BOSTON – He is the other Bruins stopper. Not the 6-foot-9 all-encompassing mountain that is Zdeno Chara, but the reigning (and likely repeat) Selke Trophy winner and the “underrated” thorn in the Leafs side.
“I think he's got to be one of the best two-way forwards in the game,” Tyler Bozak remarked to TSN.ca. “He doesn't do flashy stuff at all, but it's like he never makes a wrong play. He always does the right thing. It's hard for him to make mistakes I guess.”
“He's a guy that can hurt you offensively, but at the same time he's going to frustrate you on the defensive end,” added Ryan O'Byrne, a frequent opponent as a former member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Patrice Bergeron doesn't command the seismic attention of Chara, but remains as significant a detriment to the Maple Leafs chances of success in a first round series with Boston, set to continue with Game 2 on Saturday evening at TD Garden. A determined and pesky presence at both ends of the rink, Bergeron is an all-around pain to deal with, because as Bozak points out, “there's not really an aspect of his game that he lacks”.
“He's one of those guys that does everything well really,” Jay McClement, a strong defensive pivot himself, noted. “He's good at faceoffs and he's always in the conversation for the Selke every year and for good reason.”
While he did not score or manage a point in the Bruins dominant Game 1 win on Wednesday night, the 27-year-old draped himself over Toronto's top line of Bozak, Phil Kessel, and James van Riemsdyk, Kessel, most prominently, held off the scoreboard for the fifth time in five meetings with Boston this season.
“He plays the game honest,” said Bozak, his unit rarely seeing a moment free of Bergeron in the series opener. “He's always on the right side of the puck. He doesn't get caught in situations where he leaves someone out to dry. I just think he's a really honest player.”
“He's never out of position,” O'Byrne opined. “He leans on you and he just doesn't give you much room.”
Chara has made life unquestionably difficult on Kessel, the Leafs leading scorer who is still without an even-strength goal against his former team, but so too has Bergeron. Not overly imposing physically – actually listed at about the same size as Bozak – the native of L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec achieves his success defensively with determination and intelligence, instinctively scoping out the play with anticipation and effective positioning.
“I think hockey smarts is probably one of the biggest assets you can have,” said Bozak, “and I think his are right up there with the tops.”
“To play that type of role you have to be smart and read the plays,” added McClement. “He's one of those guys that was probably a very offensive player growing up and then added that two-way part to his game.”
Centering Boston's swift top line of Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, Bergeron is a challenging force on the draw, leading the league at 62.1 percent in 2013, including an almost unbeatable 67 percent mark at home.
“He was someone that early in my career I had a really tough time beating and someone that I tried to learn some stuff from,” Bozak mentioned.
In his first one-on-one battle with Bergeron – March 9, 2010 – the Leafs top line centre lost 11 of 17 draws, but ended up marginally ahead in their most recent battle, winning 6 of 11 clashes in Game 1.
“Positioning, strength, his timing's really good,” Bozak remarked of Bergeron's faceoff skills. “I think another thing [is] he changes it up a lot, he doesn't just stick [to one move] and do the same thing … so he keeps you guessing and you've got to try and keep him guessing so it's [kind] of a mind game.”
It's those heady defensive traits and faceoff acumen that additionally make Bergeron one of the league's most effective penalty killers, the Toronto power-play shut down in 10 of 11 opportunities in the regular season, 1-3 in the series opener, the lone goal ensuing with Bergeron in the box.
Factor in his stealth production offensively, 35 points in 44 career games against the Leafs, including a team-leading four points in four meetings this season, and it's no wonder that Bergeron is labeled as "underrated" by O'Byrne.
“He's not a flashy player,” said the Leafs defender, “but he's going to contribute offensively for sure and that's why he maybe goes under the radar a bit.
“He's a key part of that Boston team and maybe is a little underrated.”