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Bergeron scoring a lot of points with his coach

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / February 8, 2012
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WILMINGTON - The puck was Karl Alzner’s to lose. In the first period of the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Capitals Sunday, the Washington defenseman had a step on his forechecker in a sprint for a dump-in along the endboards.

Too bad for Alzner that Patrice Bergeron was the forechecker.

Another player might have slowed down and allowed Alzner to settle the puck. Another player might have belted Alzner from behind and been tagged with a penalty.

Bergeron has repeatedly proven he is anything but another player.

“I’m just trying to go for his stick and the puck,’’ the Bruins center explained after yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “I’m getting the stick on the puck and trying to retrieve it. Sometimes when you go in on the forecheck, you try and go for the big hit. But then you forget about the puck. Nothing happens out of it.

“So I’m trying to play the body. But at the same time, trying to play the puck and get it back. It worked out.’’

By leaning into Alzner with his right hip, Bergeron knocked the defenseman off the puck. At the same time, Bergeron reached for the puck with his stick. Once he settled the puck, he knew that Brad Marchand would be offering support to his left. Seconds later, after Bergeron gave the puck to his linemate, Marchand had scored what would be the game-winning goal.

Such sequences are becoming routine for Bergeron in what might be his best NHL season. Through 51 games, Bergeron is the Bruins’ leading scorer with 15 goals and 31 assists. He is averaging 18:38 of ice time per game, most of any Black-and-Gold forward. Bergeron has won 57.3 percent of his faceoffs. The 26-year-old is on pace to score 74 points, which would be a career high.

For most of the season, Bergeron has been the lead dog for young pups Marchand and Tyler Seguin, both second-year NHLers. Together, Bergy and Da Bratz have combined to form the most consistent of the Bruins’ four lines.

Appropriately, coach Claude Julien calls on Bergeron to do everything save brew a pot of pregame coffee.

“He’s so reliable,’’ Julien said. “Most of the time, he’s the first backchecker. He takes so much pride in doing his job down low. His wingers, their job is to take the slot and shots from the point. That’s not to take anything away from Tyler. He’s a plus player.

“That line as a whole has done a pretty good job. [Bergeron] has played with some more experienced players in the past. When you look at it, those are two guys in their second year. Tyler was not even a full-time player in his first year. Marsh is in his second year. Those young guys have done a tremendous job adapting to that.’’

Throughout his career, Bergeron has faithfully accepted any job his coach has offered. He is currently the down-low goal-line man on the power play. He has also played each point and the left-side half-boards.

On the penalty kill, Bergeron has been Julien’s first choice. Bergeron leads Boston forwards with an average of 2:02 of shorthanded ice time per game. For late-game faceoffs, Julien almost always taps Bergeron, who is usually flanked by Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.

Bergeron is in the rare category of forward so wholly trusted by his coach that he can play in any situation. Others include Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu, and the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan - players with hockey sense to match their physical assets.

“I’m happy with the way it’s going,’’ Bergeron said of his season. “We’ve got to keep going and keep improving. We’re creating a lot of chances as a line. We’ve got to continue to find ways to put the puck in and keep helping the team.’’

Recent back-to-back games against Washington and Pittsburgh underscored how versatile Bergeron has become. At TD Garden on Saturday, Julien wanted to slow down Pittsburgh’s top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal. Whenever Malkin’s line hit the ice, Julien countered with Bergeron’s line plus his shutdown defensive duo of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk.

The Bruins dropped a 2-1 outcome, but Malkin’s line didn’t score an even-strength goal. At the other end, Bergeron’s line had the most scoring chances.

A day later, Bergeron thought he might be seeing plenty of Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, and Alexander Semin, Washington’s top gunners. But Bergeron also knew that Washington coach Dale Hunter, especially with the last change, prefers hard matches. There was a chance that Hunter would roll out his defensive-minded line of Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer against Bergeron’s threesome.

That turned out to be the case. A day after creating the most offensive opportunities against one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive lines, Bergeron and his wingmen countered against a blue-collar threesome with two goals, including the winner. And that’s why Julien showed no signs of mixing and matching to pit Bergeron’s line against Ovechkin’s.

Instead, Julien made sure Chara and Boychuk shadowed Ovechkin, with support from a forward corps of Kelly between Peverley and Milan Lucic.

“Patrice’s line sometimes has to battle through tough checking lines, especially when you’re on the road and they get the last change,’’ Julien said. “We can either battle going back and forth, switching lines on the fly and taking away momentum, or we can battle through it.

“I think our team is good enough and that line is good enough to battle through it. The proof is certainly there.’’

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

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