Patrice Bergeron’s future becomes the present as Bruins’ season ends

RALEIGH, NC – Patrice Bergeron bent over at the waist, stick placed over his knees, in the manner that every player who’s had his heart torn out knows too well.

He circled in the neutral zone. He tapped Charlie McAvoy with his stick. He did the same with several teammates.

Then Bergeron approached center ice. As captain, he wanted to lead his teammates in the handshake line.

He shook the hands of all of his opponents. He did the same with referees Chris Lee and Steve Kozari and linesmen Jonny Murray and Ryan Gibbons.

He skated to the door in front of the visiting tunnel. He hugged every teammate.

Whether these were actions of a captain or a soon-to-be ex-Bruin is unknown.

“It’s too early right now,” Bergeron said after the 3-2 Game 7 loss when asked if he could share his thinking regarding his decision about his future. “Not after… it’s too fresh right now. It still stings, obviously, from a hard-fought series. Came up short. Obviously I’m going to have to think about it. But I’m not there right now. ”


Patrice Bergeron and Jordan Staal (James Guillory / USA Today)

Bergeron’s contract is expiring. Whether he wants to continue is up to him. The Bruins would be delighted to have him back, perhaps on a year-to-year basis.

But Bergeron takes pride in excellence. He is not wired to be a player who accepts slippage. His postgame appearance – sharp blue suit, blue tie, hair combed just right, all complementing the stitches under his right eye – signals his pursuit of perfection.

Nobody knows this better than his closest teammate.

“Um, yeah,” Brad Marchand, following a long pause, said with a tremble in his voice. “He’s the backbone of our team. Obviously the biggest part of our team. So obviously, yeah, we want him to come back. But whatever happens, he’s earned the right to make whatever decision he wants and take the time he needs. I guess time will tell. ”

Marchand has been through it all with his long-time center. That he could be left chasing a second Stanley Cup without Bergeron in lockstep is not something the left wing finds enjoyable.

“That’s why this one probably hurts more, is the unknown for next year with him,” Marchand said after another pause to collect himself. “He’s done so much for this group and sacrificed so much that it would have been nice to make a good run for him. So it’s disappointing. ”

Marchand believed he and Bergeron led a roster that was designed to play for several more rounds. The Bruins had the misfortune, though, of arguably drawing their toughest matchup in the opening series. The Hurricanes defended stoutly, pressured the Bruins all over the ice, scored opportunistic goals and got timely saves.

“We knew it was going to be a tough battle,” Marchand said. “But we also knew that if we got through this team, we would make a deep run. I think this is probably the toughest group to come out of the East, this group. Obviously we were hoping to beat them. It always hurts. It always will. You only get a few opportunities like these throughout your career where you have a legit chance at going far. We thought we had that this year. So yeah, it hurts. ”

There was not much difference between the two teams, as a seven-game series indicates. The separation may have been an inch – the margin with which Trent Frederic’s second-period heater rattled off the right post instead of beating Antti Raanta.

But that post strike led to a chance the other way. Instead of making it a 2-2 game, a disappointed Frederic drifted into no-man’s land in the defensive zone. When a rim around the wall came to Teuvo Teravainen, the Carolina winger saw that Frederic had left the passing lane open. Teravainen saw it and found Max Domi in front.

What could have been a tie game turned into a 3-1 Carolina advantage.

“We pride ourselves in D-zone coverage, stuff we’ve done very well all year,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Two breakdowns that, yeah, they make plays. But more on us not to get the job done defensively – right spots, good sticks. That’s probably where I’m most disappointed: That’s how it ends up that we give up goals. It’s Game 89. We pride ourselves in that. Have done a very good job from top to bottom of the lineup, no matter who’s in. Credit to them for finishing those plays when we weren’t in the right spots. ”

Frederic and his third-line mates were on the ice for the opening goal too. The sequence started with Mike Reilly not having a good gap on Vincent Trocheck. This was a point of discussion before Game 7. Cassidy reminded his players that they had improved at denying zone entries well.

“There’s a little bit where it starts,” Cassidy said. “It was a big focus of our meeting today. We thought we were much better as the series went on at being up on them, forcing them to chip behind us. Then we’ll go break pucks out as a group of five. We weren’t up. So they get entry. ”

Trocheck gained a step on Reilly. He curled around the net and threw a puck out to the left point. Frederic and Charlie Coyle hesitated on the assignment. This gave Jaccob Slavin time to find Domi at the far post. Meanwhile, Brandon Carlo was left alone defending Domi and Teravainen in front before Reilly could fold back to the front.

It was too much for Carlo to handle. For the sixth time in the series, the Bruins allowed the first goal.

“It simply came to our notice then. It happened quick, ”said Cassidy. “Unfortunately didn’t make the timely switch. They converted on a nice play. ”

The Bruins had Grade-A chances. In the first, when it was 0-0, Erik Haula and Taylor Hall got away for a two-on-one rush. Raanta pushed from left to right to get a last-second pad on Hall’s point-blank opportunity.

In the third, down 3-1, Coyle and Craig Smith peeled off for a two-on-one approach. Coyle accepted Smith’s pass and saw a wide-open net. But the puck rolled off Coyle’s stick.

David Pastrnak scored with 21.7 seconds left. That was the closest the Bruins got.

Now the Bruins await Bergeron’s decision. He may be thinking about handing over the keys to Marchand, Pastrnak, Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, all of whom wore letters this season.

“That’s something I was taught, to be honest with you, early on in my career,” Bergeron said of taking care of the next tier. “It needs to be a cycle, basically. When it’s your turn, you’ve got to give it back and you’ve got to do it. We have some great young players that are open to listening and learning. You see the growth in those guys: McAvoy, Carlo, Pasta. It’s impressive. It’s great to see. ”

(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

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