BOSTON - As David Pastrnak cruised towards the empty net, there was nothing standing between him and his 31st goal of the season. For a solid 50 feet, the winger could have ripped the puck into the wide-open cage with ease. But he knew who was coming directly behind him.
Patrice Bergeron - playing in his 1,000th career game - was hot on his tail in support and after a couple of peaks over his shoulder, Pastrnak left a drop pass for his centerman, who snapped home his second goal of the night to seal the deal on the Bruins' 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders.
"It means a lot obviously," said Bergeron, who picked up his 17th and 18th tallies of the year. "I was surprised. I saw him look a couple times. I was like, 'Oh no, he's going to drop it.' But we were definitely alone and [I] very much appreciate it."
Video: NYI@BOS: Bergeron pots empty-netter to seal win
Following Bergeron's first goal, long-time linemate Brad Marchand immediately raced to chase down the puck after it popped out towards the blue line, knowing that Bergeron would want to keep it to mark the occasion. Both gestures showed clearly and strongly the admiration that Bergeron's teammates have for the player that has been the heart and soul of the Black & Gold for the last 15 years.
"That's the respect they have for Patrice in that particular situation and for one and other," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "They've done it before where they try to include everybody. Sometimes they've messed up empty-net goals. That one would've been hard to, but they've done that in the past. And again, they play for one another, that line, and it shows every night how good they are."
That reverence shone through beyond the Bruins' top line, when during the postgame celebration Bergeron's longest-tenured teammate, Zdeno Chara, hoisted him up into the air with a monster congratulatory hug before retreating down the tunnel.
"I wanted to get back down, but I couldn't," Bergeron said with a laugh. "He had a pretty strong grip…obviously that was pretty funny, but I don't know if I want to see that video."
And it was certainly not just his teammates showering Bergeron with affection on this night. Shortly after taking his first shift to make his 1,000th game official, Bergeron was recognized on the big screen and received a standing ovation from the 17,565 inside TD Garden.
"It was special. I just wanted them to drop the puck basically, but it was special," said Bergeron, who stood and waved back to the crowd. "It's always a little awkward for me, but I very much appreciate it, of course. It's been 15-16 years…[the organization] has a special place in my heart, obviously.
"Boston, it's been great. Obviously, my kids were born here and it's definitely a second home now. It's very much appreciated, and they've been here supporting us since, so it meant a lot."
Bergeron, ever humble and preferring to deflect praise, was happy to share the spotlight with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who were honored with a pregame ceremony, led by Julian Edelman's puck drop spike.
"Thank God. That was perfect. I was very happy with that," Bergeron said with a smirk when asked about sharing the night with the Pats. "It was awesome. There was so many of them too. It was actually great to see. They came in the locker room before the game and we told them obviously we were cheering for them and it was an amazing ride again this year. I thought that the crowd was really into it and that set the tone for a great night."
Bergeron gave the crowd plenty more to cheer about when he popped in his first of the night 2:32 into the second period, opening the scoring with a strong surge to the top of the crease. After Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak broke in on a 2-on-1, Pastrnak's rebound lingered just outside the blue paint before Bergeron swopped in to tap it by Islanders goalie Robin Lehner and give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
"Did you really expect anything else?" said Marchand. "That guy just steps up in every situation. You know he's going to have a big game on a milestone night like tonight. It was great to see. He's one of the top players in the game and he steps up in big moments. He did that again tonight."
Video: NYI@BOS: Bergeron jams in loose puck in 1,000th game
"It was awesome," added Tuukka Rask, who improved his personal points streak to 10 games (8-0-2) with a 28-save performance. "Someone said it before the game that they would bet money that he scores…the second one, too. Nice for the guys to kind of pass it around and give him that."
In the days leading up to his 1,000th career game, Bergeron talked at length about his favorite memories to this point in his career and he always made sure to mention first the many friendships and bonds he has built over the years. And there were plenty on full display on Tuesday night.
"For me, it's always been about the friendships and winning," said Bergeron. "It's been a fun ride…it was a special game that way. I told the guys before the game that that's all I really wanted was the 2 points, make it a good game and a strong game.
"They really did. They stepped up. They played a great game. I don't know if it's because of [my 1,000th game], but I'll definitely take it."