Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bergeron -- The key to a clutch player's performance

By Larry Wigge

The clock is tick-tick-ticking away.

It's the second overtime period. There's no time to set up the perfect play. Or is there?

The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have played nearly five periods of grueling playoff hockey. What will go first: The legs? The back? The dehydration?

The wills of each and every player.

Patrice Bergeron has a knack for performing in the clutch. A will to survive the most important situations. The chemistry that could help the Bruins thrive.

"It's a little bit of everything," Bergeron said. "It's also mental. You gotta stay sharp and find a way, but it's all in your head. As long as you don't feel tired in your head, your legs are fine.

"Your body's cramping up and you gotta find a way. You gotta keep battling, because everyone's in the same situation. As it goes on, the more cramps you get."

Said Marchand, "Bergy, he does everything right. And it's little things that make him such a great player."

The situation is no different for the Bruins without Bergeron than the Edmonton Oilers without Mark Messier or Wayne Gretzy or the Philadelphia Flyers without Bobby Clarke or the Pittsburgh Penguins without Mario Lemieux. You need a goal late in the game, Bergeron is out there. Got to kill off a penalty, Bergeron is out there. Need a faceoff win, Bergeron is the guy.

The Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, native, was the guy in charge on this night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

At 15:19 of double overtime, the Bruins' assistant captain added another golden goal to his impressive postseason and gave his team a 2-1 win over the Penguins at the TD Garden.

In the process, Bergeron continued his clutch scoring -- scoring late in the second overtime giving the Bruins a commanding three-games-to-none lead. It was Bergeron's third career overtime goal in the playoffs and second of this year's postseason, tying a Bruins record which was set by Mel Hill and later matched by Terry O'Reilly. All three of Hill's overtime goals came in one series against the Rangers in 1939.

No one claimed to be tired, least of all Bergeron or Marchand. There's was the focus to their madness.

It was like chemistry the way the Bruins moved the puck from center ice. Jaromir Jagr was responsible for stealing the puck from Evgeni Malkin and tipping it ahead to Marchand, who carried it into zone and sent it across to Bergeron for the winning goal. 

Chemistry between Marchand and Bergeron, who had played together for the last three years. It was just a look from Marchand to Bergeron.

"I look out of the corner of my eye to see how Bergie was separating himself from Brooks Orpik," Marchand said. "I had to wait ... and wait ... until he put his stick down for a target."

Bergeron was getting himself into position for the pass he was expecting from Marchand.

"We do that chemistry thing, where we know where we're going on the ice," Bergeron replied. "I knew he was going to try to find me there if I was driving the net ... and I just went to the net and tried to have my stick on the ice. And he found me."

Bergeron got his stick on Marchand's pass. In fact, he fought through the check by Orpik and got his hands free. Until ... the moment, when Patrice lifted the puck off the ice and behind Pittsburgh goalie Thomas Vokoun.

Said Marchand, "The way he drove to the net against Orpik, he's a very big guy, very strong. And the way, he battled him and put that puck in. It shows he can do everything, and we're very lucky to have him."

Said Bergeron, "We kept battling. We did in the second overtime."

He's like a coach's dream. Someone Bruins coach Claude Julien can throw out there with his eyes close ... and still get the same result.

"That's what happens when you've been together for three years," Julien said. "They've learned to play with each other extremely well."

Bergie? He's more than a 6-4, 194-dynamo. He's a mess. His nose is scarred and red. His left eye is red and puffy. But this is playoff hockey. Red badges of courage.

Even when he was a second-round surprise in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and went straight to the NHL. Bergeron showed the star power and leadership from the moment he stepped on the ice. 

But back in the early part of the 2007-08 season his career could have been over with a Grade 3 concussion, after Philadelphia's Randy Jones slammed him into the boards a jolting thud. In this concussion-crazed world we live in the sports today, Bergeron must remember how close he came to being finished.

Yet, he has recovered from the incident and scored two goals in a 4-0 victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to lead the Bruins to their first title since 1972.

Bergeron has good memories beyond the concussion.

"After winning the Cup, I definitely believe that everything happens for a reason. I can handle adversity a lot better," explained Bergeron.

He looks at things with a 35-year-old mind, instead of just 28. He's overcome that fear of missing all but the first 10 games of 2007-08, a reminder of the concussion one year later and a glimpse of the symptoms causing him to miss the first three game of the Finals.

"I think we've all grown as players here experience-wise," Bergeron said. "Individually and as a team. It's experience you can't buy. It's definitely made me a better person. I think it makes me appreciate it even more."

During his nine seasons in the NHL, no one has every accused for the offensive flow that comes with an All-Star. He topped out at 31 goals and 42 assists in 2005-06, his second year with the Bruins.

When you consider that he had two goals three times in a seven-game span to get his totals to 15 goals and 38 assists at the All-Star break.

"Certain players really make you feel comfortable," Julien explained. "They always seem to be in the right place. Patrice is one of those guys that really reads the plays well. I don't have to go up to him on and correct him or tell him to make certain adjustments.

"When he does get caught out of position a little bit, his work ethic just kicks in -- he works twice as hard to get back. That's why right now, he's known around the league as one of the better two-way players. He just works so hard. You understand why at the end of a game he's always exhausted, because he leaves it all out on the ice."

Realizing the pluses and minuses with playing professional hockey came with a risk ... and a reward.

"That's the risk you take when you step out on the ice," Bergeron said, insisting he was never concerned the injury could be career-ending. "It never crossed my mind. I know I'll be back. I'll be back as soon as I can. Whatever happens, it's going to be the best for me, and I hope it will be this year."

He was fitted for a new one-piece helmet with softer padding that's designed to absorb the repeated hits that a player takes through the course of the game. And as far as getting cleared to play again, Bergeron believes that’s a mere formality.

At the worst point, Bergeron remembers making his way home to Quebec City, during his absence from hockey, the first time in some five weeks he strayed more than a few miles from his downtown Boston condo. With his mother, Sylvie Bergeron-Cleary, at the wheel, they motored the six-plus hours north, leaving behind both TD Banknorth Garden and a growing, irritating case of cabin fever.

"The walls were kind of closing in on me at the end," he recalled. "So it was good to get out of there, you know, to get a change of scenery, see my family. But most important, just be able to relax, have some quiet time . . . and just look at something different than those walls."

He said he stretched every day and goes for walks. With his improved concentration and focus, he has been able to make those walks a little longer each day.

Improvement a few steps at a time.

That in a nutshell is Patrice Bergeron. The heart and soul of the Boston Bruins.

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