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Matt Porter | On hockey

After Bruins elimination, the thought of losing Patrice Bergeron staggers Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand (right) wears the heartbreak of Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes in Game 7 as he follows Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron (center), perhaps for the final time, in the postgame handshake ritual.Jared C. Tilton/Getty

RALEIGH, N.C. — Passion is a quality Brad Marchand does not lack. There is no stiff-upper-lip quality about him. Amid Saturday’s heartbreak, he wore his emotions outward, red-eyed and quiet.

Nothing about that was unusual. But it was different from the three previous Game 7 losses he experienced.

The idea that he could play the rest of his Bruins career without Patrice Bergeron at his side was hitting him hard.

He was doubly miserable knowing that if Bergeron’s career was indeed over, it would have ended with a first-round loss, the 3-2 setback in the series finale in Carolina.

Asked for his thoughts on his pal’s impending decision, he paused for a full 10 seconds. He stammered, his voice breaking a little. He stared into middle distance. His eyes welled.


“He’s the backbone of our team,” he said, collecting himself. “Obviously the biggest part of our team. We want him to come back.

“But whatever happens, he’s earned the right to make the decision that he wants and take the time that he needs. I guess time will tell.”

Marchand is Bergeron’s best friend in hockey. Since the spring of 2011, they have been inseparable on the ice, scoring goals and killing penalties and creating, then celebrating, some of the most indelible moments in Boston hockey history.

Bergeron, 36, and Marchand, 33, have grown up together in Spoked-B sweaters. They have experienced life as young NHLers, then life as fathers who bring their young children to postgame press conferences in the playoffs, as they did after Game 4 in Boston.

Bergeron has played 18 seasons, 1,216 regular season games, and 167 more in the playoffs. He does not have a contract for next season, and has not commited to playing next year.

Marchand, 13 years into his Black and Gold tenure, would be the obvious choice as captain if Bergeron did not return. That surely would not have been possible without Bergeron’s influence. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney got a laugh out of the dressing room in Jan. 2021, when he jokingly presented Marchand with a captain’s letter. He then did what everyone expected: he named Bergeron the successor to Zdeno Chara. If Bergeron (and Chara) had not helped guide Marchand through his rougher patches, it would be comical to think of No. 63 wearing the ‘C’.


If Bergeron steps aside, it could be reality. As of Saturday evening, Bergeron had not made that call.

Knowing the future was unclear, they were determined to make the playoffs, then beat the Hurricanes, then go on a deep run to lift the Stanley Cup once more. Bergeron has not spoken about Bergeron’s future this year, so Marchand, ever respectful of his friend, has followed in kind.


“That’s a personal thing that him and his family are going to decide,” Marchand said. “Obviously I’ve pushed my case on him to come back. If he ever wanted to open up and talk about it, that’s up to him. I wasn’t going to press him.”

Given the uncertainty, Marchand has found himself appreciating this season, and this playoff run, more than usual.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s why this one probably hurts more, is the unknown for next year with him. He’s done so much for this group, sacrificed so much. It would have been nice to make a good run for him.


“So,” he said with a sigh, “it’s disappointing.”

The Bruins couldn’t win a road game against the Hurricanes, but Bergeron and Marchand, as usual, were their best players. Marchand (4-7–11) and Bergeron (3-4–7) led the team in scoring. With those two on the ice at 5 on 5, Boston racked up 63 percent of the shots and outscored Carolina, 6-3. When they were on the bench, the Bruins got 47 percent of the shots, and were outscored, 13-4.

Bergeron, standing by the tunnel where the visitors exit the PNC Arena ice, embraced all his teammates after the final buzzer. He gave Marchand a full-bodied hug, and a few head taps. Both spoke to the media after 45 tough minutes of sitting and reflecting.

There will be much more of that in the coming days and weeks.

“It always hurts,” Marchand said. “It always will. You only get a few opportunities like these throughout your career, where you have a legit chance at going far, and we thought we had that this year.”

Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.