By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
On Wednesday, the heart and soul of the Boston Bruins – who disappointing saw a very reachable goal of winning a second Stanley Cup in this decade slip through their fingers to the St. Louis Blues, which almost everyone in hockey saw as an inferior opponent to the team that calls Causeway Street home – Patrice Bergeron turned 34 years old.
The four-time winner and an eight-time finalist for the NHL’s Selke Award which is awarded “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”, is coming off his finest offensive season of his sure to be Hall of Fame-worthy 16 year career.
Posting a career-high 79 points and serving as the pivot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak – which has arguably been the best line in hockey over the last two seasons – the guy his teammates call “Mr. Perfect” seemed purged to have his name engraved in the hardest – and most iconic championship trophy in North American sports – for the second time.
However, as fate would have it – as it has for several years in a row now – injuries limited the Bruins assistant captain late in the season and seemingly robbed him of claiming the title as a Stanley Cup Champion, even though his team couldn’t have experienced a more fortunate path to the Final than they did this spring.
And while the occasion is something that should be celebrated by his family and friends, it should be seen as just another mile down a road whose stretch is rapidly running out of pavement for fans of hockey in Boston.
Unlike 42 year old team captain Zdeno Chara – who despite showing the same type of toughness as his teammate of 13 years, playing with a broken jaw that was wired shut for the Games 5, 6 and 7 of the Final – Bergeron is still in the twilight of his prime. Nevertheless, it is less than a 50/50 chance that he will ever have the opportunity that stood in front of his team when the series with the underdog Blues began back in June.
The fact of the matter is – no matter how much Bruins fans don’t want to hear it – the engine that has driven the Black and Gold for the better part of the last decade-plus – has broken down the last few springs when the real season is played in the NHL.
Bergeron was hampered by a groin injury against the Blues – something he experienced in the playoffs the year before in the opening round playoffs series against the Toronto Maple Leafs which resulted in offseason surgery – and the laundry list of what he played through in the Final loss against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 is the stuff myths are made of.
To question the Québécois heart and desire is downright silly. However, to wonder how long a mid-30s player who logs an average of 19 minutes of ice time at even strength, power play time and penalty killing can keep up his level of play without breaking down is a serious question.
Bruins fans should celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest players to ever wear the spoked-B on his chest today. Yet, they should recognize that with each passing year, their time to enjoy his almost unparalleled skills on the ice – and his opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup again – is becoming greatly diminished.