Bergeron Leads the Fight
BostonBruins.com - Patrice Bergeron had only dropped the gloves once in an NHL game.
It came in 2009, during the postseason, against Montreal's Josh Gorges. He earned the takedown.
On Sunday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center as the B's held an optional skate, Bergeron had the markings of a bout - a gash on the bridge of his nose, marks above and below his right eye.
It was the result of a brief tangle with Evgeni Malkin towards at the second period of the Bruins' eventual Game One win. After a scuffle at center ice (Sidney Crosby had given a drive-by tap to Tuukka Rask as he skated to the bench), Malkin got the center to drop his gloves and the two quickly went at it. The Pens' forward got the takedown as the two tumbled to the ice, but I'd like to believe Bergeron would have given his due, had he been able to get in a punch.
Alas, it's never the easiest sight to see two of the games' top players in an exchange, especially Bergeron, but it certainly excited the fans and ramped the emotions up a notch.
"I mean, it's just part of the playoffs, right? We know that the emotions are high, the intensity is high. The games are big," Bergeron said, as he spoke to media in the locker room following the practice. "I don't know if I'm really surprised, but at the same time, it just happened."
So, who initiated it?
"I don't know. I guess just the fact that he grabbed me from the side and just kept pushing each other. I don't know. There's not necessarily one particular thing that started it," said Bergeron.
Was he surprised by his unlikely dance partner?
"I don't know. But I don't fight that much, either," he jested. "It's part of the emotions, part of the playoffs. There's not much to say about it."
The bout wasn't a Shawn Thornton-inspired number, but the B's resident expert fighter gave his take.
"Yeah, two superstars. Like I said, emotions get going this time of year. Those things happen. Everyone loves this game, right?" he said. "You never know when that's going to happen."
"If I was a fan watching, yeah," Thornton said, when asked if he had gotten a kick out of the surprising bout. "I guess it's a little different than seeing the normal knucklehead like myself getting punched in the face. It's probably exciting for the average fan, for sure."Of course, Bergeron's best assets are the ones he employs between the whistles, and it's never best to have him in the box. Though, the trade-off with Malkin made it a pretty fair exchange.
And it wasn't the fight itself that mattered - it was the emotions shown, and the no backing down approach.
The Bruins' leader is an emotional beacon for the B's. He's their most consistent player, and his pride level tough to match. His intensity level helped power his team to the Game Seven comeback, and it quietly assisted in the Game One win over Pittsburgh, though he didn't even record a shot on goal.
Besides the fight, Bergeron isn't often labeled a "physical" player, but his non-stop defensive abilities make him more of a physical presence than he will every get credit for. He doesn't pound bodies like Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara, and he doesn't block shots like Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg, but the B's alternate captain is Julien's go-to defensive forward, and it's not just for his faceoff prowess, which saw him win 10-of-16 (63-percent) Saturday night (he's just a touch below Chris Kelly for second in the league this postseason at 63.4-percent).
His only penalty (besides the five for fighting) was a hook on Malkin that prevented a possible goal.
"He's so reliable and dependable in those kind of situations. Not only does he want to try and produce, but at the end of the night he wants to make sure defensively he's done his job," said Julien, of Bergeron. "And that's why I've considered him one of the best two-way players in the league. He does a good job. And in order to do a good job you have to have pride in it, and he takes a lot of pride in his two-way game."
As for the bout, "I think it just shows that both teams and all the players on both teams are willing to do what it takes to win," said Julien. "And it just shows the commitment on both sides."
Emotions Flaring into Game Two
The physicality wasn't just seen between Bergeron and Malkin in Game One. A Matt Cooke hit from behind on Adam McQuaid helped breed bad blood at the start of the second. Brad Marchand got caught boarding James Neal in front of the Penguins' bench. The aforementioned Crosby/Rask exchange led to a Zdeno Chara and Crosby exchange. Chris Kunitz and Rich Peverley were sent off for unsportstmanlike conduct. The emotions were flaring, the Penguins' frustration building.
"Well, I think it's also about, like I said, it's the Conference Finals," said Bergeron. "You know that it's part of both teams, the physicality is part of both styles on both teams. We're expecting that. We're expecting a physical series and it was [Saturday].
"That's the time of the year. Everybody's battling for every inch of the ice," Captain Chara had said following the physical game. "That's part of the playoffs."
Of course, there's a line to tip-toe when getting physical, versus taking penalties, on Sunday afternoon, Pittsburgh Head Coach Dan Bylsma spoke along those lines.
"I think the emotional level of each game is highly contested. That emotion, that compete level has to be there," he said. "It has to be there from our best players. Having said that, when you're on a power play and your skill players Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin are going off the ice, it's not a situation you want to be in."
"It's not something that we want to do, and I think it took away from our game."
"It's a fine line. Their compete level needs to be extremely high. It's going to be against this team, the Boston team we're playing. And we've got to do a better job of that."
The physical, emotional game is when the Bruins are at their best - it caused Pittsburgh, not able to find the back of the net, to become even more frustrated. It took them away from their game.
"It's an emotional time of year. I think both teams are looking for an edge," said Thornton.
"It's just playoff hockey. Those things are going to happen," Bruins' Head Coach Claude Julien had said following the win. "What we had to deal with was winning a hockey game and that's all that mattered. Whichever way we took at the end of the night, that's what we wanted and that's what we got."
Even Tyler Seguin was in the mix Saturday night in Game One, seen sharing an exchange with Crosby.
"It is playoff hockey. Obviously, emotions get higher with these types of games, so I think the likes of all players with the emotions in these hockey games are raised