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A group effort will be necessary

Bergeron's duties to be divided up

PHIL KESSEL Man in middle PHIL KESSEL Man in middle

WILMINGTON - With Patrice Bergeron sidelined indefinitely, the Bruins must find a way to replace perhaps their finest all-around player.

They'll be doing so by committee.

While the lineup may change for tomorrow's game against Buffalo at TD Banknorth Garden, coach Claude Julien has used the same lines in practice the last two days.

During even-strength play, Phil Kessel replaced Bergeron between Marco Sturm and Chuck Kobasew. Kessel has served as the right wing on the No. 3 line all season but is a natural center.

On the power play, Glen Metropolit took Bergeron's position at the left point, serving as the high man alongside Zdeno Chara.

On the penalty kill, Kobasew skated with Sturm, who is Bergeron's usual partner during shorthanded situations.

And Brandon Bochenski, who hasn't skated a single NHL shift this season, is on track to step out of the press box and into the lineup to fill Bergeron's spot as one of the 12 forwards.

"Everyone has to pick their game up even more now," Metropolit said. "He's a key part of our team. It's going to be a whole team effort. That's the game of hockey. You lose a guy and everybody's got to rally. It's a good opportunity for me because I'm going to get more minutes and hopefully provide what the team needs."

Kessel, who has been David Krejci's wingman for the first 10 games, doesn't provide the defensive presence Bergeron brings. But Kessel leads the team with five goals and should have more room to create scoring chances in center ice, where he can flow constantly instead of stopping and starting as he does at right wing.

"I'm not trying to change my game," Kessel said. "I'm going to go out and play my game and do whatever I can to help the team win."

Metropolit has played at the point on the power play for other clubs. He said his first priority, other than preventing teams from breaking out for shorthanded chances, is to set up Chara, the power-play quarterback, for shots on goal. If opponents shift their penalty-killing box to take away Chara's boomer, it likely would open shooting lanes for Metropolit from the top of the left circle. Or he could thread cross-ice passes to Marc Savard at the right circle.

While Kobasew practiced with Sturm, there is no guarantee he will be the left wing's primary penalty-killing partner. Neither is a center, meaning Julien most likely would deploy Metropolit or Savard for faceoffs. But Kobasew and Sturm are among the team's speedier forwards, and quickness is an asset while skating a man down.

"The PK is about going out there, going for short shifts, rotating quickly," Kobasew said. "It doesn't matter who you're with."

Bochenski, who skated with Vladimir Sobotka and Pascal Pelletier during his two-game AHL conditioning stint last week, said he felt good about getting back into action with Providence. Bochenski had a scary moment when he tuned in to postgame highlights last Saturday after he and the P-Bruins had played against Lowell, seeing Bergeron carried out and not knowing what had happened.

"It's definitely an unfortunate circumstance," Bochenski said of his projected entry into the Boston lineup. "But I've got a job to do. I'm going to go out there and play my best."

Fernandez hobbled

The Bruins took another hit yesterday when Manny Fernandez sustained a slight left knee strain in practice. It is the same knee Fernandez injured last season. Jordan Sigalet was recalled from Providence.

According to general manager Peter Chiarelli, Fernandez hurt himself stepping on a puck during practice. The injury most likely occurred late in the session, as Fernandez participated in all drills leading up to end-of-practice stretches. Fernandez appeared to be moving fine and didn't appear to be in discomfort after practice.

"Very slight," Chiarelli said of the injury.

Chiarelli said the strain might keep Fernandez sidelined for two or three days, which would put him out of uniform for tomorrow's game against Buffalo. All signs point toward Tim Thomas starting against the Sabres.

Chiarelli said the strain was not related to the left knee sprain Fernandez sustained last season.

"I guess there's always a concern," Chiarelli said when asked if there was a worry about Fernandez injuring the same knee.

Disappointing verdict

Like many of his colleagues and players, Julien was disheartened Monday when the NHL issued only a two-game suspension to Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones for his hit on Bergeron.

"They seem to be disappointed that they lost their guy for two games," said Julien. "I think I have to be extremely disappointed in knowing that I've lost my player for who knows how long. We're talking about a key player here.

"I guess the logical thing is that you could easily reverse things. If it was a key player on their side, I'm sure they'd be pretty disappointed, too. I think the one thing for sure is that I'm disappointed at the fact that I'm losing a key player for a lengthy amount of time. That's what's disappointing."

Andrew Ference, who often finds himself turned against the boards as a defenseman, especially in touch-up icing situations, said players must know enough not to throw such dangerous hits.

"The thought process should be black and white," said Ference. "The thought should be, 'I can't hit this guy. It doesn't matter what the punishment is. I can't hit this guy because he'll get hurt.' It's not about punishments or getting fined. You could potentially hurt the guy real bad. I wouldn't want someone doing it to me."

Number change

Rookie Milan Lucic changed his uniform number from 62 to 17. Lucic was born June 7, 1988, and always has liked having No. 7 as part of his identity. Petr Tenkrat wore No. 17 last season . . . Bergeron was honored last night at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center during Champions for Children's, an annual fund-raising dinner for Children's Hospital. Bergeron won the Champion Award, given each year to a Boston athlete for community commitment. Bergeron hosts "Patrice's Pals," a program that invites children from local hospitals to Bruins games and allows them to watch from his Garden suite. Chara accepted the award for Bergeron, who did not attend the event.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com

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