Glue guy kept it together
TAMPA — Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup last night and the Bruins didn’t allow a goal. Most of that credit goes to goalie Tim Thomas (31 saves), of course, but with Bergeron sidelined with a concussion in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Thomas and the Bruins allowed the Lightning to score 10 goals.
Do we need further evidence that Bergeron is the “glue guy’’ for the Bruins? He is not the fastest guy on the roster. Not the strongest, most prolific, and by no means the most sensational. But to a large degree, as Bergeron goes so go the Bruins, and he now has part ownership of nine of their 10 wins in the 2011 postseason.
Sure, the Bruins can win without “Bergy,’’ their soft-spoken general, as they did with their impressive rebound victory in Game 2 against the Light ning. But things are just easier, more coherent, simply more according to the Black-and-Gold guide and handbook when the 25-year-old pivot is at the center of things.
“I really liked the way he played,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “His line was better. His linemates [Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi] were more comfortable. There is some chemistry there. We had four lines that were stable.’’
Stability. Bergeron. Glue guy. It’s not so much that he makes things right all by himself, but with him around all things just seem to go right.
Take, for instance, faceoffs. There were 65 over 60 minutes last night, and Bergeron took 28, even subbing in for Gregory Campbell late in the second period for a draw in Boston’s offensive end. He also picked up some added work in the middle when fellow pivot David Krejci was rattled by a Marc-Andre Bergeron elbow to the head late in the second. Bergeron won 18 of those 28 drops, an impressive 64 percent. The seven other Bruins who took faceoffs only broke about even, winning 19 of 37.
By the end of the night, Bergeron skated 29 shifts and totaled 19:13 in ice time, including 1:44 on the power play (some of that point duty) and 1:23 on the penalty kill. He landed two shots on net. He did not pick up a goal or an assist. But like so many of his nights, that was of little consequence.
“When the Canadian team added him to their Olympic roster for 2010,’’ recalled Brian Burke, who was Team USA’s general manager for those Games, “I know it didn’t get a lot of attention. Well, I’ll tell you, it got our attention. He was a big player for the Canadians . . . their Swiss Army knife.’’
Which is why Boston’s chances in the conference finals took a big hit when Bergeron was knocked to the ice in the final moments of Boston’s sweep of the Flyers. Knocked down by a Claude Giroux hit just after he dished the puck, Bergeron suffered a mild concussion, his third brain injury in a span of some 3 1/2 years.
“I wasn’t very happy,’’ said Bergeron, whose comments after last night’s win were his first public words since the injury. “I was pretty disappointed, especially for it to happen at that time of the year. I was happy with the win . . . but it was hard to take.’’
Despite rumors that Bergeron would return on Tuesday, he sat out Game 2, and made his return here on a night that could prove to be a turning point in the series. The Bolts now have lost two in a row and their forwards, including some of the game’s best — the likes of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis, who totaled 11 shots last night — couldn’t get their names on the scoresheet. It was the second time in three games they proved not to be a factor, and they disappeared on a night when the Bolts needed to prevent the Bruins from gaining more traction off the Game 2 victory.
“It was great to have him back,’’ said Thomas, lauding Bergeron for his work all over the ice, particularly noting his work in the offensive and defensive corners. “The most important thing is his health. When I saw him get hit there against Philadelphia, it wasn’t a fun thing for me to watch. He is one of the best, if not the best, players on the team.’’
For the most part, said Bergeron, he played without limitation. He wasn’t worried about taking his first hit, but noted it was important to get in there and feel comfortable in the action.
“I felt pretty good out there,’’ he said. “I felt good. I felt like I was myself.’’
There are only so many of these knocks to the noggin a player can take. Bergeron’s teammate, Marc Savard, in January suffered his second concussion in a span of 10 months and hasn’t played a game since. There’s no telling if he’ll ever make it back, and his age (33) and history of concussions don’t play to his favor. Bergeron is very fortunate. He shook the latest concussion off faster than his last two, and his game last night no doubt will provide him a confidence boost — in a season that had him playing his best hockey since the severe concussion he sustained in October 2007.
“I thought I stayed pretty positive in the process again,’’ said Bergeron, reflecting on the last two weeks. “And I mean, obviously, it’s behind me. I am looking forward and I’m happy it was mild.’’
Ten playoff victories. The Bruins haven’t been in this spot since May 3, 1991, when they took a 2-0 series lead over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. They are now but two wins shy of returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990. And they have their glue guy, Bergeron, right in the thick of it.