Bruins

Bergeron on injury: 'It's very disappointing'

Bergeron on injury: 'It's very disappointing'

BRIGHTON, Mass – The book on Patrice Bergeron’s toughness and a high tolerance for pain has many chapters, and another one was written last weekend as he essentially played back-to-back games with a fractured right foot.

The Bruins center was hit in the foot with a clearing attempt in the first period of the loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday. He played the rest of the game and the loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday before getting a full diagnosis. An X-ray in Toronto Saturday didn’t reveal any fracture, so Bergeron and the B’s assumed it was a bone bruise or a bad contusion. A CT scan of his right foot on Monday revealed a fractured right foot, and No. 37 will miss at least two weeks, and possibly more, as the Bruins prepare for the final six weeks of the regular season.

Riley Nash is expected to take Bergeron’s spot in the lineup between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as he did at the morning skate on Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena. Newly acquired Tommy Wingels will be added to the lineup for tonight’s home date against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

For a player in Bergeron that was in the middle of his best NHL season and vying for Hart Trophy consideration, the injury is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

"It's very disappointing, to say the least,” admitted Bergeron as he maneuvered the Bruins dressing room with a pair of crutches. “It was tough news to hear [on Monday] night. In the first period [in Toronto] on a clearing attempt [the puck] hit my ankle and I wasn't expecting it.

“You never want to step away from it. You always want to feel like you’re a part of it and you’re contributing. It’s going to be tough tonight to be on the sidelines and to not be out there with the guys. I have two weeks where there’s not much I can do. Patience is the key word and heal quickly with lots of prayers. So that’s what is going on with me.”

As first reported on NBCSportsBoston.com, Bergeron walked out of the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night wearing a protective boot, and that was the first sign that something might not be quite right with the B’s franchise center. Still, he gutted through Sunday while clearing moving around gingerly on the right foot. Bergeron said it was a bad sign that the pain continued to remain intense even after a couple of days.

“Yesterday it was still pretty sore. Usually, things like that go away after a little bit, and it was there with me [on Sunday] the entire time. I spoke to the doctors and we decided to take another image, and it revealed that it was fractured,” said Bergeron. “We’re going to reassess in two weeks and see what comes out of it. I want to be back out there as soon as possible.

“I want to make sure I’m back and fully healthy. Our goal is to get into the playoffs and have a long run. Obviously [Don Sweeney] has made that statement as well with the acquisitions he’s made. It’s my goal as well. Time will tell. I want to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go, and able to help my team. But at the same time, I want to get back out there as quickly as possible.”

This will be nothing new for the Bruins after they endured a wave of injuries at the beginning of the season, including Bergeron for the first couple of games. They know the drill when it comes to grinding through the adversity. It won’t be easy without their best player, but they will need to find a way in the final 22 games of the season.

“He was in the discussion for the MVP of the league, so obviously [the absence] is going to hurt. But we were through this earlier in the year where we needed different guys to step up,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “We don’t expect one person to replace [Bergeron]. It will be done by committee, and that includes his linemates in [Marchand] and [Pastrnak]. They’ll need to understand they need to tighten up a little bit. 
“They’ll need to do their part in the 200-foot game. On the power play [David] Backes will probably play the bumper, so it’s not falling all on Riley Nash. And then we’ll go from there. [Tommy] Wingels has [penalty] killed, so we add him to the mix and Rick Nash has killed as well. We’ll make it up with those two players for the most part. That’s how we plan on doing it.”

It won’t be easy, of course, and it’s too bad that Bergeron’s brilliant season will be interrupted by an injury. Still, both Bergeron and the B’s are fortunate this type of thing happened with six weeks to go in the regular season rather than two weeks to go. The expectation is that a fully healthy No. 37 will be ready to go well ahead of the postseason after a little late-season  R&R that might not turn out to be the worst thing in the world for him.  

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Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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