|Patrice Bergeron was groggy after being hit by Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux Friday. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)|
Bergeron mildly concussed
Status uncertain for next round
WILMINGTON — Patrice Bergeron ended up in a familiar place Friday night — flat on the ice, delivered to the land of the concussed — and that return visit is expected to keep the 25-year-old center from suiting up for the start of the Bruins’ upcoming Eastern Conference finals series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It also means that Tyler Seguin, the highly touted rookie forward who has yet to play in this postseason, is expected to take Bergeron’s roster spot when the Bruins open the best-of-seven series (start date still to be determined).
According to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, Bergeron sustained a “mild concussion’’ — his third diagnosed neurological episode in some 3 1/2 years — early in the third period of Friday night’s 5-1 win over Philadelphia that clinched a sweep of that series.
When Chiarelli spoke with Bergeron soon after the win, he found the veteran center to be “despondent.’’ But Chiarelli remains hopeful Bergeron will not be sidelined long, because he believes the concussion is not as severe as the previous two, suffered in October 2007 and December 2008.
“Obviously, you are missing a key character component, a key leadership component,’’ said Chiarelli. “But what I have seen of this team toward the end of the regular season, and especially after the first two [losses in Round 1] against Montreal, is that there has been a real kind of growing, bonding — chemistry, I guess, for lack of a better word.
“I won’t mention names, but some of the guys have been stepping up in the room and I think you fill voids with those guys.’’
The Bergeron void is immense for the Bruins, who are in the conference final for the first time since 1992. Easily the team’s MVP of the postseason, he was by far playing his best hockey since sustaining a brutal concussion, his first, in October 2007 — although Chiarelli felt Bergeron played equally well during stretches of the 2010-11 season.
“He is making his plays with more certainty,’’ said Chiarelli. “He is more confident physically. Most nights he has extra jump in his step, and when he does that, he is attacking with the puck rather than just dishing. Yeah, he has been really good.’’
Bergeron entered Friday night’s game as the club’s leading point-getter in the postseason with 2 goals and 12 assists in 10 games, a 1.2-points-per-game average. In 31 previous playoff games, including 13 last season, he had 5-15—20 totals, or roughly half the production on a points-per-game basis.
Centering a line with Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi as his wingers, Bergeron truly emerged as a playoff force, until the 2:33 mark of the third period when Flyers center Claude Giroux hammered him to the ice with an unpenalized shoulder-to-head smack.
Bergeron crumpled to the ice, in the faceoff circle to Boston goalie Tim Thomas’s right, but did not appear to lose consciousness. After some 10-15 seconds, with play having turned up ice, Bergeron righted himself under his own power and skated to the Boston bench. He disappeared down the runway, not to be seen for the remaining 17:27 of play.
According to Chiarelli, Bergeron followed what only recently was instituted as standard NHL protocol, reporting immediately to a “quiet room’’ for preliminary neurological examination by non-team personnel.
When it became clear his senses were addled, he became ineligible to play for the remainder of the night.
Bergeron did not require a visit to the hospital and spent the night at his nearby condo.
The start date of the Eastern finals depends on how soon the Western Conference completes semifinal play. The Canucks, with a 3-1 series lead over Nashville, took on the Predators last night in a potential Game 5 clincher at Vancouver. The Sharks, with an identical lead over the Red Wings, Game 5 tonight in San Jose.
The Boston-Tampa Bay series could begin as early as Tuesday evening. But it also could be Thursday or Saturday. The first two games will be in Boston, with Games 3 and 4 in Tampa.
In theory, the longer it takes to start the series, the better it is for the Bruins, affording Bergeron time to heal. However, the only thing that can be said with conviction about concussions is that no one can predict recovery periods. Bergeron could miss whatever remains of Boston’s postseason run.
“I’m not sure an agent’s opinion on concussions matters,’’ said Bergeron’s agent, Kent Hughes, who also represents Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier. “We’ve had a tough year in that department, however, with Matt Lombardi [Predators] and Peter Mueller [Avalanche] being out for the whole year.’’
Julien, improvising with his roster more than ever before during his four-year tour behind the Boston bench, left his No. 1 line (Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton) intact after losing Bergeron. He moved Chris Kelly up to Bergeron’s spot, then promoted Greg Campbell to center Kelly’s previous linemates, Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder.
The Bruins scored four times in Bergeron’s absence, although two of those strikes were empty-netters, the Flyers grasping at straws as their playoff hopes disappeared.
The Bruins also remain without their No. 1 pivot and power-play quarterback, Marc Savard.
In the regular season, the 19-year-old Seguin, the No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, looked more comfortable at wing than center. Julien is ever-conservative in approach, which probably means Seguin gets assigned to the wall, and perhaps Peverley works into the pivot mix with Krejci, Kelly, and Campbell.
“I’ve been watching [Seguin] in practice,’’ noted Chiarelli, “and his on-ice [workouts] and off-ice [workouts] have been outstanding. So he has kept sharp.
“Now, having said that, it’s hard to parachute someone in, especially a young player like that. So we will see how he does. But he certainly deserves a chance.’’
Two other young forwards, Jamie Arniel and Jordan Caron, remain on the postseason roster and have been working out daily in hopes of getting a playoff shot.
“From my layman’s observations,’’ said Chiarelli, “[Bergeron] was lucid at the end. I was talking to him. He was disappointed, because he had been through that stuff.
“Now, you know, take from that what you will. These things, especially when there’s multiple concussions, they may go. He came back very well from the [December 2008] concussion. So his ability to recover, right now, it shows it’s been good. But who knows?’’
No one knows. And with that, Round 3 is about to begin.