WILMINGTON, Mass. - For Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, the 2014 Olympics were about more than winning a second gold medal with Canada.
The Sochi Games were a confidence boost that he harnessed when he returned to perhaps the best of his 10 NHL seasons.
The top-seeded Bruins need Bergeron to maintain his outstanding play when they face the eighth-seeded Detroit Red Wings in their first-round playoff series beginning Friday night.
"It's the best I've seen him, period," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "He started maybe as the 13th forward over there in Sochi, and everyone saw what he can do, and he was basically on the top line at the end.
"It helped his pace. It helped his tempo, and you know you see him shoot the puck better this year. He's had a terrific year. And, of course, the whole two-way component of his game is so good. It's always good. It's not by accident you hear his name in the Hart Trophy conversation. That doesn't surprise me at all."
While it's a long shot that Bergeron will even be among the finalists for MVP this season, he is a favourite to win the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward for the second time.
His plus-38 was a career-best, and he finished third in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 58.6. Without losing any of his defensive reliability, Bergeron also became an offensive force. His 30 goals tied Jarome Iginla for the team lead and marked the second time he reached that level in his career. He scored 31 goals in 2005-06 but was only a plus-3 that season.
Bergeron agreed that the Olympics gave him more faith in his ability to add offensive punch to his high-calibre defensive game.
"I think it helped. Even last time it helped me in 2010 (at the Vancouver Olympics)," he said Wednesday. "I think it always helps you when you play with such great players and on a big stage like that.
"I think you just learn and you get better and you improve and I think the same thing with this year. I got back and I felt like the speed of the game was so fast over there that it helped me coming back here and helped me with my confidence with the way that things went down there."
Bergeron broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old on a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins missed the playoffs the next two seasons but haven't been out of them since 2006-07. Bergeron has emerged as an alternate captain and an important leader in the dressing room at age 28.
A prime example of Bergeron's leadership came the last time he and the Bruins were on the ice for a playoff game. In a Game 6 loss that clinched last year's Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks, he played with a cracked rib, punctured lung and separated shoulder. He was taken to a hospital immediately after the game.
Now mostly healthy, Bergeron hopes for a lengthy post-season run by the Bruins, who won the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular-season record. They've also been the higher seed the past three seasons, but they've been pushed to seven games in the opening round each time. They beat the Montreal Canadiens at the start of their run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. But the Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals in 2012.
So Bergeron knows what it's going to take to advance.
"We need to make sure we start out of the gates a little stronger and we know this year's going to be no different," Bergeron said. "The Red Wings are a very tough opponent."