Lacking only the appropriate festive bow and fancy wrapping, Patrice Bergeron returned to the Bruins’ lineup Saturday afternoon and resumed his life as Boston’s gift that keeps on giving.
“Yep,” said his longtime linemate Brad Marchand, when the 5-2 punchout of the Nashville Predators was complete at the Garden, “the legend of Bergy continues.”
Sidelined the last five weeks with a nasty rib/collarbone injury, the 33-year-old Bergeron stepped back into the lineup and rolled up four points, including his 299th and 300th career goals, to lead the Bruins to their third straight victory (now 20-12-4 for the season).
His No. 37 destined for the Garden rafters — where all the club’s other 300-goal scorers reside — Bergeron is now only 17 away from reaching the 1,000-game plateau. Provided he doesn’t need another respite because of injury, his millennium moment will be at the Garden on Feb. 4 vs. the Islanders (visitors here last month when Rick Middleton’s No. 16 was lifted high above rinkside).
“Growing up, you’re dreaming about playing in the NHL,’’ said Bergeron, who arrived in the Hub in 2003 as an 18-year-old in search of steady work. “You don’t dream about playing 1,000 games, obviously. But once you play for a while you realize the other guys that accomplished it and there aren’t that many in history, so it’s a pretty special group to be a part of — so, yeah, it will be a pretty neat feeling.”
The victory was the third straight for the Bruins, and the third in as many starts for goalie Jaroslav Halak, who turned back 28 shots en route to improving to 12-5-2 for the season. He’ll take a seat Sunday when the Bruins close out their pre-Christmas schedule with a 5 p.m. matinee in Raleigh, N.C., against the sons of the former Forever .500 Hartford Whalers.
Bergeron scored the Bruins’ first and second goals, the first at even strength and the second on the power play. It was the second strike, snapping a 1-1 tie at 1:44 of the third, that brought his 300th career goal.
When the referee came to the bench with the puck, noted the ever-humble Bergeron, he was unaware of two things: 1. That the puck was for him; 2. That he had scored No. 300.
“When the ref came to the bench . . . I was like, ‘No, I don’t think it’s me . . . someone else,’ ” recalled Bergeron. “So . . . that’s how I keep up with my stats.”
For keepers of the stats in Black and Gold country, here is Bergeron’s line to date; 983 games, 300 goals, 464 assists, and 764 points.
With No. 300, he joined an elite group of Bruins to reach that plateau, including John Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, and Middleton. All of them, save for Middleton, have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. All of them have seen their numbers (9, 7, 77, 8, 16) lifted to the Garden rafters. In due time, Bergeron will own permanent space in both buildings.
“He’s one of the best players in the league, and this shows why,” said a beaming Marchand, who contributed a 1-2—3 line to the win. “He’s able to come and not just jump into a game and get four points, but to play against a team like Nashville, one of the top teams in the league . . . they are very fast. That was probably one of the fastest games we played all year, and it’s tough to jump in after five weeks and feel good. He’s an incredible player and leader and he showed that again.”
Bergeron’s first assist came on Marchand’s goal, the game-winner, that snapped a 2-2 tie with 11:23 gone in the third — just over two minutes after a Kyle Turris strike tied it for the Predators (now winless in their last 10 on the road).
Camped low on the right side, to Pekka Rinne’s left, Marchand jacked home a one-timer off a cross-slot feed from David Pastrnak (also 1-2—3 for the day). But it was Bergeron’s feed down to Pastrnak low on the left side that generated the scoring play.
Next, with 5:51 remaining, Pastrnak finished off a two-on-one break that had Marchand lugging the puck up the left side. That play, too, was triggered by Bergeron, whose astute play deep in the defensive end started Marchand’s meep-meep roadrunner bolt up the right side.
In their last three wins (Montreal, Anaheim, Nashville), the Bruins each time scored the first goal, and they also never trailed. They held the lead for a combined 123:11 in those three games, with the opposition frozen at 00:00.
“You’re not chasing the game,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, noting the advantage that comes with working with a lead. “Especially at home. You get teams on the road, come in here, it helps you a lot. Montreal, we were on the road, you are tired . . . we got ahead, so it allows us to use everybody and not squeeze our sticks so hard to score. Those things matter.”
The Pastrnak goal for the 4-2 lead was the jawbreaker. Sean Kuraly tidied up the scoresheet with a long shot into an empty net for the 5-2 final. Halak, with only three goals allowed in his three straight wins, picked up an assist on the empty-netter, first dishing the puck to Charlie McAvoy (0-2—2), who then slid the puck to Kuraly.
But it was yet another day when Bergeron commanded the spotlight, efficiently producing points and helping to tamp down the Predators shift after shift.
“Real good composure on the last power-play goal to give us some breathing room,” said Cassidy. “A real nice play by him. That’s where you worry sometimes, with the rust and the speed of the game — is he going to rush plays? But no, he looked like he didn’t miss a beat.”