BOSTON — Ryan Donato has played on some pretty big stages throughout his hockey journey.
But his first career NHL postseason game tops them all.
“Best atmosphere I’ve ever played in,” Donato told NESN.com following the Boston Bruins’ 7-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series Saturday night.
“It’s something I grew up dreaming about and obviously it’s a dream come true and a blessing to be able to have that opportunity to play in front of the crowd like this,” Donato — who led Team USA in scoring with five goals and an assist at the 2018 Winter Olympics — added.
Since joining the Bruins for the final stretch of the regular season after Harvard’s campaign ended, the 22-year-old has fit in seamlessly. But as Thursday’s Game 1 drew near, it became clear he was going to be the odd man out of the lineup.
That changed before Game 2, as fellow winger Tommy Wingels was unable to go after a nasty hit from Nazem Kadri that resulted in a three-game suspension. Wingels, however, was considered a game-time decision for Saturday.
Not knowing for certain if he would be in the lineup as he made his way into TD Garden, he followed the advice of his coaches and prepared like he would be.
“It was tough because we just came to the rink ready and (the coaching staff) just said prepare like you’re in, and that’s what I did,” Donato said. “They didn’t really tell me anything other than that. Came to the rink and didn’t hear anything else, so I was in. Wasn’t really much other than coming ready to the rink.”
Donato ended up logging 9:24 ice time over 12 shifts, skating on the third-line left wing opposite David Backes and centered by Noel Acciari.
Getting that first postseason opportunity was a big one for the rookie, even though it came with a little bit of adjusting to the accelerated pace.
“Felt good obviously,” Donato said of getting a playoff game under his belt. “It was eye-opening in the beginning, a lot of fast plays going on, just had to adjust to it.”
Donato’s appearance in the lineup made a little bit of history, as well. He became part of just the second father-son duo to skate for the Bruins in a postseason game after his father, Ted, skated in 49 postseason games whilst donning the Spoked B. The Donatos now join Ken Hodge Sr. and Ken Hodge Jr. as the only four men to have that distinction in Boston folklore.
Naturally, Ted gave Ryan a few pointers as the Bruins neared the postseason, and the message to his son was pretty simple.
“Just playing hard,” Donato said. “It’s a different pace, I mean there’s regular-season pace, obviously I was still adjusting to that, and this is just a completely different game, a whole new animal and just kind of adjusting and being yourself. At the end of the day it’s just hockey and just go out there and play my game.”
While his role in the lineup likely will vary throughout the postseason based on matchups and the health of fellow forwards, one thing is for sure: Saturday was a pretty special night for a kid from Scituate.
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