Bruins' Donato has goal, 2 assists in NHL debut

Not missing a beat from his starring roles with the U.S. Olympic team and Harvard University, Ryan Donato had a goal and two assists Monday night in his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins, who fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-4, in overtime.

Donato’s slap shot at 14:19 of the second period tied the game at 1-1, as he one-timed a pass from Torey Krug.

Donato then got his first career assist on Riley Nash‘s power-play goal later in the second period, and added another on David Krejci‘s third-period goal that tied the game at 4-4 just 20 seconds after Columbus had taken a lead.

“During warm-ups, it kind of felt like a dream,” said Donato, who played left wing on the No. 2 line alongside Krejci and right wing Danton Heinen. “I didn’t really get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else and just kind of the whole situation.”

He had originally been penciled in for third-line duty, but when right wing Rick Nash was scratched with an upper-body injury, Donato was moved up to the second line and Anton Blidh was recalled from Providence.

“It was so much faster than what I’ve ever seen,” said Donato. “But at the end of the day, it’s something you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that, it’s something that will come along fast.”

Coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t pleased with the game result but had no complaints about Donato’s debut.

“What’s not to like tonight?” said Cassidy. “[He was] on the puck, making plays as advertised.”

Donato finished with six shots on goal and played 19:40, third most among Bruins forwards behind Brad Marchand and Riley Nash.

A 2014 second-round draft pick, Donato, 21, is from the Boston area and is the son of former Bruin and current Harvard coach Ted Donato, who didn’t score his first career goal until his second game with the Bruins.

Ryan Donato, who signed a two-year contract Sunday, tied for the lead in goals among all Olympians with five goals in five games and led Team USA with six points. Coincidentally, the Bruins honored U.S. Olympians from New England before the game, with Donato taking part in a ceremonial puck drop.

As a junior, Donato led Harvard with 26 goals and 43 points in 29 games this past season and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the NCAA’s top player. He became available to sign after the Crimson were eliminated in the ECAC semifinals by Clarkson 5-4 in overtime Friday night.

Patrice Bergeron, out with a broken foot, said he remembers beginning his career playing with Ted Donato.

“Doesn’t make me feel any younger. When I was an 18-year-old coming in I was playing with his dad,” said Bergeron, 32. “That first year [Ryan] was skating in practice out there as a young kid. Now he’s in the locker room and he’s gonna be part of the team; it’s definitely different.

“Comes from a great family … his dad was so nice to me from training camp on. I felt pretty lucky to have great veterans like I did, and I’ll try to do the same thing for them.”

The Bruins have been hit hard by injuries, with several forwards sidelined in addition to Nash and Bergeron, who was back on skates at Monday’s practice and could travel with the team on the upcoming road trip.

Jake DeBrusk has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury. David Backes took 18 stitches to his right leg after being hit by a skate blade Saturday night.

The Bruins, who are second in the Eastern Conference with 99 points, have also been missing rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy (knee injury) and captain Zdeno Chara (upper-body injury). Another defenseman, Adam McQuaid, left Monday’s game in the third period with an injury.

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