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Bergeron likely to return tonight

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

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TAMPA — Nobody is saying for sure. Not Bruins coach Claude Julien. Not general manager Peter Chiarelli. And not Patrice Bergeron, who has been unavailable for comment since suffering a mild concussion May 6.

With head injuries, caution is the norm in the NHL, especially when projecting when a concussed player can return to action. Slow and steady is particularly important for Bergeron, who has suffered three concussions as an NHL player.

But given how smoothly Bergeron’s recovery has proceeded, it’s a good bet the Bruins alter nate captain will make his debut in the Eastern Conference finals tonight in Game 3 against the Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum.

After this morning’s skate, the Bruins will determine whether Bergeron will play.

“I can’t tell you right now whether he’s in or not,’’ Julien said yesterday. “That’s being honest. He’s certainly inching closer to making a return as long as there’s no setbacks.’’

Like the rest of his teammates, Bergeron didn’t skate yesterday. There was no practice time available at the St. Pete Times Forum, which was hosting Disney On Ice’s “Toy Story 3.’’

But Bergeron skated each of the four previous days at TD Garden. And each time, he ramped up his pace. According to Julien, Bergeron took contact Tuesday morning for the first time and didn’t report any setbacks. Bergeron has passed each checkpoint of his recovery without any hitches.

Assuming Bergeron is given the green light, it will be up to Julien how to deploy his sharpest all-around forward. In the first two rounds against Montreal and Philadelphia, Bergeron was at his two-way best while centering Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi on the second line. In 11 games, Bergeron had two goals and 10 assists while averaging 19:02 of ice time. He won 64.2 percent of his faceoffs.

Last year, when Marc Savard returned from his concussion against the Flyers in the playoffs, the playmaker skated mostly on the third line. This season, Savard was also mostly the No. 3 center behind David Krejci and Bergeron.

While Julien could take a similar approach with Bergeron, he hinted that the 25-year-old could assume his regular duties when he returns. That would mean Bergeron would slide back between Marchand and Recchi, displacing Rich Peverley. Bergeron could also skate on the No. 2 power-play unit and resume killing penalties.

“I think he’s going to be good,’’ Julien said. “He’s been skating now for four or five days. I’ve talked to him, and he feels his conditioning is right on in those skating practices. He doesn’t feel winded or anything like that.

“When you look back at our team, we’re having a lot of days off between games. He’s skated on some of those days. When you haven’t played in almost two weeks, it might take him maybe a period. But he’ll catch on pretty quickly.’’

When Bergeron was healthy earlier in the playoffs, Tyler Seguin was a healthy scratch. But Seguin scored a goal in his NHL playoff debut in Game 1 against Tampa Bay, and was even more dynamic in Game 2, with two goals and two assists in the second period while skating alongside Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly.

Even if Bergeron returns tonight, Seguin will remain in the lineup.

“I’m going to tell you right now that he’s going to be in the lineup. That’s for sure,’’ Julien said. “You don’t pull a guy like that out of your lineup that’s been very good.

“He’s earned it. He deserves to be in the lineup. That’s what we want to see. We want to see those kinds of things happening.’’

Seguin showed chemistry with Ryder and Kelly, and it didn’t sound as though Julien would break up the threesome.

“I liked what I saw of that line,’’ Julien said. “The three of them played well together.’’

It’s doubtful the coaching staff would change the No. 1 line of Krejci centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.

In all likelihood, Shawn Thornton would be the healthy scratch tonight. The fourth line of Thornton, Daniel Paille, and Gregory Campbell has been consistent, but given Thornton’s limited role (the tough guy has averaged 6:30 of ice time in the playoffs), Peverley could fill his spot on the fourth line, giving the unit another faceoff man. Peverley, Paille, and Campbell also kill penalties, while Thornton does not.

Thornton has been a healthy scratch in the playoffs in previous years, and naturally, he hasn’t enjoyed sitting out. But he has always put the good of the team before his own ice time.

All of this is assuming Bergeron doesn’t suffer any setbacks.

“Those are always things you have to keep in the back of your mind,’’ Julien said. “You’ve got to keep that in your mind that he could have setbacks.

“Right now, we’re trying to move forward. Hopefully, keep our fingers crossed that nothing but the best comes out of it.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto

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