Patrice Bergeron is one of those great athletes who is easy to take for granted. His brilliance isn’t Xenon headlight bright. It’s like a steady, soothing porch light, always there to illuminate the way when you need it.
Accountable, reliable, durable, Bergeron is the epitome of understated excellence, but there was nothing understated about his role in the hockey history that unfolded Monday night at TD Garden. In the Bruins’ darkest hour, Bergeron shone brightest, extending the season with the tying and winning goals in Boston’s back-from-the-dead 5-4 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
They call him Patrice the Thief, and he stole a playoff series and the joy of Toronto hockey fans Monday night. Bergeron isn’t as popular as David Ortiz, he isn’t a pop culture icon like Tom Brady, he doesn’t have the cachet of Kevin Garnett or the imposing frame of teammate Zdeno Chara. But we are lucky to have him toiling in our town.
That was never more apparent than Monday night, when he had a starring role in the Miracle on Causeway Street.
Bergeron, who entered with one goal in the series, netted the final two of the series to cap an improbable Boston comeback from a 4-1 third-period deficit. He scored the tying goal with 50.2 seconds left and potted the winner at 6:05 of the extra session, sending the Bruins on to the second round and a matchup with the New York Rangers.
“I’m really happy for him,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s a hard worker, reliable player that we lean on every game, every year. I don’t think his stats were indicative of his series so far. For him to come up big like that when it really counted I think is fitting for Patrice Bergeron.”
Boston was 6 feet under in Game 7, staring at a monumental collapse and a long offseason of soul-searching after reborn Bruins Killer Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri scored a pair of goals 3 minutes and 20 seconds apart that left the Bruins down, 4-1, with 14 minutes and 31 seconds to play.
The Bruins looked catatonic on their bench, but it was the Leafs who were left in a state of shock.
It was fitting that the winning goal came with the frustrated and fustigated line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin on the ice. The trio had just one goal entering Game 7 and none of the three had scored a goal when they were all on the ice together.
They had three points in the series entering the game, but they delivered five points in Game 7, led by Bergeron’s two goals and an assist.
“We found a way,” said Bergeron. “The puck finally went in. That’s all we needed to get some confidence. Throughout the series I had some really good looks. I had to put the puck in. I did it tonight. I did it when it mattered.”
Julien separated the scuffling trio, moving Jaromir Jagr up to the second line and sending Seguin down to the third line. But he reunited them in overtime. It was serendipity brought about by skate issues for Nathan Horton and Jagr, admitted Julien.
Marchand’s work down low freed Bergeron up for his initial shot, which Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer saved. Seguin tied up the Toronto defense in front and the loose puck found its way to Bergeron, who hammered it home and set off delirium on Causeway Street.
“Obviously, we didn’t have the best series,” said Marchand. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I think we played a lot better tonight. We created a lot more. Obviously, we were on for the last goal there. Now, we’ve just got to get prepared for the next series and make sure we bring better.”
There was no more fitting player to provide the Bruins deliverance than Bergeron. He is the embodiment of what this team stands for — tough, unassuming, gritty, and better than you think.
But Bergeron’s moment of brilliance seemed far-fetched for most of the night until a Bruins team defined by pucks procrastination sent the script back to rewrite.
The Bruins sent the game to OT by scoring a pair of six-on-five goals less than 32 seconds apart.
After a Horton goal made it 4-2 at 9:18 of the third, Milan Lucic lifted a rebound of a Chara shot past Reimer with 1:22 left to pull the Bruins within a goal.
The Leafs were shaking.
With 50.2 seconds left it was TD Garden that was quaking after Bergeron’s long-range shot weaved around traffic like a Boston driver and found its way into the net.
Bergeron gave a double fist-pump and those Spoked-(non) Believers who had left the Garden early were lamenting their hasty departure.
“Honestly, when I shot it and it went through the first guy I knew it was a pretty good shot,” said Bergeron. “I couldn’t see it go in. I knew it was close, and fortunately enough it went in.”
After Bergeron’s goal, there might not have been a more lugubrious place in North America than Maple Leaf Square.
Anyone who was a Red Sox fan pre-2004 felt the pain of the Leafs faithful, but also knew the final outcome was a frozen fait accompli.
Bergeron is now to Toronto hockey fans what Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone is to Boston baseball fans. Someone else’s misfortune was our good fortune.
The 24th Game 7 in Bruins history will go down as one for the ages here. It will go down as a dark day in Toronto sports history.
All because the Bruins star who shuns the spotlight flicked the switch on his game at the perfect time and left a Stanley Cup playoff light on for the Bruins.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at email@example.com.