BOSTON – The lasting image of Patrice Bergeron's first-round series in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was his inability to get enough mustard on his shot in overtime to beat Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby in Game 7.
Bergeron, who was unable to take faceoffs for much of that series, revealed days after the Boston Bruins' Game 7 loss that he had been struggling with an oblique injury that would take time in the offseason to heal.
A mostly healthy Bergeron made sure Monday night that regardless of how the Bruins' run in the 2013 postseason ends, he'll always be remembered for something 180 degrees different from what transpired in 2012.
Bergeron capped one of the greatest comebacks in NHL postseason history with the game-tying goal with 50.2 seconds remaining in regulation, and then he won the game 5-4 with a goal 6:05 into overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.
The Bruins rallied from three goals down in the third period to earn a second-round date with the New York Rangers.
"To be honest with you, it's not something that I really think about anymore," Bergeron said when asked to compare last season's end to this season's beginning of the playoffs. "You learn from the past. That's always something that I've tried to do – learning from the experience good or bad. That time, I'd like to see that one again, but it's last year. This year, I was confident and I felt good. I had some really good looks throughout the series. I had to put the puck in and it didn't go in, but if you keep working at it, the bounces are going to go your way at some point. It did when it mattered, I guess."
Production wasn't a problem for Bergeron and his linemates, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, during the regular season. They formed the Bruins' most consistent line, until the series with Toronto got under way. Bergeron entered Game 7 with just a single goal, while Marchand had tallied just two assists and Seguin carried goose eggs across his ledger.
While the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton had carried the Bruins' offense through six games, there was a clamoring for some support from Bergeron's line. The veteran alternate captain heard the begging, but the exterior pressure paled in comparison to the heat he was putting on himself to perform.
"You know what? I have high expectations of myself. I'm probably my hardest critic," Bergeron said. "Whatever pressure is outside of me, I don't really worry about it because I know I bring higher expectations than anyone else. It's about finding a way and showing some character, and I thought we did that tonight. Everyone has to step up in the playoffs. and tonight was my turn to do it for my team."
Lucic knew what Bergeron and his linemates were going through. Lucic's lackluster play in prior years during the first round and in the 2012-13 regular season have made him a target of tons of criticism. He's hopeful Game 7 will be a turning point for his longtime teammates.
"You need guys to step up at key times and things aren't always going to go smoothly for you and things didn't go smoothly at all for [Bergeron], [Marchand] and [Seguin], but all said and done, it doesn't matter," said Lucic, who started the Bruins' comeback with a goal at 18:38 of the third that cut the lead to 4-3. "They were still able to step up and get a goal when it mattered the most. Hopefully they can gain some momentum off of that and the team can gain some momentum off that, as well."
Bergeron, who won the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward last season, never let the other areas of his game suffer despite his offensive struggles. He won 62.7 percent of his faceoffs and was a plus-2. And there were hints that Bergeron might put some offensive numbers on the board. In both Game 5 and Game 6, he was robbed by two of Toronto goaltender James Reimer's best saves of the season with the results of those games hanging in the balance.
"I really was happy for him," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's a hard worker, reliable player that we lean on every game, every year. I don't think his stats were indicative of his series so far. For him to come up big like that when it really counted, I think is fitting for Patrice Bergeron."
For most of Game 7, Jaromir Jagr replaced Seguin on the line with Bergeron and Marchand. On the overtime winner, Seguin was back in the thick of the action with his longtime running mates. There's no telling what line combinations Julien will use moving forward.
But there's no doubt Bergeron has finally found his finishing touch.
"I thought that today we had some really good chances, really good looks," he said. "We found a way. Like I said, the puck finally went in and that's all we needed to get some confidence. Throughout the series I had some really good looks that I had to put the puck in, and I knew that. I did tonight, and I did it when it mattered."