Nobody will blame Patrice Bergeron if his mind wanders a bit back to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last June when he sees the Chicago Blackhawks circling around the TD Garden ice prior to puck drop on Thursday night.
It will forever be one of the most remembered playoff moments from Bergeron’s career, right alongside his superhuman performance in the Cup-cliching Game 7 in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks, and his clutch goals in the Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs last spring. It didn’t end with a postseason victory like each of those two did, but Bergeron will go down in the annals of Stanley Cup playoff history for gutting it out through a cracked rib, punctured lung and separated shoulder.
It really doesn’t matter what order they happened in or when they happened because the bottom line is the same: Bergeron played through all three for at least some portion of that excruciating playoff game.
The man sitting next to him on the bench for that entire ordeal will never forget the toughness Bergeron showed that day and what he was going through at the time. Brad Marchand has been his partner-in-crime for the past three years and has come to know innately when things are very right – or very wrong – with his longtime linemate.
“That’s the thing. I came off the ice every shift with him, and every time we want back to the bench I would say, ‘Man, what are you doing? You’ve got to get out of here. How are you doing this?” said Marchand. “I felt bad for him every shift. You could see how much pain he was in, and what he was going through. You could see it in his face. Every time he was going out on the ice for a shift he was in pain, and he was wincing.
“How he was able to hold it in for those three hours was crazy. You have so much respect for a guy like that for everything that he puts himself through for his team. It was incredible to see. I was really surprised he made it through the whole game. It was very impressive.”
Bergeron and the Bruins lost the Cup Final that day, but the respect for No. 37’s competitiveness and toughness rose from an already high perch when he ended up in the hospital an hour after the game ended. It was a price the two-way center was still paying to start this season after licking his wounds all last summer. And it wasn’t easy.
Bergeron started the season slowly in October with only a couple of goals and four points in his first 10 games, and knew he didn’t fully feel like himself.
There was still tenderness in his ribs, his normally unstoppable energy had been dulled by the injuries and he wasn’t winning every single one-on-one battle as he normally does.
“It was one of those things where you’re trying, but it was frustrating at first not feeling good or 100 percent. But I remember talking to the trainers, and they were saying ‘that’s kind of normal,” said Bergeron. “I had a collapsed long two or three months before, and I had broken ribs. It was tough. It got in my head a little bit, but I stayed with it, and I’d been through it before in the sense that things will take care of themselves.
“There was no specific point, but as the season went on I felt my energy come back to normal. The ‘not feeling 100 percent’ thing was sucking a lot of energy out of me. It wasn’t a quick turnaround. But I’m pretty happy with my game now. I’m not ever satisfied, though, and I can’t ever get satisfied with my game. You can always be better.”
Those memories will likely all come flooding back for the tough Bergeron when he enters the face off circle against Jonathan Toews, or tries to find that perfect glove high shot against Corey Crawford. It’s those memories of being unable to play at 100 percent effectiveness that will help power his engine three weeks from now when the Cup playoffs begin.
It’s already begun with Bergeron scoring four goals in the past four games and leading the entire NHL with a plus/minus rating of plus-36 while dominating at both ends of the rink. He’s also at the top of the face off list once again with a 58.8 percent success rate that’s second only to Carolina Hurricanes bottom-six energy pivot Manny Malhotra.
In fact, Bergeron has already scored the most goals (23) in a season since his only 30-goal season back in 2005-06. He's put up his second-best offensive season since sustaining his first horrendous concussion back in 2007-08.
In so many ways, Bergeron has brushed aside the injuries from the Cup Final – acute injuries that are more often associated with a car wreck than a playoff hockey game – and focused in on righting the things that went wrong at the end of last season.
Injuries in the playoffs are clearly out of everyone’s control, but Bergeron is better and more determined than ever.
“I’m really hungry this year. You want to be at your best in the postseason, and you want to go for a long run,” said Bergeron. “We’ve been there before. We know how great it feels, and we want to relive that all over again. You go [to the Olympics] and it’s another step, and you feel rejuvenated when you come back here because of the winning.
“The more we play together [as a line] the more we know where we’re going to be on the ice, and the better the chemistry is going to be. [Reilly Smith] is also starting to talk a little bit more, and is getting more comfortable with us. He’s starting to tell us where he wants us to be, and we’re telling him the same thing. It just keeps getting better.”
Bergeron’s line will be a giant key for the Black and Gold as they enter the postseason as the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and so many of the newer players will be following the intrepid, unrelenting lead provided by Bergeron. It’s something that his coach has seen many times, including last June as he battled through injuries that would have sidelined a lot of other players.
“There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to play. You see him play, and you knew he was hurting. Nathan Horton was hurting too, and there were guys playing through injuries,” said Claude Julien, who stressed none of his players would have played unless they were cleared medically first. “What it reminds me of is the dedication that our guys had last year, and their willingness to just play through it. There’s no doubt [Bergeron] wouldn’t have been there if there had been a Game 7.
“It was his approach to say ‘I’m not missing a guy because I’m able to play’, and you’re going to take your chance [he can be effective] with a player that good. It’s about sucking it up when you can, and pushing for as hard and as long as you can. Our guys did that.”
Bergeron and Co. will do it again this spring if they have to, but they’re hoping for a bit better luck in the health department as it was three years ago when they ended up hoisting the Cup in Vancouver.
Bergeron’s health was robust ,enough to play his very best to the point of exhaustion three years ago in that Game 7 victory over the Canucks. He’s looking for that, rather than a repeat performance of the wincing end against the Blackhawks. Chicago’s presence in Boston will be a start reminder to a peaking Bergeron that he’s looking for another perfect ending for one of the league’s perfect players three months from now.