By Joe Haggerty
TAMPA, Fla. There is absolutely nothing incongruous about the Boston Bruins snatching their defensive groove back on the night Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup.
Boston cruised to a 2-0 shutout victory in Game 3 at the St. Pete Times Forum, giving the B's a 2-1 series lead, and there were certainly plenty of positive signs . . . with Bergerons health and effectiveness at the top of the list.
He leapt back into the lineup after missing the beginning of the series because of a mild concussion and started playing the Lightning like a Stradivarius violin. His presence was a big reason the Bruins, after allowing 10 goals in the first two games of the series, were back to defensive basics and smack in the middle of"the Bruins way" of doing things. It was all about clogging the middle of the offensive zone, holding down Tampa stars like Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier and controlling the game through puck possession.Anybody that doesn't see a connection between each of those items getting checked off the list and Bergeron's return from a head injury isn't looking hard enough.
Hes back and he definitely made a difference for us, said goalie Tim Thomas of Bergerons performance. Hes one of the best if not the best players on the team.
Prior to the game, the questions were obvious: How well would Bergeron play after this latest concussion, his third? How many minutes could he possibly play? Would the effects of suffering yet another head injury make him timid?
The answers: Great. A lot. And hell no.
Bergeron was on the ice for 19-plus minutes. He won faceoffs. He shadowed -- and shut down -- St. Louis, holding the Lightning star to only two shots and zero influence in a game that stalled the heart of soul of Tampa's offensive engine. He had zero points in four regular season games against the Bolts and again recessed from the offensive light against Tampa after jumping into the playoff mix.It's all about the defensive effort and winning 18 out of 28 draws for Bergeron against the offensively charged Lightning, and the two-way pivot was there to neutralizeall of it.
To be honest with you, I felt pretty good out there, said Bergeron. I felt like I was myself . . . Even though I missed a couple of games, as the game went on I felt like I was getting better."
Could Bergerons return also signal a revival of the group personality that is so brilliantly woven into the teams DNA? The team breakdowns and defensive ennui around Thomas in the first two games were a fairly damning trend, but Bergeron helped reverse course and provide a stabilizing influence where chaos reigned in the first two Eastern Conference Final games.
That felt more like a normal game, said Thomas, who made 31 saves. That felt like the game we played most of the season . . . That was Boston Bruins hockey . . . I was able to play more under control tonight, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that we played the way that Im used to.
The Bruins expect it to continue as Bergeron resumes his role as one of the best players still remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Expect the rest of the games in this series to resemble the defensive chess match in Game Three, and that means No. 37 will be right in the middle of it.
"I can't read the future, but if I was a betting man, I would think so," said defenseman Andrew Ference, who scored the Bruins' second goal. "Both teams went back to their styles.
"I saw them talk after last game, and I saw us talk. And I think both teams felt the exact same way. The wide-open play in the first two games is not a way to win a series and continue in the playoffs. This game was more like it."
Normal. More like it. "The Bruins way."
Any coincidence all those things returned with Patrice Bergeron?