Patrice Bergeron got roughed up again Wednesday night, and again the response from his Black-and-Gold peer group, the team he captains, was … OK, let me put this in the politically correct terms of NHL 2021 and call it, uh, not acceptable.
Now that we’ve dispensed with the soft-speak, let’s be blunt: It was an out-and-out disgrace.
Someone, anyone not named Bergeron, had to step up and give Vancouver defenseman Kyle Burroughs a smashmouth reminder that there’s still enough old-time Original Six hockey in the Bruins brand that no one messes with the team captain, especially one with Bergeron’s legacy of service and commitment, and especially a Bergeron already wearing a cumbersome face shield after having his nose rearranged by an even more egregious cheap shot the other night in Nashville.
Nothing … for … Bergeron.
It has come to that. What in the name of John Wensink is going on around here?
If the sight of a peeved Bergeron again getting bounced around by an opposition pipsqueak is not enough for someone on the Boston roster to reach a boil, then that’s an equal punch in the face that says something has to change. Now.
Not next week. Not after the new year. Not once the boys come home from the Olympic Duration. Not come the March 21 trade deadline. Now.
This is a team that desperately needs to wake up, and Burroughs was the alarm clock, blaring at 10:15 of the third period in Vancouver, when much of the Boston fandom was fast asleep, unaware that everyone on the Bruins bench had joined them in slumberland.
The later the season gets, the going will only get tougher. If word around the league is that the Bruins won’t step up even when Bergeron gets bounced around, then that’s a sure sign the main hatchway’s caved in and, fellas, it’s been good to know ya.
Much of the focus lately, as the Bruins pulled into Edmonton to face the Oilers Thursday night, rightly had been on lack of offense. Prior to puck drop at Rexall Place, the Bruins stood 1-1-2 and had scored but five goals in their last four games. Only three of those were even-strength strikes, one by Brandon Carlo (he of the second-pairing D), one by Charlie Coyle (he of the second-line pivot), and one by Curtis Lazar (he of the fourth-line forgottens, including Jake DeBrusk).
No sir, not what you call a pathway to success right there.
More than a quarter of the way into the season, it has become abundantly clear the Bruins are too soft physically, and equally evident they need more offensive pop — a lot more net drive and presence — if they hope to get into the playoffs and make a run. At this hour, they’re touch-and-go to avoid a postseason DNQ for the first time in the Bruce Cassidy era.
Bergeron needed a few hours off earlier this week for surgical repair after Nashville’s Filip Forsberg lined him up for a cheap shot that broke his nose. The play wasn’t penalized. Bergeron, with no one else to respond, was left to yap and hack at Forsberg.
The captain’s uncharacteristic display of ire should have been enough right there at Bridgestone Arena for one of his teammates to wake up and even the score with Forsberg. Nope. Sleepy is as sleepy does. Everyone in Black and Gold let it ride. Minutes to log and a team bus to catch, ya know?
Bergeron kept grinding, played through the pain two nights later against Tampa Bay, which is exactly how captains lead. Then he went in for repairs to get his nose on right for a three-game swing through western Canada. He returned to action Wednesday night with a protective facemask that looked like a salad bowl someone tossed out of a SpaceX test kitchen.
“I hated it, to be honest with you,” said Bergeron. “First time doing that, I think, in my career, so definitely an adjustment, I’m not going to lie. Peripheral vision, or if the puck is close by your feet, it’s tough to track. I guess I’ve got to get used to it.”
Far harder to stomach has been the Original 32 roster timidity around Bergeron, who Thursday night was ready to suit up for his 1,166th career regular-season game. He’ll be 37 in July, though based on the Veg-O-Matic existence his teammates have left him to withstand of late, he’ll feel more like 73-year-old cole slaw if general manager Don Sweeney doesn’t quickly add some physical support around him.
The last morsel of dependable muscle left the Bruins shop when defenseman Kevan Miller was forced into retirement over the summer. No one has filled that role, in back or up front.
Also, remember, last season was the first since Zdeno Chara’s arrival in 2006 that the roster didn’t have the ultimate equalizer dressed in No. 33 and prepared to right any wrongs. The Trencin Tower of Power muted most thoughts of opposition shenanigans for all of his 1,173 games (playoffs included) of Black-and-Gold service.
Many of us, including scores of his teammates, took Big Z’s calming effect, shall we say, for granted.
Which, in large part, is what leads to the likes of Burroughs chopping at Bergeron after a whistle midway through the third and not answering for it. Burroughs appeared to rethink what he was doing after he nearly landed a crosscheck to the lower portion of Bergeron’s shield. Bergeron parted ways with a quick clutch of Burroughs’s collar, forcing the latter’s neck to snap backward.
The trip wraps up Saturday night in Calgary. If the Bruins are going anywhere, they need to score more. Their first goal, though, needs to be toughening up and answering a bell they thus far have refused to hear, on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.