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Bruins' Bergeron taking leadership to new heights

by Matt Kalman

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Patrice Bergeron has been front and center for some of the Boston Bruins' most important moments the past several seasons.

He scored two goals against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to help end a 39-year championship drought.

He scored the late game-tying goal and overtime winner in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to cap a remarkable comeback from three goals down against the Toronto Maple Leafs to salvage the Bruins' playoff run that ended with an Eastern Conference title.

Throughout his career, Bergeron has come through when the Bruins need him most. That hasn't changed during the 2014-15 season. The only difference has been they've needed the 29-year-old center to pull them through for almost all of their 64 games, rather than come through in clutch moments.

The Bruins have endured a tumultuous season. They lost forwards Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton to free agency in the summer, and traded veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk days before the season started. Injuries cost several key Bruins, including defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara, a lot of games. Center David Krejci is in the midst of his second lengthy injury absence, and he's not expected to return until at least mid-April because of a tear in his knee.

But there's Bergeron, whose 46 points lead the Bruins and 18 goals are second. That comes one season after he shared the Bruins lead with 30 goals. And there are the Bruins, among the teams in possession of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a little more than a month to play.

Because of Krejci's injury, the Bruins have leaned on Bergeron now more than any other season, and he's responded. Observers might think they see Bergeron, a defense-first player who has won the Selke Trophy twice, taking his offensive game to a higher level without Krejci.

"I don't necessarily see it that way. I think I'm trying to do out there and definitely play my game and keep it at that," Bergeron said in advance of the Bruins playing the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360). "But I feel like when I'm trying to do too much, it's just hurting my game and it's hurting the team. So it's about playing my game and definitely, as a line, we've talked about it that we have to definitely do the job on both sides. And offensively is definitely one of those things where you want to keep getting better and keep scoring some big goals."

One season removed from winning the Presidents' Trophy, the Bruins have had a hard time dealing with the upheaval caused by player defections and injuries. By Dec. 19 they were two games over .500 at 16-14-3. They endured a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) last month but have somehow managed to hang on to the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot for some time.

Bergeron's role in the Bruins' perseverance has been about more than goals, assists, faceoff wins and backchecking. Bergeron, who has been an alternate captain since Chara was named captain in 2006, has expanded his role as a leader by example to include -- those around the Bruins say -- being more vocal. Whether it's taking one of the numerous young players aside for a chat about the system or a slump, or trying to get the Bruins to jell as a team, Bergeron has become more of an off-ice force in addition to being an on-ice difference-maker.

"I think he has," coach Claude Julien said. "I think it's a fair assessment. But I think he's always done it without stepping on toes of his captain. If anything, he's really worked well with [Chara]. I've seen him many times chatting about different things. So it's probably undeniable that down the road, when [Chara] is done with his career, that if [Bergeron] is here, it'd be pretty hard to not make him the next captain. So I think he feels comfortable in dealing with issues that maybe he didn't two and three years ago. So that's just a player, I guess, being a more veteran player every year and knowing we've got some young players here that need some leadership. So he's kind of taken over a little bit."

Krejci is an alternate captain, so with him and Chara missing lengthy portions of this season, there was a gaping leadership hole where there had only been a small crack left by Iginla, Thornton and Boychuk. Bergeron said he thinks he was ready to take a more active role in the Bruins' activities regardless of who was going to be in or out of the lineup.

After all, he's a few months away from his 30th birthday, and in professional sports terms that's a sure sign he's an elder statesman.

"I think I'm getting older and I think I have the experience and I feel comfortable doing that now and taking more responsibility," Bergeron said. "I think it just came naturally. I don't think I tried to force it because [Chara] was out."

From the time Bergeron entered the NHL as a teenager in 2003-04 until now, he's seemingly achieved every goal he set for himself, whether it was improving his game or helping the Bruins win a championship. He scored the 200th goal of his career Feb. 22 and moved into 12th place on the Bruins scoring list. He said he still feels young, thinks he has a lot of productive seasons ahead, and is driven by wanting to relive the joy of 2011.

He also said he receives motivation from longtime linemate Brad Marchand, who had two goals Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers to give him a Bruins-best 21. Marchand knows a thing or two about hard work, having earned a promotion from the fourth line to Bergeron's line during the Stanley Cup championship season.

Marchand and Bergeron seem to have the kind of telepathy that's normally reserved for twins like Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Their chemistry is through the roof, and their stat lines benefit from the relationship. To stick together, though, they said they know they have to be able to match each other's level of play.

"Every year I come in, I go and train in the summer, I know [Bergeron's] going to come in in top shape and I've got to match that. And it's a tough thing to do," Marchand said. "All year long he expects to be the best and he pushes himself to be the best. And that pushes me to have to be better and continue to improve. It's tough. And I love that challenge, I love that opportunity to be by his side. I think we've done a decent job over the years and hopefully that can continue."

Bergeron said, "You know we talk over the summer. Especially last year, he was telling me his time on the shuttle run and what not. I was definitely trying to keep up with that. We'll try to do the same thing and push each other. I think it's an important thing to have and to do, and just to push yourself too to be better."

The Bruins have a long haul ahead of them to make the playoffs and maybe go deep into the postseason. If possible, they're going to ask even more of Bergeron. That could mean more scoring and defense. And it could mean more motivation from their future captain.

"I think it's about finding ways to get guys going and finding ways to make yourself accountable also as a player," Bergeron said. "We're all professionals and I think it's kind of the talk that's been going on is that we all need to step up and we all need to be leaders. And I think that's what I'm trying to get from everyone.

"And [Chara's] definitely doing a good job as well. Hopefully we can keep getting better."

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