Is Bergeron hearing the footsteps of Father Time?


Is Bergeron hearing the footsteps of Father Time?

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, it looks like the Bruins might be without a healthy Patrice Bergeron at the start of the season.

The then-31-year-old center re-injured an ankle on the final practice before the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and it ended up costing him the first three games. He played hurt throughout the year and saw his offensive numbers drop as the ankle, and a sports hernia that followed, sapped the high-end speed and explosiveness that’s such a key component of his all-around game.


The season ended well, with Bergeron taking home his fourth Selke Trophy to match the career defensive accomplishments of Montreal Hall of Famer Bob Gainey. But the reduced skating speed and lack of dynamic burst were startling to see.

Unfortunately for Bergeron and the Bruins, it looks like another lower body injury is nagging at him as this season begins.

The Bruins exercised caution in bringing Bergeron along slowly during the preseason, but the now-32-year-old is again having physical issues crop up. He missed two days of practice, then had to leave the ice early on Tuesday, and once again skipped practice on Wednesday.

Bergeron is a question mark for tonight's opener at TD Garden against the Nashville Predators, and it’s beginning to feel like this might be his new normal. Perhaps the wear and tear of NHL middle age -- this is his 14th year with the Bruins, whom he joined when he was just 18 years old, and he's logged exactly 1,000 total games in the regular season and playoffs -- is beginning to take its toll.

Certainly Bergeron has years of good hockey left, and he'll go through stretches where he'll be the productive, conscientious player who's been a stalwart for the last decade-plus. But it feels like the nagging injuries are going to arrive with a little more frequency at this point, and some of these lower-body issues may begin to slow him on the ice like no opponent ever could.

His hockey smarts, his toughness and his skill level will help him offset any physical limitations, but it also might be wise for the noted work-ethic warrior to start dialing back the intensity in practice. It’s something Zdeno Chara had to do when he hit his mid-30s, and now Bergeron might be at the point where adjustments need to be made because of Father Time.

“We just had a conversation with Patrice that we have so many young guys here, and we’re trying to build good habits into practice,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “[As] you get older, you monitor yourself a little more and you bridge that with the competitive nature of an individual that wants to get better every daySo it’s hard for me to tell a veteran player that’s had so much success in this league how, or how not, to practice.

“He gives it his all and that’s some of the residual effect of a competitive person that can push himself in practice. You get the odd twinge here or there. You just hope it’s not serious and go from there. I think each individual is different and [Chara] is the same way going all-out in practice. It’s hard to discourage that because it sure is nice for the young guys to see that every day and grow in that culture.”

Undoubtedly the “practice-how-you-play” mantra is part of what makes Bergeron a great player and such a good role model for youngsters like David Pastrnak, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and all the other young prospects. And now is not the time to pull Bergeron off his massive special teams’ duties when he does get healthy, or begin dialing back his in-game ice time as the Bruins count on him to be a No. 1 center on a line with Bjork and Brad Marchand.

But the sad fact is that all these little nagging issues set in motion a hockey clock when all these things may become a fact of life, and that he simply can’t be a frontline center in his prime forever.

Bergeron has been the perfect hockey player in Boston for nearly 15 years, and was undoubtedly at his very best from 2013-2016 while averaging 28 goals and 62 points a season along with his robust defense and intense leadership. But we might be seeing the beginning signs of some degradation in Bergeron’s due to inevitable factors like age and heavy usage over the years, and that reality will be important for the Bruins to face if he’s forced to battle through another injury-plagued season.

Clearly Bergeron isn’t going anywhere and is instead the future captain of this Bruins team as leader and longest-tenured member of the organization. But the days of Bergeron posting big offensive numbers, playing boatloads of ice time and doing it all for 80-plus games per season might be coming to an end, and the Bruins will need to plan accordingly.

There are centers prospects like Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in the organizational pipeline, and they may need to stock up on a few more high-end prospects in the middle as Bergeron begins to show the first signs of hockey mortality.


Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

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Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

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There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

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B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

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It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

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Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the top spot in the East and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.