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Back in the thick of it

Bergeron has a foothold now

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 15, 2009
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WILMINGTON - Last year, Patrice Bergeron simply ran out of time. The center shook off his career-threatening concussion and was, physically and mentally, on the cusp of reacquainting himself with playoff hockey.

Had the Bruins won one more game against the Canadiens and advanced to the second round, then Bergeron, who played against the Canadiens in the 2003-04 playoffs as a rookie, might have gotten a chance to return to the lineup. But when the Bruins dropped a 5-1 match in Game 7 at the Bell Centre and saw their run come to a close, Bergeron saw his window of playoff hockey slam shut.

So for a player who was oh-so-close a year ago, something as insignificant as a sore right foot isn't about to deter him.

Last Thursday, Bergeron was felled by a puck to the right foot. After missing the final two games of the regular season, he returned to the ice yesterday and should be fit for action tomorrow in Game 1 of the first round against the Canadiens at TD Banknorth Garden.

"It means a lot," Bergeron said. "I'm very excited about it. I can't wait. I'm very happy to have a chance to be part of it. This year, being on the ice with the guys, helping the guys to try to win each and every game, has been big for me. I'm very happy to have that chance."

The injury took place in the second period of a 5-4 overtime win over Montreal. While killing a penalty, Bergeron positioned himself in front of defenseman Yannick Weber's shot from the point. The puck struck him on the right foot, and Bergeron, aided by a shove in the back from Aaron Ward, glided back to the bench while keeping his right leg off the ice.

Bergeron returned to the ice several minutes later. In overtime, he threw a hit on Maxim Lapierre, stole the puck, and set up Mark Recchi for the game-ending goal. Bergeron, however, didn't remove his right skate until after his media availability.

Yesterday morning, approximately 90 minutes before practice, Bergeron emerged from the Ristuccia Arena dressing room, stepped onto the ice, took a few quick spins, and headed back to the room after 10 seconds of light skating. During practice, he manned his usual No. 2 center position between Recchi and Chuck Kobasew, skating without limitations, performing hard starts and stops on his right foot.

"Just felt a little sore after I blocked the shot," Bergeron said. "I took some rest. That's about it."

At this time last year, Bergeron couldn't play. Kobasew was wearing a cast. Recchi had wrapped up his regular season in Atlanta and was looking for his next contract. Now Bergeron, Kobasew, and Recchi have combined to form the team's most effective line of late. They've been matched against scoring lines. They've played black-and-blue hockey. They have created scoring chances.

It's a long way from the 2008 playoffs, when Marc Savard was still recovering from the broken bone in his back, David Krejci was asked to be a go-to pivot, Glen Metropolit was serving as the third-line center, and Vladimir Sobotka was in the middle on the fourth line. Bergeron was desperate to come back and help his teammates, but the risk from his Oct. 27, 2007, concussion was still too great for doctors to clear him.

"I'm happy it's behind me," said Bergeron, who suffered a second concussion on Dec. 20, 2008, against Carolina and missed more than a month. "I'm happy that I don't have to worry about that. I'm very fortunate and I'm very lucky. I appreciate that."

Now the Bruins can roll out Savard (88 points, ninth in the NHL), Krejci (73), and Bergeron (7 in his last nine games) as offensive threats, then deploy veteran Stephane Yelle as the energy-line center.

"There's no doubt that had we had him last year - and even Chuck Kobasew, who missed the playoffs - we might have gotten past the first round," said coach Claude Julien. "Sometimes those are the little details that you're missing at the time.

"Our young guys had a chance to develop much better because of the absence of those guys. But having him this year, he's probably our best two-way player in the last month or so. I think he's been getting better and better every game since the start of the year.

"We knew it was going to take a while. But having him in the lineup, he's a good leader. He leads by example. He's a very reliable player.

"Although he's a young man still, I think he's got enough experience in this league that he's going to give us that much more depth."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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