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Bruins 4, Sabres 3 | Boston wins shootout, 1-0

Bergeron gives his all in Game 82

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 8, 2012
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Of course Patrice Bergeron scored the winning goal in Saturday’s Bruins’ 4-3 shootout victory over Buffalo.

It was Game No. 82, a final irrelevant exercise before the real stuff begins against Washington at TD Garden, most likely on Thursday.

“If you asked anybody how hard it is to get up for these kinds of games that are meaningless, it’s not easy,’’ said coach Claude Julien.

Yet what makes Bergeron among the most respected players in the game is his professionalism. It didn’t matter that with the Bruins locked into second place, the regular-season finale had no significance in the standings. Bergeron played like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It is why, on Saturday, the 26-year-old Bergeron (0-3-3 in 19:18 of ice time) submitted the coda to his finest NHL regular season to date.

“This guy shows up every day with a purpose,’’ Julien said. “If it’s practice, he’ll be the best practice player. If it’s a game, he wants to be the best player in the game. Today was no exception. It would have been easy for him to throw in the towel like a lot of people do and say, ‘I’m just going to go out there and be OK. I don’t want to get hurt. I want to make sure I’m fresh for the playoffs.’ But he went out there again today and led by example. He wanted to be the best player out there. That’s what you get out of him. Every day, not just every game. That’s why he’s such a great leader and a great example for any young player who comes into our dressing room.’’

Bergeron will lead the Bruins into a first-round matchup against the Capitals. The scenario took place Saturday because Washington beat the Rangers, Ottawa lost to New Jersey in regulation, and the Panthers recorded at least 1 point by besting Carolina.

The Bruins went 1-2-1 against Washington this season. The Capitals recently welcomed back top center Nicklas Backstrom, but they are down to No. 3 goalie Braden Holtby, as Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are battling injuries.

In the shootout, after Jhonas Enroth had turned aside David Krejci and Tyler Seguin, Bergeron took center ice as the No. 3 shooter. As Bergeron began his approach, the center waited to see what Enroth would give him. Enroth showed an opening between his pads. Bergeron took it, slipping a forehand shot through the wickets.

Tim Thomas sealed the win with a final stop on Jason Pominville. Thomas had turned back Tyler Ennis and Brad Boyes, Buffalo’s first two shooters.

“I was just trying to see what I had there,’’ Bergeron said. “When I made the moves, I felt like I had the five-hole open. So I just went with a new move, I guess.’’

As money as Bergeron was in the shootout, he was even better in regulation. Bergeron is in the running for the Selke Trophy as the forward who best excels in the game’s defensive aspects. On two of Boston’s three goals, Bergeron picked his opponents’ pockets and started the attack the other way.

In the second period, Pominville started the breakout. At the red line, Bergeron charged at Pominville, stripped him of the puck, and launched the counterattack. Seconds later, Seguin sprinted to the far post and tapped in Bergeron’s feed at 3:15 to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

Three straight Buffalo goals (a pair by ex-Bruin Boyes and one by Pominville) gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead in the third period. But Bergeron assisted on a pair of third-period goals to make it a 3-3 game.

With Andrej Sekera in the box for tripping, the Bruins went on the power play. Bergeron, knowing that Seguin was set up on the left-side half-boards, flipped a backhand pass to his linemate. Seguin ripped a one-timer over Enroth’s glove at 9:56 to kick off the rally.

Later in the third, Bergeron made another sparkling defensive play. Ennis had grabbed the deflection of an Andrew Ference shot and tried to carry the puck out of the defensive zone. But Bergeron chopped at Ennis and forced him to cough up the puck. Brad Marchand, lurking down low, settled the puck and slipped a shot past Enroth to tie the score at 12:21.

“I’m trying to read where the players are going to go,’’ Bergeron said of the two picks. “Sometimes I look at their eyes and where they’re looking. Both times, they were cutting across me. I just read that. I tried to commit on it. I got both turnovers there, so sometimes you’ve got to force them and cause some mistakes. It worked out.’’

Bergeron closed out the regular season as the team’s second-leading scorer. In 81 games, Bergeron recorded 22 goals and 42 assists for 64 points, three behind Seguin. Bergeron averaged 18:34 of ice time per game, tops among team forwards. Bergeron won a league-high 973 faceoffs for a 59.3 percent winning percentage, a hair behind leader Jonathan Toews (59.4) of the Blackhawks.

Bergeron’s high-water scoring mark remains his sophomore season, when he racked up 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points. But Bergeron wasn’t close to being the complete player he is now. This season, Bergeron was the Bruins’ most consistent performer - the player Julien could trust in every situation.

Thomas and Zdeno Chara will be the lockdown specialists in the playoffs. Bergeron will be the third pillar of the team’s success.

“He just seems to be more focused and more driven every year he comes in,’’ Marchand said. “He wants to prove he’s the best two-way player in the league. We’re lucky to have him. He’s the kind of guy you want to build a team around. It shows every night.’’

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

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