Patrice Bergeron’s special night played out perfectly
The Patriots were in the house.
“Thank God,” Patrice Bergeron said. “That was perfect.”
He was grateful for 25 members of the newly crowned Super Bowl champions, because when they high-stepped from their swaggering duck boat parade into TD Garden on Tuesday night, they took some of the focus away from the sublime Bruins center. He was playing the 1,000th regular-season game of his career, and Bergeron does not prefer the spotlight be his alone.
All he wanted was 2 points against the Islanders. The Bruins delivered them, by a 3-1 score, after those Patriots crashed the party, Bergeron’s teammates lifted him, and No. 37 made the night all the more memorable by scoring a pair of goals.
“Nice script,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Glad it went our way.”
Bergeron, who humbly smiled and waved during a standing ovation early in the first period, put Boston ahead in the second. He scored for the 306th time in his 15-year career. His 307th goal was assisted by David Pastrnak with 55 seconds left.
Pastrnak made it memorable. Looking back as he coasted toward an empty net, he slipped the puck behind him, to the Man of the Hour.
“I saw him look a couple times and thought, ‘Oh, no, he’s going to drop it,’ ” said Bergeron, who has 46 points (18-28) in 37 games this year. “Very much appreciated.”
After the final horn sounded, he found himself near the summit of a 6-foot-9-inch bear hug from captain Zdeno Chara.
“I wanted to get back down, but I couldn’t,” Bergeron said. “He had a pretty strong grip.”
The Bruins (29-17-7), after a shutout of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals on Super Bowl Sunday, gradually took hold of another tight one against a playoff-caliber team.
Like a crowd that came in hot — “well-lubed up from the parade,” quipped goaltender Tuukka Rask — the post-John Tavares Islanders (30-16-6) were on fire of late. They were 16-3-2 since Dec. 15, had taken points in their previous eight games (6-0-2), and had taken command of the Metropolitan Division with a heavy-hitting game and rejuvenated goaltender Robin Lehner.
After recording four shots on three first-period power plays, the Bruins scored first. Bergeron deposited a loose puck at 2:32 of the second after a Brad Marchand-Pastrnak rush.
“Did you expect anything else?” said Marchand, who assisted on both Bergeron goals. “That guy just steps up in every situation.”
It was a fiercely contested game, and the referees allowed plenty of extra hacks and whacks, including captains Chara (6-9, 250) and Anders Lee (6-3, 231) going at each other like angry bulls. If these teams meet in the playoffs, it would probably be brutal.
Rask stood tall amid the clashing in front of him, helping Boston kill four of five penalties. He made 26 saves on 27 shots.
The netminder, who pitched a shutout Sunday against Washington — and was cheered by the Garden crowd Tuesday for picking up career win No. 253 — saw his shutout streak end after 96:40.
Until Islanders wing Jordan Eberle scored on a sharp-angle, power-play shot at 16:40 of the second, Rask hadn’t allowed a goal since last Thursday’s overtime loss to Philadelphia. Rask said afterward he had no idea where Eberle’s shot beat him.
In the opening minutes of the third, Rask kicked away a Cal Clutterbuck snapper from the circle, off a botched line change that gave New York a 2 on 0. That was part of an Isles’ push that nearly earned them a lead.
Clutterbuck beat Rask from the top of the right circle at 4:52 of the frame. However, Boston won a lengthy coach’s challenge after video coach J.P. Buckley noticed Islanders defenseman Devon Toews was a skate blade’s width offside.
Some 90 seconds later, the lead was Boston’s.
Peter Cehlarik had two whacks at a loose puck after Jake DeBrusk tipped a Kevan Miller shot on goal. A diving Lehner nearly stopped Cehlarik’s shovel job, but it clanked off his glove and over the line at 6:34 of the third.
“They’re getting their looks,” said Cassidy, happy with his No. 2 line and further pleased with the point shot that generated the chance. “We need them.”
Protecting the hard-earned lead at 11:41, the Bruins faced a four-minute penalty kill after Matt Grzelcyk was called for both tripping and slashing in the corner on Eberle.
The kill was both successful and game-changing. Bergeron and Marchand — “maybe the best two in the league,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said — were active. Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner threw hits. Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom, who appeared to be in serious pain after blocking two shots with his legs a few shifts before, buzzed around. The defensemen were “terrific,” Cassidy said. Rask kicked aside two chances with his pads.
The Bruins are becoming comfortable with these kind of games, where a penalty kill or a save lifts them. They would love more secondary scoring, but they have the Bergeron line, and they appear confident.
“We make the play when it’s there, and we don’t force them,” Rask said. “That helps. The way we battle and block shots and sacrifice, I think it’s great.”
Bergeron has always done that, and more. They were just following his lead.