McLaughlin: David Pastrnak faces postseason under microscope when he returns


The Bruins have tried to play it cool when it comes to David Pastrnak’s now-two-week absence from the team’s return to play practices.

He’s always in good shape anyway. He was skating in the Czech Republic before returning to Boston. His chemistry with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will come back quickly.

That could all very well be true, but make no mistake: There is frustration. We finally saw some of that surface publicly on Wednesday when team president Cam Neely said “of course” there were some regrets and that he “kind of hoped” Pastrnak and fellow practice absentee Ondrej Kase “would get here a little earlier,” referring to their travel back to Boston and subsequent required quarantine.

There are plenty of questions here, some of which we may never get definitive answers to. Did Pastrnak make enough of an effort to get back to Boston early enough? Did he go somewhere he shouldn’t have gone once he got here? Was he around people he shouldn’t have been around? Did he take this whole return to play situation seriously enough?

Dwelling on any of that doesn’t do anyone a whole lot of good right now, not with the round-robin tournament just over a week away and the first round of the playoffs just over two weeks away. So let’s look ahead. And what’s ahead is a postseason under the microscope for Pastrnak.

Sure, Kase will be facing some of that scrutiny too. But Kase isn’t Pastrnak. He didn’t tie for the league lead in goals this season. The Bruins have other players who are close enough to his level that having him out of the lineup or not playing his best may not be a death blow.

The Bruins don’t have another Pastrnak, though. They need him, and they need him to be playing his best. Especially with questions about their secondary scoring, they may not be able to afford to have Pastrnak get off to a slow start or be off his game. They almost certainly can’t afford to have him miss games.

Think back to last year. Remember when Pastrnak mysteriously injured his hand in February and missed the next month? The team said he fell while walking to his transportation after a sponsorship dinner. It was winter, so a freak fall is believable. It was also 11:30 at night, so it’s also understandable why questions lingered about what exactly happened.

Pastrnak was back in time for the playoffs, and his overall numbers in the postseason weren’t bad (9 goals, 10 assists in 24 games), but there were a bunch of plays that made you wonder if the injury was still affecting him: passes bouncing off his stick, losing control of the puck, shots that looked a little off. It just didn’t quite look like the same Pastrnak.

The now-24-year-old revealed after the playoffs that the injury had been re-aggravated in the second round and didn’t feel the same after, although he said the issues he had were more mental and more of a confidence thing.

What if something similar happens this postseason? What if Pastrnak doesn’t miss any games, but he also doesn’t quite look like himself? What if it actually does take some time for him to get back to his pre-pause form?

You better bet there will be questions about whether it’s because of all this practice time he’s missed. And you better bet there will be criticism, even if the public explanations are that it’s not because of that.

No one on the Bruins is going to throw Pastrnak under the bus. They do all legitimately love him, and rightly so. He’s an incredible player, he’s a nice guy, and he’s a lot of fun to be around.

Hopefully Pastrnak misses zero games, looks great from the moment he gets back on the ice, sets the world on fire, and helps lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. Then everyone can look back at these last two weeks and laugh.

But if the Bruins’ aging core winds up missing out on another championship opportunity while having Pastrnak at something less than 100 percent -- due to seemingly avoidable circumstances -- for a second straight postseason, that would be a tough pill to swallow.