The NHL has a hit list of centers who sparkle. Steven Stamkos brings the hammer down on a singular slap shot. Evgeni Malkin dangles through defenses with the agility and precision of a figure skater. Sidney Crosby dazzles when the puck is on his stick.
Then there’s Patrice Bergeron.
The Bruins alternate captain is not flashy. Bergeron is a Ford F-150 on the ice: a steady, workmanlike grunt. Bergeron mucks and grinds in the shadows. In hockey, the areas that are not illuminated are often where the real work — often the toughest and most dangerous type — takes place.
There’s beauty in that kind of game, too.
Bergeron, in a personification of desire, willed the Bruins to a 2-0 cutthroat win over the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden Monday night.
The Bruins have a 2-1 series lead, and Game 4 is Wednesday back at the Garden.
Bergeron scored a power-play goal. Bergeron won 24 of 28 faceoffs. For the third straight game, Bergeron helped turn Patrick Kane (four shots, 21:05 of ice time), Chicago’s pretty puck wizard, into a ghost.
The Blackhawks were already down one right wing in Marian Hossa (late scratch because of an upper-body injury). It didn’t help that Bergeron and his teammates made Kane, Chicago’s No. 2 right wing, a virtual no-show as well.
“He played huge for us tonight,” Tyler Seguin said. “As the series goes on, you need guys to step up more and more. I’m left out of words for Bergy. He definitely shows it with his actions every night.”
It was Bergeron’s kind of game: a ruthless and committed 60 minutes. Bergeron and the Bruins stifled the Blackhawks in all three zones. Chicago never unfolded its puck-possession game. The Bruins won 40 of 56 faceoffs.
The Boston forecheck closed in on the Chicago defensemen, keeping them from triggering their retrieve-and-move style.
In the neutral zone, the Bruins slammed shut skating and passing avenues.
In front of Tuukka Rask, the Bruins allowed only one-shot approaches. Rask coolly punched out 28 pucks. Of the shots Rask didn’t handle cleanly, his teammates swept aside with ease.
By night’s end, the Blackhawks were gassed. The Bruins had even claimed the air in the building as their own.
The Bruins checked off the three E’s: effort, emotion, and execution. Chicago’s best scoring chance took place in the final minute. During six-on-five play, Bryan Bickell rattled the puck off the right post.
Other than that, Chicago’s big offensive push never took place. The Bruins never allowed it. It wasn’t enough that Rask was locked in — square to the puck, precise with his rebound control. In front of Rask, the Bruins assembled their signature defensive tiers. For the Blackhawks, it was the equivalent of entering Dante’s rings of hell.
“I think it’s the energy in the game, the effort,” said coach Claude Julien. “You see our guys, they’re backchecking, having layers. So when somebody makes a mistake, you have somebody covering up. We’re blocking a lot of shots. The commitment is totally there. Throughout a whole season, it’s not easy to have that full commitment. I think when you get to this stage, players start feeling it. They go above and beyond. That’s what you’re seeing from our team right now.”
On offense, the Bruins only needed two openings. In the second period, Daniel Paille punched in his second goal in two games. Corey Crawford (33 saves) got a glove on Seguin’s shot. Nick Leddy was first on the rebound. But Chris Kelly muscled Leddy off the puck. Once Kelly won the battle, he spotted Paille in front. The left wing scored at 2:13 to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Paille’s speed led to the second goal. The Bruins were on the power play after Dave Bolland went off for cross-checking at 12:00. The Blackhawks were 10 seconds away from killing the penalty. But Nathan Horton opened up Paille for a chance. Because of Paille’s wheels, Niklas Hjalmarsson was forced to haul down the left wing before he approached Crawford.
With Hjalmarsson in the box, the Bruins scored the insurance goal. Jaromir Jagr set up on the right side of the formation deep in the offensive zone. Bergeron opened up on the opposite side. Jagr threaded a pass through the slightest of openings: far enough away from Crawford’s stick on one end, and out of Johnny Oduya’s and Brent Seabrook’s reach on the other.
Bergeron was on the receiving end. After settling Jagr’s Marc Savard-like dish, Bergeron slammed the puck home at 14:05 of the second to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
“It was a perfect play,” Bergeron said. “I had to settle it down a bit because it was a hard pass. It was a great pass. I just had to put it in. Thankfully I did that.”
By the third period, a two-goal lead felt far larger. The Blackhawks could do little against Boston’s all-in defensive buy-in. It’s coming from everybody, even from the future Hall of Famer. During his mullet years in Pittsburgh, it was considered trespassing when Jagr skated into his own zone.
“Guys here, they always make the safe play,” said Jagr, sounding somewhat amazed by his teammates’ defensive commitment. “They’re always good on the defensive side of the game. These are the things I have to get used to. I never had to go forecheck because we had the puck on our sticks. If you don’t, that’s a turnover.”
It took 21 years for Jagr to play for the Cup again. His flow is lighter. His beard is whiter. His game has changed. But the Bruins are two wins away from proving that go-go offense doesn’t necessarily win Cups.