NEW YORK – The Boston Bruins may have lost more than a game Monday night.
Bruins leading scorer Patrice Bergeron – who was named to Team Canada on Dec. 30 – took a slap shot off his right hand during the second period and did not return as the New York Rangers came away with a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden.
The Bruins staged a furious rally late in the third period to overcome a 2-0 deficit with goals from Matt Hunwick and Blake Wheeler, but Christopher Higgins' goal with 1:29 left helped the Rangers earn just their second home victory in 10 games and improve to 6-1-2 in their last nine overall.
Higgins carried the puck down the left wing and behind the net. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask left his post too soon, and Higgins was able to sneak the puck home to help the Rangers avoid disaster.
Bergeron suffered his injury while standing in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who had another solid outing with 26 saves. A slap shot from the point by Dennis Wideman hit Bergeron, who left the ice favoring his hand and did not return.
"It's just tough. He's a leader of ours in many ways, obviously one of our top players," said Wheeler, whose goal with 4:01 remaining in the third pulled the Bruins into a short-lived tie. "Anytime you lose a guy like that it's definitely going to sting your lineup a bit. You can only hope that it's nothing serious and we can get him back as soon as possible."
Bergeron will not accompany the team to Ottawa for its game against the Senators on Tuesday. He will instead fly home to Boston to be reevaluated by doctors, said coach Claude Julien, who was unsure of the severity of the injury.
The loss of Bergeron for any length of time is the last thing the Bruins need right now. Only two teams have scored fewer goals than Boston, and Bergeron leads the team with 20 assists and 31 points.
"Let's put it this way: If he's not back, we've lost our best player since the beginning of the year. That sums it up right there," said Julien, who was clearly frustrated with his team's inability to play a complete 60 minutes, a problem that has plagued the Bruins all season.
"It's obviously a big blow to our team," said Hunwick, whose shorthanded goal cut the Rangers' lead to 2-1 with 5:27 remaining and sparked the third-period rally. "He was our leader when (Marc Savard) was out. He's a guy who comes to the rink every day and competes. We talked about playing smart and being tougher. Those are all intangibles that he has."
Meanwhile, the Rangers (20-17-5) picked up a much-needed victory at home and did so without having to rely on leading scorer Marian Gaborik, who wasn't involved in any of his team's three goals.
Ales Kotalik scored his first goal since Nov. 5, 2009 to snap a 21-game drought. Erik Christensen got his second of the season. And Higgins, who has drawn the ire of the fans at MSG, scored his fifth of the season on a great individual effort to win the game.
"It's someone else scoring a goal," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the secondary scoring. "I thought Kotes played better tonight, not only on the power play, but in the 5-on-5 in the time he did play. And Higgy scores the winner there. He is a guy who has played well in all of the other areas but he just hasn't scored, but he comes up with a big goal."
The goal was especially sweet for Higgins. It not only won the game, but was his first at MSG as a Ranger.
"Points have been difficult to come by for guys around here, including myself, so to be able to contribute, obviously feels good," Higgins said.
"It's just tough. He's a leader of ours in many ways, obviously one of our top players. Anytime you lose a guy like that it's definitely going to sting your lineup a bit. You can only hope that it's nothing serious and we can get him back as soon as possible."
-- Blake Wheeler on Bergeron injury
Kotalik's goal came on the power play and gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. He took a soft feed from Brandon Dubinsky (2 assists) and ripped a one-timer from the left point that beat Rask, who made 32 saves while getting a start in place of Tim Thomas.
Looking like a man who could define the word relief, Kotalik threw his arms in the air and head back and celebrated the goal.
"When you find yourself in this situation, a slump, you are reaching for something to make you better," Kotalik said. "I have been putting in the work and trying to get some shots in the net but the pucks didn't go in. Today I was fortunate to get one in. It was a big goal for us and hopefully it starts something for us."
The value of getting goals from Kotalik and Higgins – and not necessarily Gaborik – wasn't lost on Dubinsky.
"We can't rely on Gabby to score every single goal, every single night for us," said Dubinsky, who now has a goal and 3 assists in 3 games since he played, as he called it, his worst game as Ranger during a loss to the New York Islanders. "So it's a big contribution from those guys and hopefully we can keep it going."
The Bruins (21-13-7) were playing their first game since the Winter Classic, a stirring 2-1 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in Boston on New Year's Day. Just as they did against the Flyers, the Bruins fell into an early hole against the Rangers thanks to a subpar first two periods.
But this time, their comeback wasn't enough.
"We can't win hockey games playing the way we are, just showing up for a period or a half-period," Julien said. "We didn't even deserve a point tonight. That has been our biggest thing this year is to talk about a 60-minute effort, and we are not getting it out of this dressing room so far.
"Some guys have to pick up their games."
And if Bergeron's injury is serious, those words carry even more weight.
1 - 0 NYR
Michael Del Zotto
2 - 0 NYR
2 - 1 NYR
2 - 2 Tie