Where is Patrice Bergeron?
These are the NHL playoffs we’re talking about. This is now all but officially the middle of May. There is simply no way around that. The Bruins are playing for the Eastern Conference championship for the first time since 1992, and here’s how the Bruins got there: with toughness and resiliency, with skill, with resolve and determination and even a little luck. The same is true of the Tampa Bay Lightning and of the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks, all of whom have suffered from misfortune as surely as they have benefited by chance.
But Bergeron? Why couldn’t it have been anyone but Bergeron, who suffered what team officials have termed a mild concussion in the final period of Friday’s series-clinching win over the Flyers? The young, dignified center of the Bruins has been brilliant throughout this postseason, though that is only a small part of the story. Bergeron will turn 26 in July. He is still a very young man. More than three years have passed since Flyers defenseman Randy Jones dealt Bergeron a severe concussion that effectively wiped out two years of Bergeron’s career, and Bergeron was to be commended for being an individual success story, the heart and soul of this Bruins team, as much as he was for playing perhaps the best and most meaningful hockey of his life.
“The intensity creeps up in the playoffs, there’s no doubt about that,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters over the weekend. “It’s a double-edge sword. You say you want to cut it down, but I think every fan wants to see the intensity and everything creep up in the playoffs. The people are enjoying the games right now because there is some intensity and there’s a lot at stake. So it’s a hard thing to control. So there’s an upside to it and there’s obviously a downside.”
So true. Ask the Philadelphia Flyers if they would have preferred to play with a healthy Chris Pronger against the Bruins. Ask the Pittsburgh Penguins if they would have preferred to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. For that matter, ask the Montreal Canadiens if they would have preferred to play the entire seven-game series against the Bruins with a healthy Max Pacioretty.
Still, there is something about Bergeron that makes this all seem worse, not because of what he means to the Bruins, but rather because of what he means to many of us. Bergeron was drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft, 45th overall, and immediately posted totals of 16-23-39 as an 18-year-old. There was never a doubt that he belonged. Two years later, after the historic work stoppage that nearly killed the NHL, Bergeron scored 31 goals and became a young centerpiece around whom the Bruins would build, the only notable bridge from Joe Thornton to Tyler Seguin.
Unlike so many of the more veteran players on this team, after all, Bergeron is a Bruin by birth. He played with Thornton and for Sullivan. He endured Dave Lewis. He was, for a time, a bright, shining light during the darkest days of recent Bruins history, a young man who possessed an uncanny maturity and perspective well beyond his years.
“When you look back at video of the '70s, when they won the Cup, they had Bobby Orr and Johnny Bucyk and those guys," Bergeron said during the early days of the 2006-07 season, the forgettable one-year reign of Lewis. "You see the parades and everything, and you obviously want to bring that back."
He added, “When you play hockey, you play because you want to win. You don't play just because you have fun. For me, it's a passion. I love playing, but it's a lot more fun when we win.”
And so now here we are, coming off Mother’s Day weekend in 2010, and hockey in Boston is more fun than it has been in decades, for Bergeron and for everyone else. Any Boston fan knows the significance of this week. Tomorrow marks the 41st anniversary of Bobby Orr’s Mother’s Day goal to win the 1970 Stanley Cup, a moment forever frozen in time and now commemorated by a statue outside of the TD Garden. Orr’s goal completed the team’s first successful Stanley Cup run in 29 years. The Bruins won another Cup two years later during a postseason in which they went 12-3, a victory many regarded as the start of a hockey dynasty.
In some ways, of course, it was.
During those years, newly-constructed rinks grew like weeds from the New England soil.
For Bergeron, one can only wonder what he has been thinking since unsteadily skating off the ice on Friday night. The Bruins are saying relatively little about his condition and Bergeron has said nothing at all. Meanwhile, an entire Bruins following holds its breath and waits. Most everyone is presuming that Bergeron will miss a significant amount of time from here on out, fearing that he will miss much more than that. The would-be captain of the Bruins has life issues to consider more than he does hockey ones, and that should absolutely, positively be his priority.
The Cup? The parade? The Bruins have a shot now. They have an indisputable, legitimate chance. And as much as Patrice Bergeron would like to be part of it, as much as we all want him to, he can at least take solace in one thing.
In many ways, he kept his word.
With or without the parade, in Boston, he has helped bring hockey back.
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