In the hours immediately after his inspirational return to the Bruins’ lineup Monday night, veteran center Patrice Bergeron was hospitalized with a tiny hole in one of his lungs, caused by a fractured rib or by the needle used to inject him as part of a nerve-blocking procedure he required in order to suit up in what turned into Boston’s final game of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
On Wednesday morning, 24-plus hours after being admitted to the hospital, Bergeron texted his agent, Kent Hughes, with this terse update:
“I’m very sore and very tired. OK if I call you after I get out of the hospital?’’
One more time, we witness the simplicity, grit, and the dogged, understated determination of the 27-year-old Bergeron. He suited up for Game 6 with a cracked rib and torn rib cartilage, and then sustained a separated shoulder during the game — all part and parcel of the pain that landed him back in the hospital.
In Chicago on Saturday night, Bergeron exited Game 5 via ambulance, his breathing hindered by a rib injury Hughes believes was likely suffered many days earlier, perhaps as far back as the Penguins series.
As of Wednesday afternoon, neither Hughes nor the Boston front office could say with certainty what punctured Bergeron’s lung, be it the needle or the cracked rib. But like Bergeron’s teammates, many of whom learned of his hospitalization upon reporting to the Garden for Wednesday’s “breakup’’ day, they marveled at his ability to maintain composure, leadership, and toughness throughout the ordeal.
“He played through all this, and he was a warrior,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli, speaking at the club’s traditional end-of-season news conference at the Garden. “I can’t say enough about his performance and what he did while being injured.’’
It’s possible Bergeron’s trail of pain really became jagged in Game 4 of the Blackhawks series June 19 when he took a stiff check from Michael Frolik, a blow serious enough to send the center to the dressing room temporarily. Bergeron quickly returned to the ice, finished with a pair of goals, then three nights later failed to make it through Game 5 in Chicago.
On the morning of Game 6 in Boston, according to Hughes, some of Bergeron’s family members in town for the game were convinced he would not be able to play.
“He had trouble walking, or standing up straight,’’ recalled Hughes. “I don’t think anyone close to him really thought he was going to play.’’
Bergeron skipped the customary late-morning skate on Monday, but come game time he was in uniform, compliments of the pain-dulling procedure that may or may not have punctured his lung.
“If it happened during the game, he would have felt the pain and he wouldn’t have been able to play,’’ said Chiarelli, noting the obvious, that he’s not a doctor, while discounting the probability that the puncture was caused by the nerve block. “And the same thing, he would have been sent to the hospital and it would have been rectified.’’
Coach Claude Julien, who rolled his trusty pivot out for 24 shifts and a beefy 17:45 of ice time in Game 6, only learned after the game that Bergeron had separated his shoulder in the opening minutes of the game. The club’s No. 1 glue guy, counted on in all situations, played through the evening with a punchlist of injuries common in a car wreck. And he said nothing. He just played.
In fact, as the night came to a close near 11 p.m., Bergeron remained on the ice with the rest of the Bruins, waiting patiently to shake hands with the victorious Blackhawks.
While his teammates stood there on the ice, in various stages of stunned disbelief over the last-minute 3-2 loss, Bergeron quietly coasted on skates among his band of brothers. With a gloved hand, he offered encouraging taps to their shoulders, gently slapped his stickblade on their shinpads. He then made his way through the handshake line and eventually to the dressing room. Before making his way to the hospital, he made a point of informing the media about his injuries, but never mentioned he was about to return to the hospital for observation because he again was having trouble breathing.
“He’s a fighter,’’ said veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, himself no shrinking flower when it comes to the pain game. “What he went through to play in Game 6 is crazy. I saw all the Band-Aids he had and everything. To sacrifice his body the way he did . . . impressive.’’
“Yeah, look at Bergy,’’ goalie Tuukka Rask said with respect. “He’s just the perfect man. Unbelievable.’’
“He looked pretty good . . . he was battling through it,’’ offered true-grit defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “You could tell he was in pain because his chest was all wrapped up. But it wasn’t like he was bent over in pain or anything. He just battled.’’
According to Hughes, Bergeron remained in the hospital throughout Wednesday. He expects he will be fine once the pain and fatigue subside. He has seen his client persevere through more difficult times, including multiple concussions, most notably the severe bash dealt him by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones in October 2007 that finished Bergeron’s season.
Hughes confirmed later Wednesday that Bergeron was released from the hospital. Hughes also said he is confident Bergeron would not have suited up for Game 6, submitted himself to the pain-blocking procedure, if he felt he was exposing himself to any inordinate amount of risk.
“One thing I know for sure is that Bergy’s a pretty thoughtful person,’’ said Hughes. “He’s well thought out, not emotional at all, when it comes to this sort of stuff. For example, he didn’t talk through [the decision to play] with me that day, and that tells me he was confident in how he felt about it. He’s bright. He’d ask all the questions, like, ‘How much more could I be hurt, if . . . ?’ So, obviously, I can’t speak for him, but I’d be very surprised if he looked back and think or wish that he’d done anything differently. He’s not stupid brave.’’
The Bruins’ season is over, the dream of a second Stanley Cup in three seasons shattered. The player left with the most pain of all never said a peep. Just as hockey is forever hockey, Bergeron is forever Bergeron.