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On hockey

Bergeron’s state looks worrisome

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / May 7, 2011

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It has been a long time since anything so good happened to the Bruins and their fans, and in the end the gift had to be wrapped in a black bow.

Amid the excitement and satisfaction surrounding Boston’s 5-1 win over the Flyers last night, good for a ticket to the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time since 1992, the Bruins lost star center Patrice Bergeron early in the third period when he was felled by Flyers right wing Claude Giroux.

Looking woozy and glassy-eyed after getting smacked to the ice in the left circle in the Bruins’ zone, the 25-year-old Bergeron gained his feet after a few seconds and skated slowly but deliberately to the bench.

Without stopping, the dogged center, by far the club’s MVP in the postseason, made his way straight to the dressing room — still under his own power — and was not seen for the rest of the night.

What’s wrong with Bergeron? Virtually everyone in the building asked that question in the wake of his absence. The coaches and players wouldn’t offer anything on the subject, to the point, in fact, they sounded as if they were briefed to say nothing, which was exactly the substance of coach Claude Julien’s postgame report.

“I don’t know . . . I have no update,’’ said Julien, virtually one hour after the game ended, which also was nearly one hour, 40 minutes after Giroux dropped Bergeron. “Basically, I can’t give you m ore than that.’’

We may live in the Internet era, when answers are quick and accurate, but the Bruins still live a rotary phone era when it comes to dispensing news about injuries to key players. Bergeron has been a huge part of Boston’s postseason success, his presence and performance all the more critical with the loss in January of No. 1 center Marc Savard.

So, left to speculate, we are left to conclude that Bergeron at the very least followed standard NHL protocol for a suspected concussion. To wit: He would have headed to a “quiet area’’ for rudimentary neurological testing, including questions about how he felt, what he remembered, etc. At that point, if he exhibited any concussion symptoms, both Bergeron and the team would have been apprised that he was done for the night. The game ended some 36 minutes after Bergeron exited, and then he was nowhere to be seen in or around the dressing room after the victory.

None of that can be interpreted as good news, either for Bergeron, who lost virtually all of the 2007-08 season due to a severe concussion as the result of a hit from then-Flyers defenseman Randy Jones, or for the Bruins, who have needed the better part of 20 years to post eight wins in a postseason.

Brad Marchand, the left winger on Bergeron’s line, said he didn’t see the play. He also said he hadn’t talked to Bergeron as of some 20 minutes after game’s end.

“You’re always worried when someone leaves the team like that,’’ noted Marchand. “But we have a lot of depth.’’

With Bergeron gone, Chris Kelly, the pivot on the No. 3 line, moved up to center Marchand and Mark Recchi. Gregory Campbell moved up from the No. 4 line to join Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder.

Seconds after Bergeron left the ice, Johnny Boychuk smacked home a sizzling one-time slapper for the 2-1 lead and what proved to be the winning goal.

Kelly, still with his prior linemates at the time, won a draw against Jeff Carter in the left circle and Johnny Rocket dropped the hammer from above the right circle. Almost as fast as Bergeron exited, the Flyers all but left the building. Perhaps there is some poetic justice in that, but it’s highly possible the Bruins will be without Bergeron for at least the start of the next round vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not much poetry in that.

The shoulder check by Giroux, a 23-year-old third-year player out of Ontario, came after Bergeron released the puck in his defensive end. It wasn’t a horribly late hit, but it was a shade late, and it appeared to catch Bergeron unaware, even though Giroux hit him straight on.

Bergeron and Giroux entered the night with 12 points apiece in the postseason, leading their clubs. By night’s end, Bergeron finished an absentee winner and Giroux joined his teammates for farewell handshakes at center ice.

“I saw him down, but I didn’t see the whole play,’’ said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. “He was down, so of course I was worried.’’

Asked if he felt Bergeron looked woozy, Thomas said, “I was still watching the play [as Bergeron departed], so I don’t know if he looked woozy or not.’’

Team captain Zdeno Chara fell right into the company line, noting that he didn’t see the hit and didn’t know anything about Bergeron’s status. Ditto for Shawn Thornton.

The combination of what people saw, Bergeron’s history of concussions, and the obvious news blackout all added up to a lingering feeling that Bergeron likely will need a few days off skates and then he’ll have to wait to find out how quickly he heals from his latest knock to the head.

Rarely, if ever, do things come easily for the Black and Gold. The sweep of the Flyers was that rare moment in time when things clicked, fell into place, and the team that hasn’t won a Cup since 1972 breezed into the Eastern Conference finals.

After an initial stumble in the opening round vs. the Canadiens, they survived a Game 7, and showed some impressive strut and pluck against the Flyers.

But now what? If Bergeron is out for Round 3, a visit to the Cup finals goes from possible to improbable. The obvious plug-in is rookie Tyler Seguin, who hasn’t suited for a single minute of postseason play and had trouble staying on Julien’s radar late in the regular season. Just as there is no suitable substitute for Savard, there also is none for Bergeron.

We’ll find out more late this morning when general manager Peter Chiarelli addresses the media at the club’s Wilmington practice facility. For now, all we know is that Bergeron quietly made his way down the runway, probably with his head addled once more, and wasn’t seen or heard from again.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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