Six months after their Stanley Cup dreams melted along with the ice on Causeway Street, the Bruins will return to the Garden Thursday night, facing the New Jersey Devils in their 2016-17 home opener.
And the distant sons of Bobby Orr wrapped up practice in Brighton on Wednesday convinced that star centerman Patrice Bergeron also will be making his 2016-17 debut.
Bergeron, the club’s 31-year-old all-purpose center (read: glue guy), sustained an undisclosed injury early last week during practice and missed the first three games (2-0-1) of the season. But he was front and center for the Bruins’ workout Wednesday, pivoting a line with soulmate left wing Brad Marchand and the confident David Pastrnak at right wing.
“I think he’s on track to play [Thursday],” said coach Claude Julien. “Unless I am told otherwise [by the medical staff], or if he comes in [Thursday] and feels any different, we’re hoping he’s going to be in the lineup.’’
Bergeron, who completed the full 45-minute workout along with injured defenseman Adam McQuaid, also sounded optimistic about suiting up vs. the Devils, but provided the standard qualifier.
“We’ll just go by how I feel tomorrow,’’ he said. “I felt really good on the ice today, and hopefully it stays [the same] throughout today and tomorrow morning.’’
Neither the club nor Bergeron will reveal the nature of his injury, but speculation has been that he aggravated an ankle injury sustained last season. He came to camp in excellent shape, hoping to make an immediate impact in the new season after winning the World Cup of Hockey tournament with Team Canada.
“It’s really unfortunate not to be able to kind of ride that wave a bit with the way I felt,” he said. “But it happened and I had to take the time to heal and I’ve got to stay with it, I guess.’’
Among the game’s most versatile and defensively responsible centers, Bergeron plays in all situations — even strength, power play, and penalty killing. Should he play Thursday, Julien plans to give him his standard complement of playing time, which typically is 18-22 minutes per game.
“We’ve been a little bit more cautious than anything, and if he is back now, it’s because he is feeling like he is ready to go,’’ said the coach.
“I’ll do whatever they tell me to do,’’ said Bergeron. “It doesn’t matter to me, wherever, whatever I play — how many minutes — it doesn’t matter to me.’’
With Bergeron’s return looking like a fait accompli, veteran forward David Backes moved to a new trio during the workout.
He vacated the pivot spot Bergeron will reclaim and moved to David Krejci’s right wing, a line that will have rookie Danton Heinen on left wing.
A promising newbie, Heinen showed a hot hand during training camp and secured a spot on the varsity roster with three goals in five exhibition games. When the season opened, he was parked on the fourth line, and landed but one shot on net in the first three games.
He’ll now have the righthanded Krejci to dish him forehand passes to the left side, and during the workout, Julien moved him to the No. 1 power-play unit, with Backes and Bergeron up front and Krejci and Torey Krug manning the points.
“I’m not sure of how much of a good look I got,’’ said Julien, asked to review Heinen’s play in the games in Columbus, Toronto, and Winnipeg. “Because that line [Heinen, Dominic Moore, and Noel Acciari] didn’t quite play the way I thought it would play.
“We’re finding that balance that will give us good scoring from all lines.’’
Bergeron’s return will give the Bruins back their No. 1 point getter from last season (32-36—68 in 80 games). He is critical to their power-play success, working as the mid-range “bumper’’ in the attacking zone, with point men and forwards always able to dish him the puck and have him immediately identify the open man.
He annually leads the club, and often the league, in faceoff percentage, and Julien often uses him to shut down the opposition’s most productive center.
“In my opinion,’’ Julien has said frequently the last three weeks, “he’s the best two-way centerman in the league.’’
If he plays Thursday, Bergeron will be suiting up for his 821st regular-season game.
“Frustrating for me not to be able to go on the first road trip with the guys and battle with them early on,’’ he said. “But it was nice to be back on the ice with them and I look forward to the upcoming games.”
Video: Patrice Bergeron returns to Bruins practice: