He had already done it twice on the night, as his first NHL hat trick propelled the Bruins to a 6-2 win over the Penguins.
It completed a home-and-home sweep, and gave Boston further road dominance with an 11-2-2 record away from and a 6-0-2 point streak.
The three-goal night came in Vatrano’s 17th NHL game. It marked the first time a Bruins rookie had notched a hat trick since Blake Wheeler in 2008.
There have been many smiles for Vatrano since making his debut on Nov. 7 in Montreal and scoring his first NHL goal. Vatrano also net an OT-winner in Detroit for his second career goal, before netting the hat trick in Pittsburgh.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit sooner than expected, obviously,” smiled Vatrano. “But I’m glad I was rewarded with that and it’s even better to celebrate a hat trick with a win.”
As a visitor, the ice wasn’t flooded with hats like it would have been in Boston — especially for the Massachusetts native — but there were enough for one of the officials to drop off a souvenir at the bench.
Vatrano’s third goal had put a dagger into Pittsburgh and gave the Bruins their third six-goal game of the season.
Rushing up ice 3-on-1, the shoot-first Vatrano sped down the right wing and sniped the puck past Penguins netminder Jeff Zatkoff with 4:42 to play in the third.
“The past few games, I’ve tried to pass on a couple opportunities where I should have shot and those are some things that I think back on and wish I had shot,” Vatrano reflected.
“But, tonight, I wasn’t going to give that puck away,” he smiled. “I wanted to put the puck on net and that’s what I do, I shoot the puck, so my linemates did a really good job of getting me the puck and I just had to do the easy part — just put the puck in the net.”
“So it was great for them, working hard in all areas of the game to get me the puck.”
Ryan Spooner earned the primary assist on all three of Vatrano’s goals and notched a career night of his own — earning four assists for a new single-game career high.
“He played awesome,” Vatrano said of his centerman. “He’s a really dynamic player. He plays hard and he makes things happen with the puck on his stick. He just makes plays, makes it easier on me, being a shooter, and also Jimmy [Hayes] too, works hard two ways, so having those guys and Spoons who can make plays like that happen, just makes the game a lot easier.”
Vatrano’s second goal came three minutes before his third. After Zatkoff made a strong save point-blank on Spooner, he sprawled out on his back, thinking the puck was under him. The puck stayed loose, and the referee didn’t blow his whistle.
With havoc in the crease, Vatrano went digging, found the puck and roofed it.
“Well, when you’ve got an opportunity to score a hat trick, you stay on top of the puck, so good for him,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien smiled. “I think he’s got some determination. He’s a young player that’s come a long way, so he just continues to get better all the time and that’s encouraging for us.”
“I think the puck was just finding my stick sometimes tonight, especially that second one — the second one, the puck actually did find my stick,” Vatrano laughed. “So it was good, and when you score a goal in the first period, you kind of get your legs into it and get things going, so my line did a good job too, getting me pucks.”
In the first period, the Bruins found themselves down 1-0 when Vatrano’s former UMass-Amherst teammate Conor Sheary struck for Pittsburgh with his first NHL goal.
Just 1:43 later, Vatrano fired his first top shelf on Zatkoff after taking a quick touch pass from Spooner at the top of the left circle. Landon Ferraro had put in the work along the boards to free up the puck.
“Obviously when you score the first goal on your first shot during the game, you kind of get your legs underneath you right away and start playing with more and more confidence,” said Vatrano. “So I think that’s kind of how it went.”
“We were trying to match lines so I was king of getting out there whenever our line was up to go, so I just tried to stay ready every time my number was called — you know, I think our line did a good job with that and everyone brought a full 60 minute effort and I think that’s what got us the win.”
Vatrano’s first tally marked his first goal and point in 10 games.
“It’s always a relief when you’re not getting points or you’re not scoring, so it’s awesome to finally get rewarded,” said the winger. “You work hard to score goals and sometimes you work even harder some nights and they don’t go in, so a night like tonight, it’s awesome to get rewarded.”
Known as a shooter, Vatrano has logged 48 shots through 17 games, with five of them finding the back of the net.
“That’s just how goal scoring is sometimes — sometimes you’ll go 10 games without a goal, then they just come in bunches,” he said. “And I’m glad it finally came, because I was getting a little impatient.”
Patrice Bergeron followed up Vatrano’s first goal with a shorthanded tally at 1:03 into the second period to give Boston its first lead of the game, 2-1, but Trevor Daley responded for the Penguins just 1:36 later.
Loui Eriksson jammed in the game-winner from the top of the crease midway through the second to keep the power play hot.
Bergeron scored his second of the night 35 seconds into the third period. He batted in the puck when it popped up off the boards after a Zdeno Chara drive to make it 4-2 Boston. Vatrano took care of the rest.
“So those guys are doing a great job — that’s Spoons, that’s Vatrano, and all those young guys who are stepping in,” said Julien.
Along with setting up Vatrano, Spooner dropped the gloves for the first time in his career — though a fight didn’t actually develop. When Patric Hornqvist rocked Dennis Seidenberg in the corner with a hit, Spooner immediately challenged the Penguin.
“I don’t know what got into me — I just saw him get hit, I thought it was a charge and just tried to stand up for him,” said Spooner.
“Everybody recognized who it was that dropped the gloves and you know, whether it was warranted or not, I think he did a great thing and he showed his teammates that he’s going to be there for them,” said Julien. “So I didn’t mind that penalty, to be honest to you. I think the message that he sent him team was much greater than the penalty itself.”
It was further proof that the Bruins are coming together as a team — a team that doesn’t give up, that plays hard on the road, that sticks up for each other and that hasn’t lost in regulation on the road since Nov. 7.
“We’re trending in the right direction as a team and everybody’s chipping in, playing within the system, and that’s been the biggest difference,” said Tuukka Rask, who backstopped Boston with 32 saves on 34 shots and has only allowed four goals in his last five starts. “That’s a sign of improvement and a sign of a good team.”
The Black & Gold are also proving that they’re a team where everyone pitches in — even a 21-year-old rookie.
Right after the game, with media availability underway in the Bruins’ visiting team locker room, Spooner was the first player to be interviewed by reporters. Vatrano sat is a locker stall nearby, chatting with Joe Morrow. Veteran Patrice Bergeron also began speaking with media. He waited patiently. He has time. He’s only 17 games into making his mark as a Boston Bruin.
“Our young guys are really stepping up,” said Julien. “We asked them to do that a while back and made sure that they’re not just following in people’s footsteps, but they have their own identity and bring their own flavor to the game — and they want to be contributors, not followers.”