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Riley Nash gets opportunity to step up for Bruins

Under-the-radar center receives first chance to replace injured Bergeron on top line

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Rick Nash was surrounded when he stood in front of his new stall in the home dressing room at TD Garden. While he talked to the media about his first home game and first goal as a member of the Boston Bruins, another player stood off to the side, largely ignored.

But the other R. Nash -- that, of course, would be Riley Nash -- could play nearly as big a role in the Bruins' run down the stretch as Rick Nash. The under-the-radar forward has spent this season playing up and down the lineup. He has spent most of his time centering the third line and now finds himself up the depth chart.

With top-line center Patrice Bergeron out for at least two weeks because of a fractured right foot, Riley Nash got the first crack at replacing the irreplaceable when he skated between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in a 4-3 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. 

Video: CAR@BOS: Riley Nash scores on nice move from the slot

"It's not the easiest of jobs," Nash, 28, said. "I think [Bergeron is] honestly one of the top centermen in the League and he just makes things look so much easier out there. He's always in the right spot, always making the right play. For me, we're kind of in different positions, so I'm not trying to make as many plays -- it sounds bad -- but trying not to mess up."

The good news for the Bruins is that, in a way, they have a player in the mode of Bergeron to replace him. As Nash himself would admit, he is not Bergeron. But he has the ability to be a solid defensive center who occasionally can chip in on offense, enough that Marchand referred to him as a "mini-Bergy" after the morning skate.

"It's very important, because [Bergeron] is a Selke [Trophy] winner," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "The first thing you're trying to replace is that element on that line. You've got two wingers that like to be creative and I don't want to say take chances, but I will say they like to take chances.

"You need a backbone on that line and that's where Riley -- listen, there's no replacing [Bergeron] -- but he has some of his traits and we've tried to ask him to bring those traits out when he's playing on that line."

Especially defensively because the Bruins are, truly, a defensive team. And though it hasn't been perfect on that front recently, it's an identity they're trying to get back. 

To succeed, they need the first line to be responsible, to contain other top lines. To, as Cassidy said, "keep pucks out of harm's way, out of the middle of the ice, and that's where [Nash is] good."

Not that Nash was lauding himself much for the job he did against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
"I felt bad for [Marchand and Pastrnak] at times tonight," Nash said. "They're used to getting pucks in certain situations. Hopefully if we stay together, then I'll figure that out and start making a few more plays."

That will take time. 

Video: CGY@BOS: Nash finishes Backes' feed to open scoring

It will take some practices and some games for them to start building chemistry, and it would be nearly impossible to recreate even a fraction of the chemistry that Marchand and Bergeron have developed during the seven seasons they have played together. 

But Nash is willing to make the attempt, for as long Cassidy continues to stick him on the Bruins' top line. 

"He plays a very similar game (as Bergeron), very talented," Marchand said. "Very good two-way player. It'll be fun to play with [Nash]. We've played a couple times together earlier this year, and he's been very hot lately too, so hopefully it'll go good."

It has been something of a breakout season for the dry-witted Nash, who has set personal NHL career highs in goals (11), assists (19) and points (30) in 60 games. He had a goal and an assist against Carolina, where he played from 2011-16. He scored at 19:57 of the first period and added a play along the wall to spring defenseman Charlie McAvoy for the overtime winner. 

Before this season, Nash reached double-digits in goals once, when he scored 10 for the Hurricanes in 2013-14.

"Right now there's a little bit more responsibility, not just on me but on everybody to shoulder the burden that [Bergeron has] left," Nash said. "I felt comfortable chipping in here and there. I think the bounces have gone my way. Last year I think I had a lot of chances but just wasn't bearing down and burying those.
"Fortunately this year I've had a little bit more poise when I've had that situation and been able to pick a corner or make a good play on it."

Video: CAR@BOS: Nash snipes one top shelf past Ward

As for that "mini-Bergy" line?

"That just means like I'm a little worse version," Nash said, laughing. "I'm fine with that because he's extraordinary."

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