By Joe Haggerty
WILMINGTON, Mass. It seems the poor Bruins cant catch a break even when things are trending their way.
The Bs hit the24-hour pause buttonSaturday after completing a four-game sweep of the Flyers on Friday night. But even being four wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals couldnt be fully absorbed and enjoyed as it should have been.
While the Bruins were shaking hands with the Flyers on the TD Garden ice, Patrice Bergeron was undergoing neurological evaluations and fighting that same familiar, sickening foggy feeling that creeps into a brain after traumatic injury.
Bergeron has been diagnosed with the third concussion of his NHL career after catching a Claude Giroux shoulder hit to the head in the third period that was clearly on the "late" side. Its been deemed a mild concussion, according to the Bruins medical staff.
But nothing is mild about a 25-year-old center with the brightest of hockeyfutures now enduring his third concussion over the last four seasons. Theres no way of knowing when Bostons best two-way player will be ready to play again, and that's a huge problem.
The first horrific concussion, when he was boarded by the Flyers' Randy Jones, caused Bergeron to miss nearly all of 2007-08. His collision with with future teammate Dennis Seidenberg a year later against the Carolina Hurricanes wiped him out of action for a month.
To Bergerons credit, he battled back and scored 22 goals this season, his best offensive output since his career was nearly ended by the first Grade IIIconcussion. But all ofthat is now on hold againfor the time being as the B's center waits for his head to stop spinning.
The Bruins have unfortunateexperience with players recovering from a concussion, and for that reason theywont rush Bergeron back before the symptoms have completely gone away. Bergeron is also a smart young man that's been through hell and back with head injuries, and won't be foolishly putting his quality of life at risk despite the lure of the playoffs.
It might be time to make peace with the realisticpossibility Bergeron has played his last game of the year, though the possibility exists a mild concussion actually lives up to its name for the first time in history. The word "mild" really only applies to concussions when the person using it has never actually had one before.
Whenever you take someone like that out of the lineup, you obviously see you are missing a key character component, a key leadership component, said general manager Peter Chiarelli. But what I have seen from this team toward the end of the regular season -- and especially after the first two games against Montreal (a pair of home-ice losses to the Canadiens, which have been followed by eight wins in the last nine games) -- is that there has been a real kind of growing, bonding and chemistry.
There are guys who have been stepping up. Ive heard, I wont mention names, but some of the guys have been stepping up in the room and I think you will fill those voids with those guys.
Bergeron is one point behind Ryan Kesler and Marty St. Louisat the top of theplayoff scoring list after 11 games, and was clearly a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy until Giroux slammed him in the head.
Bergeron has 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in 11 games, has won more than 64 percent of his faceoffs, and his line (which includes Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi) is at a combined plus-25. The Bs center is averaging the second-most ice time among Bruins forwards with 19:02 per game, and has shut down responsibility when it comes to taking on the other team's best offensive trio.
To say that Bergeron's trio had been the most dominant line in the entire Stanley Cup playoffs this season wouldnt have been hyperbole or anything less than truth. There's simply no way to replace No. 37 in the B's lineup no matter what offensive dazzle 19-year-old Tyler Seguin can bring to the table in his place.
It got pretty heated in the Bruins management box in the minutes following Bergerons exit from the ice given the tardy nature of Giroux' hit . . . and the potential dire effects on the team, should Bergerons absence be longer than the 7-14 days -- and first couple of games against the Lightning --the medical staff is hoping for.
The truth is that given Bergerons past history with a pair of major concussions there's no telling how long the 25-year-old center will be out of the lineup. Recovery from brain injuries is strictlyon a case-by-case basis, and theres no way of knowing exactly when a player can return to a heightened competitiveatmosphere like the playoffs.
Parts of this year Bergeron has been just as good, or better, than he has been in the playoffs. But yeah, he is making his plays with more certainty, said Chiarelli. He is more confident physically. Most nights he has extra jump in his step and when he does that he is attacking with the puck rather than just dishing. He has been really good.
You tend to forget he is quite young and you guys may see this in the room when you are there or not, but his presence is growing there. To me thats maturity and it is showing in his game as well.
So the Bruins will be missing their leading scorer and best two-way player for at least the first couple of games against Tampa Bay, and perhaps the entire Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning.
Dont forget that Sidney Crosby was first diagnosed with a mild concussion in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, and hasnt played since.
The Bruins are hoping with all their might Bergeron doesnt turn into another Crosby tale, because that would be way too much to bear.