WILMINGTON, Mass. – Patrice Bergeron is always up for a defensive challenge, and he’ll facing one of the biggest ones of his career when the Bruins open up against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night.
The reigning Selke Trophy winner and a finalist again this season, Bergeron will be charged with stopping Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby throughout the series, and he will likely be on ice whenever Sid the Kid hops over the boards.
It’s the usual division of defensive labor for the Black and Gold in the series, as Bergeron gets defensive duty for Crosby’s line while Zdeno Chara will be charged with slowing down Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla.
Neither will be an easy task for arguably the two best defensive players in the world, but the Bruins held Crosby to one goal and only five shots on net in three games against them this season, and he wasn’t a dominant factor in any of the games played between the two clubs.
Bergeron and the Bruins are hoping to continue to hold Crosby down as best as possible during the postseason.
“I expect to play against [Crosby],” said Bergeron, who leads the NHL in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 63.5 winning percentage in face-offs. “You play this game to play against the best. This is going to be a great challenge.
“There are a lot of good players you go up against, but of the guys that we see the most [Crosby] is probably the best. We play Pittsburgh four times a year. He’s the best player in the world. Who am I to say no? His compete level has always impressed me for the kind of player that he is.”
Bergeron and Crosby have been teammates before, winning Gold Medals during the World Junior competition and at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver three years ago. So there’s a familiarity and a friendship between the two franchise centers, but there’s also something else both players have in common: a burning, unquenchable desire to be the best.
“We’ve never talked about it,” Bergeron said when asked if and Crosby ever discussed going head-to-head in the playoffs. “We’ve texted back and forth a bit, but we haven’t talked in a while. It’s always a good challenge to play Sid and the Penguins.
“Anytime in hockey, you want to face the best players and play against the best teams. Obviously you play those kinds of teams in the playoffs, and the Penguins are ahead of us right now to get to our goal. It’s a good challenge.”
Many of the Bruins are going to have to play the playoff series of their lives in order to take down a loaded Pittsburgh hockey club, and that starts with Bergeron shutting down Crosby, a player that racked up 56 points in 36 games this season.
It won’t be easy, but it has to happen if the Black and Gold are going to engineer an upset against the high-powered Penguins.