CHICAGO — There are worst-case scenarios and then there is what happened to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. They teetered to the brink of Stanley Cup elimination and in the process lost their hockey heart and soul, Patrice Bergeron.
Weren’t we supposed to be past such dispiriting, accursed evenings in the Hub of Hardware?
The Bruins took a double gut-punch at the United Center in Game 5. They suffered a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks to go down in the best-of-seven series, 3-2, and they lost bellwether center Bergeron to an undisclosed injury.
The Bruins confirmed via their official Twitter account that Bergeron was taken to a Chicago hospital for observation. His status for Game 6 on Monday night is not known. Like the Bruins, his season is in limbo.
Bergeron left in the second period after a short shift. He remained on the bench for the rest of the period, but didn’t come out with the team for the third. WCVB-TV’s Mike Lynch tweeted that Bergeron was put in an ambulance. CBC in Canada showed Bergeron sitting up in the ambulance with a baseball cap on. The Globe learned he went to the X-ray room before he left the building, which may be one silver lining in an otherwise dark night for the Black and Gold, given Bergeron’s concussion history.
Concussions require MRIs, not X-rays. But because Bergeron, who logged just 49 seconds post-first period, was unable or not allowed to return to such a critical game is foreboding.
This is playoff hockey. These guys are borderline masochists. Gregory Campbell skated 50 seconds with a broken leg. If there was any way Bergeron could have been on the ice he would have been there. He wasn’t.
We can argue who the most indispensable Bruin is, but Bergeron is the most irreplaceable. No one else on the team can do what he does on both ends of the ice at such a high level.
“You can’t replace a guy like that,” said Bruins forward Rich Peverley. “He’s one of the best players in the league at what he does. Obviously, we need other guys to step up.”
Bergeron is a much more important player, but this felt a little bit like when Kendrick Perkins tore his anterior cruciate ligament for the Celtics in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals. It was the night the music came to a screeching halt, melody replaced by the white noise of calamity.
It’s a shame this had to happen to Bergeron, who was making a strong case for the Conn Smythe trophy as NHL playoff MVP. No one in a Black-and-Gold sweater deserved it more than the affable and reliable assistant captain.
He is the epitome of understated excellence. He is the rare star in this day and age who lets his play do all the talking. He dominates at the faceoff dot and plays the game with the earn-your-pay diligence of an ironworker from the dot. He clamps down on the opposing teams’ top players like a vice.
Bergeron was leading all goal scorers in this year’s Cup Final with four goals, and his nine goals in the postseason are tied for second in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Bruins wouldn’t even be in the Cup Final if it weren’t for Bergeron. He netted the tying and the winning goals in the Bruins’ Miracle on Causeway Street Game 7 comeback against the Maple Leafs.
The last time the Bruins needed to come back from a 3-2 deficit in the Cup Final, Bergeron obliged by scoring two goals in Game 7 in 2011.
The Bruins can take solace in the fact the Blackhawks might be without their version of Bergeron, center Jonathan Toews, who was blasted by Johnny Boychuk while trying to shoot in the second period. Toews never returned.
“That kind of evens itself out if that’s the case,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “There are still a lot of good players on both teams who can make things happen, but, you know, it’s a challenge.”
The entirety of Game 5 was a challenge for the Bruins, and they weren’t up to it. Tuukka Rask did his part, but the rest of the Bruins were late arriving.
They trailed, 2-0, after two periods, thanks to a pair of goals from Patrick Kane. Citizen Kane struck at 17:27 of the second when a shot broke the stick of Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and took a weird bounce, where a waiting Kane pounced on it at the left post.
Kane and his linemates did it again at 5:13 of the second period. Bryan Bickell got his own rebound, swept around the net and dished to Kane, who backhanded it past Rask.
The reuniting of Kane, Toews, and Bickell has been a nightmare for the Bruins. The trio has been on the ice for five goals in the last two games.
Zdeno Chara, who has been on the ice for eight of the Blackhawks’ last nine goals, finally bit back in the third period, one-timing a shot past Corey Crawford at 3:40 to cut the Bruins’ deficit in half.
That was as close as the Bruins would get, though.
They head back to Boston in a familiar position, with their skates against the wall.
But with the weight of Bergeron’s absence bearing down on them, the Stanley Cup is looking heavier and heavier for the Bruins to lift.
“It’s pretty obvious it’s do or die,” said Julien. “We’ve been there before, and we’ve done well in that situation. We’ve got to win the next game. Right now, our goal is to create a Game 7, and to create a Game 7 you got to win Game 6. Again, there is no panic. You’re not going to push us away that easily. We’re a committed group. We plan on bouncing back.”
They might have to do it without their hockey heart and soul.