turned on the jets and dangled past Florida defenseman Michael Matheson, before beating Roberto Luongo at 1:23 of the extra session to secure Boston's 4-3 win over the Panthers.
Video: FLA@BOS: Pastrnak nets slick overtime game-winner
"He's coming into his own I think," said Julien, whose team has won three straight and captured points in five consecutive games. "There's no doubt about that. Confidence-wise it's at its highest right now and rightfully so.
"He went after that puck to get control of it before that goal even happened…he moved it around and then got it into Krech's hands and I think at that point when he came back from circling in the neutral zone a little bit, he had caught their defenseman flatfooted and with that speed, I guess, there's not much that D could have done.
"But what a great move, and obviously taking the time to lift the puck up was pretty impressive - especially that last move…great way for us to finish with that win.
"He's been - not arguably - but I think he's been our best forward since the beginning of the year. So, no doubt it's nice to see him growing the way he is right now."
The goal was Pastrnak's second of the game and 15th of the season, putting him third in the league behind Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine. He also ranks fourth in the league with a plus-15 rating.
"He's made big steps since last year and he's playing with a lot of confidence," said Zdeno Chara. "I think it obviously helps to have guys like Patrice [Bergeron] and Brad [Marchand] on the same line. They're finding a lot of chemistry…you see that when he has the puck, he's a dangerous player.
"When he's skating and moving his feet, he's going to make something happen, probably."
Pastrnak's first goal put the Bruins ahead, 2-1, at 16:37 of the second period. Bergeron's shot went wide and trickled behind the net. Marchand picked it up, spun, and found Pastrnak open in the slot, where he slammed it home.
Video: FLA@BOS: Pastrnak slams home a pass from Marchand
"It's our 26th or 27th game of the season and all games I play beside Bergy and Marchy. Those two guys - it's such a pleasure to play [with them] and learning a bunch of stuff, learning every single shift and they talk to me, tell me what to do.
"Then I guess [I'm] trying to listen and we have a lot of guys here who have been around the league for a long time, so they [are] helping us young guys and it's really helpful."
Pastrnak also complimented the coaching staff for furthering his development over his three seasons in the NHL. The 15 goals tie his career mark from last season (51 games), which he achieved in 30 more games.
"Obviously the coaches did a great job and if it's Joe [Sacco] or Claude since I got here," said Pastrnak. "But even Pando and Butch [Bruce Cassidy] when I was in Providence - you know, I've been around those guys, my third year, and they help me work and get better everyday and that's what I'm trying to do."
The winger admitted he wasn't as open to their advice when he first arrived in Boston. But Pastrnak has quickly matured and realized it is in his best interest to soak up everything the coaching staff throws his way.
"I think he was receptive, but like anybody else, when you're being told X number of times the same thing, it does wear on you a little bit and it wears on your patience," said Julien.
"And everybody has been through this whole situation - when they get it, it's like anything else, they understand.
"I've had players come up to me 10 years after the fact and say, 'I should have listened to you back then,' but it's a little too late. But, this is like raising kids."
In this case, Julien is seeing Pastrnak grow up right in front of him.
Video: Julien speaks following win over Florida
Chara Returns to Lineup
Chara returned from a lower-body injury and played a team-high 23 minutes, 31 seconds. He also delivered a team-high three hits and two blocked shots.
"I felt pretty good for the first game," said Chara, who had missed the previous six games. "It was a good game to come back. Obviously, Florida is a very good skating team and it is always kind of challenging to play them. But, I had no issues and it felt good to be back and, obviously, big win."
The team played well defensively despite his absence, allowing just 11 goals over the six games, during which the Bruins posted a 3-2-1 record.
"I said it this morning, I was very proud," said Chara. "It was exciting to see how they battled and it's never easy. Every game is a challenge and every game is a big game. There's never an easy game. But, guys were battling. They were playing some hard opponents and they won some really big games by gutsy efforts.
Video: Chara speaks following his return to action
Beleskey Out with Knee Injury
The team announced after the game that Matt Beleskey would be sidelined for roughly six weeks with a right knee injury, suffered in the first period of Boston's 2-1 win over Buffalo on Saturday. The winger had posted two goals and three assists in 24 games this season…Tim Schaller (fourth of the season) and David Backes (seventh) had the other goals for Boston on Monday night. Krejci had two assists and has five points over his last five games...The Bruins welcomed 2016 Summer Olympic medalists Hugh Freund (Paralympic sailing; South Freeport, Maine), Tessa Gobbo (Rowing; Keene, N.H.), Kayla Harrison (Judo; Danvers, Mass.), Aly Raisman (Gymnastics; Needham, Mass.), and Gevvie Stone (Rowing; Newton, Mass.) to participate in the ceremonial puck drop.
Video: Pastrnak scores in OT to power Bruins to 4-3 victory