BOSTON – Right about this time Kent Hughes should be demanding a renegotiation.
Exhibit A for the Westwood, Mass.-based agent for Bruins center Patrice Bergeron will be the video and game sheet from Boston’s 5-2 loss tonight at the TD Garden.
Tampa Bay continued to be a well-oiled, 11-forward machine, while the Bruins without Bergeron were forced to insert rookie Tyler Seguin and juggle their lines to the point that their fourth line effectively became their third line and their second line became invisible.
Bergeron was once ticketed for unrestricted free agency last summer until he signed a new four-year deal worth $5 million per season in the midst of last fall’s training camp. Some blathered on about the center being overpaid, yet now – and if things against the Lightning continue in the Eastern Conference Final the way they did in Game 1 – Bergeron might prove to be a bargain.
Ever the optimist, Bruins head coach Claude Julien was keeping his head high while thinking that even if he has to go a little longer without the concussed Bergeron, the forwards at his disposal can get the job done in this series that continues Tuesday night.
“I thought the [Gregory] Campbell line did some pretty good forechecking and they kept the puck in the offensive zone a little bit,” said Julien of his fourth-line-turned-third-line. “And those guys had some opportunities there. So you kind of look at your bench and you use what you can and some night some lines are going better than others.
“And [Rich] Peverley’s line was just okay tonight,” Julien continued, referring to the trio that played less even-strength time than the Campbell line. “Even if Tyler [Seguin] scored, they are okay, so we just utilized the lines as best we could here to try and get ourselves back in the game.”
Julien was more focused on the mistakes his defense made that led to Tampa Bay’s early 3-0 lead. That doesn’t forgive the fact that taking one forward out of the lineup seems to have started a chain reaction reminiscent of pulling the plug out of a beach ball and letting the air out.
With Chris Kelly between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi in Bergeron’s usual spot, the Bruins got just three shots on net (Marchand was shot-less) from their second line. More disconcerting, however, were the key shifts Campbell and linemates Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton got against some speedy Lightning players, including Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie and Dominic Moore. Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher also managed to sneak Steven Stamkos or Vinny Lecavalier onto the ice at times against that line and if not for a bounce here or a Johnny Boychuk hip check there, the Bruins were going to be in trouble.
Of course, you can’t blame Julien for leaning on the Campbell line when his other third-line option with Kelly moved up is Peverley centering Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin. Ryder and Seguin created a goal and one other scoring chance, but that line is way too allergic to defense to be on the ice against anyone with a snowball’s chance in hell of scoring.
The Bruins missed Bergeron in the faceoff department, where they dropped 61 percent of their draws. David Krejci (3-for-18) and Peverley (6-for-16) were the worst culprits. On the penalty kill, the Bruins allowed just one Tampa Bay goal, but there were 11 shots on net from the Lightning, who probably wouldn’t have gotten that many with Bergeron blocking shots and making his presence felt with his physicality.
Outside of those areas, the Bruins missed Bergeron’s ability and presence at 5-on-5. The subtle plays he makes, the vision and, of course, his defensive shutdown ability are impossible to replace. To lessen their blow is going to take more creativity from Julien. In the third period, the coach flipped Seguin and Recchi for a couple shifts. That didn’t work.
It would seem that if he’s trying to create two trios with a modicum of defensive responsibility, just flipping Peverley and Kelly would add some defense to one line and more playmaking to another. He might even have to bit the bullet and let Seguin center Recchi and Marchand for a shift just to light a fire under the boys. Another option could be breaking up the Campbell line to make up for Campbell and Paille’s deficiencies while adding some grit to other units.
Julien blamed his team’s inability to match Tampa Bay’s effort as the main culprit for the team’s loss. He’s probably right. When you look at those faceoff numbers and Tampa Bay’s 17 blocked shots and the 31 saves Dwayne Roloson made without many screens or much traffic, that’s a reflection of the work ethic lacking.
But better effort isn’t going to transform the Campbell line into the type of two-way threat the balanced Bruins need to succeed at the end of the night against the multi-talented Lightning. Just plugging Kelly into Bergeron’s spot doesn’t mean the Bruins can plow straight ahead and continue to win games the way they were when they reeled off eight victories in nine games before tonight.
The best solution for the Bruins’ problem, obviously, is the return of a healthy Patrice Bergeron. For all we know he could be back as soon as Game 2 or 3 and make this all moot.
Unfortunately, when he returns Bergeron won’t be any richer than the deal he’s finishing up this season and the one he’ll start playing under next season.
The Bruins, however, are only wealthy when they have their No. 37 in his spot on the second line. We saw just how poor a Bergeron-less Bruins team would look tonight.