PITTSBURGH — Patrice Bergeron walked into the visiting locker room of PPG Paints Arena on Sunday following the Bruins’ 6-5 overtime loss to the Penguins.
A far chillier outcome looked as if it was going to take place.
In the final minute of the first period, Kris Letang hammered a one-timer off the inside of Bergeron’s right knee. Bergeron felt his leg go numb. He tried to finish his shift, but struggled to the bench instead. With his right arm draped around assistant equipment manager Matt Falconer, Bergeron limped to the dressing room placing little weight on his injured knee.
So that Bergeron returned, set up Brad Marchand’s goal, and logged 18:12 of ice time made a 1-point result easier to handle.
“It didn’t feel good,” Bergeron said of the puck’s impact. “It’s one of those where I got hit where there’s no padding. It was a pretty good shot. It definitely stings.”
The training staff, with consultation from Pittsburgh’s medical staff, concluded with X-rays during the first intermission that nothing had broken. The force of Letang’s shot chewed a chunk of flesh from Bergeron’s knee. The cut would need stitches to close. But Bergeron did not want to miss any time in the second period, so the team decided to leave his appointment with a needle until after the game.
“It hit the nerve, so the leg was a little numb,” Bergeron said. “It was hard to put weight on it, especially early in the second. It got better as the game went on.”
All in all, the Bruins were happy a bit of Bergeron’s skin was missing, considering how much worse the injury looked at the time. It would require a book’s worth of words to capture the significance of the No. 1 center’s presence — to his line, to his left wing, and to his team. He is not a player the Bruins can afford to be without for any stretch of time, even a shift.
“You don’t know what’s going on,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of his initial reaction. “Obviously you don’t want to see a guy hobble off. He was able to finish the game. They said he was able to come out of it OK. Any time you see one of your high-end players go down, it’s always worrisome. It turned out OK.”
Bergeron was critical to a second-period rally. The Bruins, legless for much of the first period and missing Tuukka Rask’s usual sharpness, were down by a 3-1 score. But Bergeron helped put a match to the Bruins’ fire by winning an offensive-zone faceoff against Riley Sheahan. By the time Bergeron pulled the puck back to Brad Marchand, the left wing kept it on his blade for an instant before launching it past Tristan Jarry at 7:18 of the second.
Three goals later, Jarry was out (14 saves), Matt Murray was in, and the Bruins were up by a 5-3 score. On normal nights, a two-goal cushion would be enough for Rask.
This was no normal night.
The Bruins were 3.6 seconds away from heading into the third with a two-goal lead. But Pittsburgh’s magical power play went to work. The Bruins helped by sending four men into a puck battle, which is not the kind of mistake Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin turn down. Crosby whipped a backhand pass to Malkin, who snapped the puck past Rask to make it a 5-4 game.
Rask had no chance of stopping Malkin’s shot. He had every opportunity to make a save on Sheahan in the third that would have kept his team up by one.
Instead, with Matt Grzelcyk in coverage, Sheahan fired a sharp-angle shot from the left circle that found a hole between Rask and the strong-side post. Rask did not hold back in evaluating himself critically after the loss.
“I was [expletive] all day,” said Rask (29 saves). “All night, I felt like [expletive]. I didn’t see the puck. Wasn’t sharp. Weak goals.”
That said, Rask still had a chance to be the winner. With 1:01 remaining in regulation, after taking a long-distance pass from Zdeno Chara, Marchand pulled behind the Pittsburgh defense. A chop from Jamie Oleksiak kept Marchand from getting the puck on Murray. He was given a penalty shot.
Marchand raced toward the puck at center ice, continued on net at full speed, and faked a forehand shot. He thought the fake did enough to force Murray to open his pads. Marchand was wrong. When he pulled the puck to his backhand, the accumulation of snow kept him from getting enough oomph behind his shot. So even though he had Murray beaten, Marchand shot his backhand into the goalie’s right pad.
In overtime, Malkin converted a give-and-go rush with Phil Kessel to bury his second of the night.
“Ebbs and flows, I guess,” Cassidy said. “It seemed like we had pockets of really good hockey. We had pockets where we just lost focus and didn’t look like a team I’m used to seeing every night in terms of how we played and respected the game, managed pucks, line changes — right to the bitter end. We had a line change that cost us a goal. The end of the day, we got a point out of it, so you look at the positives against a good hockey club. But it looked like we were going to do better than that.”