Bruins

Patrice Bergeron returns as game-changing force for Bruins

Patrice Bergeron returns as game-changing force for Bruins

BOSTON – To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the presence of Patrice Bergeron is a major game-changer for the Boston Bruins. 

Bergeron finally felt good enough to return to the B’s lineup after missing the first five games of the season with a lower body injury, and the impact was immediate and unmistakable with a goal and four points in a 6-3 win for the Bruins over the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden. It was also a far-reaching impact with the Bruins center pumping life back in the B’s power play with a return to his bumper position, returning a top penalty killer to the Bruins rotation, bringing normalcy back to the forward group by slotting fellow forwards back into their rightful spots and simply giving the B’s their best all-around player back. 

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Clearly it was a joyous moment for Bergeron to get back on the ice and play after getting a couple of good days in on the practice ice leading up to Thursday night. 

“It’s hard no matter what it is. You know, when you’re missing games, when you’re missing time, it’s… you miss being out there with the guys and battling with them and going through what we have to go through as a team. It’s good to be back,” said Bergeron. “You don’t know what to expect obviously [after a long layoff]. You’re trying to hope for the best. I don’t want to say I was surprised [at his high level of play] because you want to be at your best every time you step on the ice.”

Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork finally skated together for the first time after building chemistry all throughout training camp, and they finished with four goals, 10 points, a plus-6 rating and 13 of Boston’s 35 shots on net for the game. It was the way that the Bruins roster was drawn up headed into the season before they had a five-game detour due to the injuries, and the hope is that’s the way it will continue to look for the Black and Gold moving forward. 

“I mean it’s pretty evident, you know, the way [Bergeron] played out there. He just, it’s incredible the way he came back and dominated the game after being out for that long, you know?” said Brad Marchand, who finally has his longtime partner-in-crime back. “He’s just such a big part of the group. He’s able to calm things down in the room, on the bench, and he leads by example. He just does everything that a top guy does.”

Perhaps most striking of all was the emotion and organization that the Bruins played with having Bergeron and David Backes back in the lineup. The breakouts, reloading counter-attacks and defensive zone coverage all had more noticeable structure, and the Bruins were able to get the wave after wave attack from their forward groups that spurred on goals both during 5-on-5 play and when special teams were involved. 

Some of that is getting two highly talented players like Bergeron and Backes back from injury, and some of it is getting an important, tone-setting leader like No. 37 back for everything he does off the ice as well. 

Bergeron set up the important answering goal in the first period by firing a puck that created a rebound for Bjork to clean up, he did the same for David Krejci’s power play to close out the first period scoring, he created the turnover that led to Marchand’s goal in the second period and then he sniped home his own goal from the bumper spot to finally clinch things in the third period. It was clear that Bergeron is still navigating through discomfort and some level of injury while playing at this point, but his hockey IQ and his gritty toughness are allowing him to still be a highly effective player. 

“I think it was self-evident out there that the play on the ice, first of all, built a matchup against whoever we really want. The Power play obviously [was a] big impact there. I think it’s just morale as much as anything, on the bench and in the room,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Those intangibles, leadership, first shift of the game, he’s standing up. They had scored a goal and [he’s] kind of settling the troops down, talking about the details of the game. 

“[He’s talking about] finishing your routes on the fore-check and reloading all the way to our zone.

[It’s the] stuff that coaches preach a lot, but goes in one ear and out the other sometimes. When you hear it from the leaders of the group, it means so much more. To have that back in the room and along with David Backes, those are guys that are just vocal players that bring a lot in that aspect. It’s generally, a quiet group. That doesn’t mean you can’t be effective and win as a quiet group, but it just helps sometimes to have a little bit of that energy.”

While it was a clearly a feel-good story to see Bergeron back in his proper environs on the ice, it was also just as apparent there’s still some lower body discomfort with the Bruins center. He looked like he was in pain or laboring at times out on the ice, and admitted after the game that the lower body injury might be something he’ll need to manage for the time being. That would tend to mean that once again this isn’t something that’s going to go away anytime soon, and Bergeron will again need to grind his way through the pain. 

“That’s the million dollar question, right? I don’t know what to say to that. I guess yeah, I mean I’m feeling good,” said Bergeron. “But there’s… we might manage a little bit for quite a while. But I’m feeling good and tonight was no issue.”

Clearly Bergeron and the Bruins will gladly take it if he can be a difference-maker like he was on Thursday night with a four points, eight shot attempts and plenty of hard-working shifts in his 20:58 of ice time for the game. They’ll just need to keep their fingers crossed that No. 37 can keep suiting up and playing at a high level, and that the 32-year-old can avoid any further problems after already sitting out the first five games of the regular season. 

Haggerty: Feels like the B's could use an offensive spark plug like Donato

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Haggerty: Feels like the B's could use an offensive spark plug like Donato

BRIGHTON, Mass – The one thing that we’ve seen play out in the three losses to the Maple Leafs in their best-of-seven series is a lack of offensive finish on the chances that they’re getting against the Toronto defense. Boston has launched 162 shot attempts in the last two losses to the Maple Leafs both home and on the road, and they’ve managed to score just four goals despite clearly holding the advantage in terms of puck possession, chances and vulcanized rubber tossed at the opposing net.

Most concerning of all, the Bruins top line players in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak all looked visibly frustrated by the third period of Monday night’s Game 6 loss, and really look like they’re beginning to be at a loss at how to beat Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. It still remains to be seen if Andersen is going to be able to continue the hot goaltender act in a winner-take-all Game 7 situation, or if that the frustration for Boston’s elite players will spill over into an elimination game for both teams. 

But one thing that should be strongly considered given all those recent factors would be inserting 21-year-old Ryan Donato into the lineup for the Bruins. Donato had five goals and nine points in 12 games for the Bruins at the end of the season after signing out of Harvard University and was excellent on the power play while working with the top unit during Rick Nash’s injury absence in those final weeks. Now the secondary scoring has essentially dried up for the B’s behind their top line, the weight of the entire offense has begun to burden the top line and the Bruins power play is 1-for-9 in their last four games after bounding out of the gate red hot to start the series. 

Donato has the natural goal-scoring ability, the shot and release and the good hockey IQ to create offense in pretty rapid fashion, and has always been a possibility for the Black and Gold if the offense got a little too static during the postseason. Donato played in one game where he had a couple of shots and some decent time working things out in the offensive zone, but he also showed he’s got some things to learn in terms of board battles and defensive zone work.

There’s also the fact the Bruins seem much more comfortable with Donato at left wing than they do with him manning his off-wing on the right side. 

That’s the dilemma for Bruce Cassidy when it comes to mulling an insertion of Donato into the lineup to act as an offensive jumper cable of sorts. Clearly, they’ve mulled it over and given the idea it’s due diligence in discussions, but it doesn’t sound like the Bruins are going to drop the youngster into Wednesday night’s Game 7 scenario. 

“We’ve considered [playing Donato] certainly,” said Cassidy. “He played a game early [in the series] and he was okay. He wasn’t bad and he wasn’t great. He was somewhere in between. Nothing is set in stone as far as [Game 7] goes. There is something to be said for going with the players that have got you this far, and Danton Heinen is one of those players. 

“Danton has played right wing, and that’s where Donato in our minds is really strictly a left winger. That’s where the juggling would come in if we were going to use Ryan. It was Wingels last night with good playoff experience on the road, and I thought he did a good job. Ryan is in consideration, but we’re going to try and play the best 12 forwards and see how they fit to win a hockey game [on Wednesday]. 

This humble hockey writer’s view: It probably would have been a better idea to give Donato at right wing a shot in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre rather than trying to pass Tommy Wingels off as a second line winger. If the move didn’t work out in Boston’s favor then at least there was still Game 7 to fall back on, but that’s in the rearview mirror. Cassidy needs to decide between going with the tried and true formula of what got the Bruins to this point in the first place while showing unshakable faith, or mixing things up in a tacit acknowledgment that something needs to change after Boston’s two losses in a row in the series headed into Game 7. 

It’s not an easy choice and so much of winning a Game 7 situation is avoiding the kind of rookie mistakes that Donato could easily fall victim to if he was in the lineup for Boston, but it also feels a little tight and a tad conservative for Cassidy to decide that the super-talented young Donato doesn’t have enough upside to push into the lineup. 

It might just come down to this: If you have a choice of which Bruin should have the puck in a key scoring chance during the game, would be it Tommy Wingels, Danton Heinen or Ryan Donato. All due respect to both Wingels and Heinen, but it’s the electric Donato amid some healthy offensive totals he had no trouble scoring when given regular playing time in March and April.

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A return for Heinen looks like only Game 7 lineup change

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A return for Heinen looks like only Game 7 lineup change

BRIGHTON, Mass – It remains an unfinished product until the Bruins take the ice for warm-ups on Wednesday night ahead of Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it looked like Bruce Cassidy would again be tinkering with the Black and Gold lineup. It looked like Danton Heinen was going to draw back in after being a healthy scratch for Game 6, and was skating on the right wing with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk at practice. 

If that were the case then Tommy Wingels would be back out of the lineup after dressing for Game 6, and both Ryan Donato and Brian Gionta would once be out of the game night group of 12 forwards for the decisive Wednesday night game. Cassidy said there is plenty to consider, of course, but that he felt some allegiance to the players that have brought the Bruins this far over the course of the entire regular season. 

“What we decide to do tomorrow it’s not set in stone today,” said Cassidy. “But there is a certain level of trust in the players that have gotten you this far, and Danton Heinen is certainly one of those guys. You look at his numbers and maybe that line hasn’t produced a lot 5-on-5…so what can do better? 

“He’s still a good defensive player, so he’s always going to give us that. He can play up in the lineup and he’s certainly shown that he can play down with [Sean] Kuraly. Rick Nash can certainly go back with Krejci, so that’s another quick fix.”

Here are the line combos and D-pairings based on Tuesday’s brief practice where it appeared that everybody made it through Game 6 with their health intact ahead of Wednesday’s winner-take-all series finale:   

 

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Heinen

Nash-Nash-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari 

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Miller

Grzelcyk-McQuaid

 

Rask

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