Homecomings usually represent corny, exaggerated presentations that rarely seem necessary. Unless you’re raising a championship banner on opening night, the theatrical display at your local stadium or arena isn’t exactly a must-see event.
But for Patrice Bergeron, the Boston Bruins’ home opener was one of those non-championship exceptions.
A sellout crowd of 17,565 gave the assistant captain the loudest, most appreciative ovation of the night before Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The last time the fans had seen Bergeron at the Garden, he was being taken out on a stretcher after Philadelphia’s Randy Jones hit him with a vicious check from behind on Oct. 27, 2007. Jones was suspended for only two games, but Bergeron missed the remainder of the season suffering from severe post-concussion syndrome.
He’s back, and his long-awaited return to the Garden was acknowledged in the opening ceremonies.
“It meant a lot,” said Bergeron about the ovation. “It’s great to be back in Boston. The fans are awesome. I’ve always said that. The nerves are out of the way now.”
“This was a big game for him, obviously, the first time back in front of his home fans,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I can’t criticize his work ethic because it’s extremely good. He creates things, and does everything we want him to do. Except right now, I think he’s frustrated because he’s got some good opportunities and he hasn’t been able to finish. That’s a normal thing, when you haven’t played for a year, it’s going to take a little bit of time. When he finds his touch, we’ll have a pretty good player.”
Bergeron had a game-high seven shots on goal in his return to the Garden but couldn’t find the back of the net in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins. Going into the game, the center had four assists but no goals on the season. That doesn’t mean the chances haven’t been there.
Bergeron had 18 shots on net in five games after Monday’s loss. The only other players with more shots were center Marc Savard and winger Phil Kessel. Both Kessel and Savard entered Tuesday’s game in Buffalo with five goals apiece on 20 shots each.
The last goal Bergeron scored was on Oct. 13 of last year, in a 2-1 win at San Jose. The last time he scored a goal at the Garden? Two seasons ago, on March 15, 2007, in a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals.
“It’s not a matter of rust, or shooting,” said Bergeron. “It’s a matter of just putting the puck in. I’m doing that in practices. I just have to bring that into games.”
Bergeron’s health is no longer an issue, and because of that, Julien isn’t too concerned about his scoring drought.
“I think if you talk to him, he’s very demanding of himself,” said Julien. “His involvement and his work ethic, to me, there’s no hesitation in his play. Of course, he’d like to probably be a little better with the puck, and that’s his assessment of himself. Overall, we couldn’t ask for more from him at this stage.”
Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to Buffalo marked the Bruins’ third shootout defeat of the season, following Montreal’s 4-3 victory last week (on Alex Tanguay’s goal on the Canadiens’ second attempt) and Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win in Boston on Monday.
The Bruins suffered their seventh consecutive shootout loss, dating to last season, when they finished with a 6-7 record in shootouts. Their last shootout victory came on March 1, 2007, in Atlanta.
As an organization, the Bruins go into Thursday night’s game against Toronto at the Garden with a 17-22 shootout record since the league implemented the rule to eliminate ties in 2005-06. And they’d rather not have games go that far.
“It basically takes a team game and makes it not a team game anymore,” said Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who held Pittsburgh to just one regulation goal on Monday.
“When you win, you feel like you’re on top of the world. When you lose, you feel worse than you should.”
Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports