Coming off an offseason in which he captured his first Selke Award as the best defensive forward in the game, Bergeron was having a sparkling 2013 campaign, leading the Bruins with 31 points and ranking fourth in the NHL in plus/minus as a +23. But as Bergeron and his teammates prepared to close out a shortened season and mount a playoff run, disaster hit when the Boston center was struck in the head by an errant elbow. The result was the fourth concussion of his career, which will put him on the shelf indefinitely.
So where do the Bruins go from here? Fans of the NHL know that Bergeron is a fantastic two-way forward and arguably the most important player on the team after captain Zdeno Chara. But Boston fans specifically have an even stronger grasp of just how crucial "Bergy" is to the team. Those that follow the team closely know that the situation may be pretty dire.
In their April 4 contest against the New Jersey Devils, the B's got their first look at life without their star center. Head coach Claude Julien juggled the line Bergeron used to center by moving Tyler Seguin to the middle and slotting new trade acquisition Jaromir Jagr on the right wing, and the results weren't exactly pretty.
Yes, the Bruins ultimately won 1-0 on a goal scored by that very line when Jagr deflected one in off his skate as he drove hard to the net. But the cause for concern wasn't in the final result. The Bruins were stuck in their own zone for the most of the night, and it took a 40-save shutout from netminder Tuukka Rask to get the win. Seguin, who had played center all his life before coming to Boston, was a woeful 3-for-12 in the dot.
The lack of puck possession in the offensive zone wasn't a coincidence. Bergeron, widely considered to be one of the best faceoff men in the league, was an eye-popping 61.5 percent in the circle this season. Already without another key faceoff center in Chris Kelly, the loss of Bergeron essentially cripples a team that relies on its superiority in the dot to get their cycle game going. The good news? Kelly is expected to make his return this week. The Bruins might not be so lucky with Bergeron.
Seguin was average defensively against New Jersey, but, more important, might be the fact that greater defensive responsibility put a damper on the offensive explosiveness that Seguin craves when generating chances on the rush. What previously made the line so effective throughout the year was that Seguin and left winger Brad Marchand were able to utilize their speed and skill offensively, given that they had a three-zone anchor in the middle in Bergeron.
And while Jagr certainly brings a lot of offensive talents to the table, speed is not exactly in the 41-year-old's arsenal these days. In Boston's game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, April 6, Julien shook up his lines and put Seguin back on the wing. The return of Chris Kelly to the lineup will likely mean the end of Seguin's duties at center for the time being. To put it simply, filling Bergeron's shoes is not something Seguin's ready for at this stage of his career.
While the addition of Jagr and the recently improved play of winger Nathan Horton were encouraging signs for the Bruins heading into the playoffs, the loss of Bergeron is a devastating blow to any hopes the team and its fans have of making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years. Bergeron's concussion has been labeled as "moderate" and given that he missed two weeks with the last one two years ago, Bruins faithful probably shouldn't expect to see #37 in the lineup anytime soon.
A lot of the better teams in the NHL are able to overcome injuries, even to some of their more important players. But given all the aspects of the game that Patrice Bergeron excels at, the Bruins simply don't have the personnel to replace such a high-caliber player. The games against New Jersey and Montreal were not anomalies, and the hole left by Bergeron will only become more glaring as the regular season winds down.
If Bergeron can come back in time for the playoffs, and if he can regain the form he's displayed all season, the Bruins can challenge Pittsburgh and Montreal as Eastern Conference contenders. But those are some big ifs. And one thing that often carries with it a great deal of uncertainty in sports today is concussions.
Bruins Nation is holding its breath. And with good reason.
Andy Vagos majors in Journalism at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He has lived around Boston all his life and follows the Bruins on a daily basis.
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- Patrice Bergeron
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