Bergeron practices (without contact), seemingly another step closer to return
There is no definitive word on whether Bruins center Patrice Bergeron will play at all during the Eastern Conference final against the Lightning, let alone dress for tonight’s Game 2.
“I don’t know,’’ answered coach Claude Julien yesterday when asked if Bergeron could play tonight.
But while Bergeron’s immediate availability remains in question, there is little doubt he is progressing toward playing.
On Saturday, Bergeron went through a light skate at TD Garden. It was the first time he skated since suffering a concussion May 6. On Sunday, Bergeron skated for approximately 22 minutes at the Garden.
Yesterday morning, Bergeron took his biggest step yet. First, he skated on his own under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. While general manager Peter Chiarelli watched from the Bruins’ bench, Bergeron went through skating and shooting drills.
When the Bruins ran through power-play work before practice, Bergeron participated in the five-on-four drills. Then when full practice commenced, he remained on the ice as the fourth forward on the No. 1 line. It marked the first time Bergeron practiced with his teammates since he was belted by Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux in the third period of Game 4. He was not available for comment after practice.
“This is the protocol we’re going through and the process he has to go through,’’ said Julien. “You’ve seen him skate now for a few days. That’s basically it. We don’t have anything more to report, because there is nothing else to report.’’
Bergeron cycled in with both power-play units. During one drill, he served as a penalty-killer against the second unit. In regular practice, Bergeron participated in end-to-end line rushes. He also performed drills in close quarters near the net. Bergeron took several shifts between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, his usual linemates.
“He looked good,’’ said the Bruins’ Rich Peverley. “He looked like himself. Hopefully he’s back soon.’’
Whenever Bergeron returns to the lineup, the Bruins will welcome back their top playoff performer. Through 11 games, he has two goals and 10 assists for a team-leading 12 points while averaging 19:02 of ice time per appearance. Bergeron has been especially dominant on draws. He has won 64.2 percent of his faceoffs in the postseason, the best winning percentage among regular draw men in the playoffs.
While Bergeron may not play tonight, the Lightning are preparing as if No. 37 will be in the starting lineup. Coach Guy Boucher took a similar approach in the first round when the Lightning squared off against Pittsburgh. Before the series, Boucher instructed his players to assume that Sidney Crosby (concussion) would dress for every game. Crosby never appeared in the series.
“We know how important he is to the team,’’ Boucher said of Bergeron. “He’s a great player. Great individual. That really has a tendency to uplift your team and give them confidence. We know the impact he has on faceoffs. His team’s going to start with the puck more often. It changes a lot of things in terms of the way the game is going to develop.
“We’re expecting him to be there for the opening faceoff. If he’s not . . . I think he’s going to be there. It just makes it way harder. They’re coming out with their A game. They’re coming out with him. I’m sure Tim Thomas is going to be at his best. We’re expecting Boston to come out flawless.’’
There were several indications during practice that Bergeron will not play tonight. Practice did not include battle drills nor down-low work. During one drill, Bergeron engaged in some light jostling with Adam McQuaid.
Standard operating procedure for a player recovering from a concussion includes contact in practice to simulate game-like checking. After such contact, the team monitors how the player feels later that day or the following morning. If a player reports no issues, more contact usually takes place. It is highly unlikely the Bruins would subject Bergeron to the intensity of a playoff game without gauging how he feels after contact. Julien stated emphatically Sunday that Bergeron would not play until fully healthy.
Also, Bergeron left practice before its conclusion. After just over an hour on the ice, he retreated to the dressing room, followed by Whitesides and trainer Don DelNegro. Bergeron’s teammates wrapped up practice approximately 15 minutes after his departure.
If Bergeron doesn’t play tonight, Peverley most likely will take his spot on the No. 2 line. In Game 1, Chris Kelly centered Marchand and Recchi while Peverley was the pivot on the No. 3 line between Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin. Yesterday, the Bruins switched Peverley and Kelly.
“Just moving guys around a little bit,’’ Julien said. “I think it’s important that if we’re going to do that, they get used to playing with each other. Kelly has had an opportunity to play with that line and has gotten used to them a little bit. Now Peverley does, and I’ve got some options. Just giving some thoughts to different combinations if need be. [Today], we’ll decide which one we want to go with.’’