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Posted: Friday February 20, 2009 3:20PM; Updated: Friday February 20, 2009 3:52PM
Allan Muir Allan Muir >
INSIDE THE NHL

Revived Bergeron can play his way out of Boston, plus more

Story Highlights

Patrice Bergeron's first goal since November is hopeful sign for oft-injured center

If healthy, Bergeron's five-year, $24 million contract will make him a costly luxury

The Sabres' Tim Connolly would be a productive fit for the Blue Jackets' Rick Nash

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His health improving, Patrice Bergeron has been making his presence felt, just not on the scoresheet.
Michael Tureski/Icon SMI
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His scoring touch may have deserted him, but Patrice Bergeron still had his sense of humor.

Speaking to reporters after he'd finally broken a nearly three-month goalless streak at the expense of the Hurricanes on Tuesday night, the Bruins center summed up the key to his lamp-lighting success.

"All I needed was them to have no goalie," he laughed.

Bergeron's slump-buster -- a short-hander, no less -- helped the Bruins break a four-game skid of their own and it capped off a solid effort from the third line center. He was a presence all night, especially in the defensive zone, the one area where he continued to prove his value during the 19-game drought.

Considering all he's been through -- a Grade 3 concussion that cost him virtually the entire 2007-08 season and another that sidelined him for five weeks this winter -- it didn't matter much that Bergeron had simply hit a yawning cage or that his long-awaited tally was the final blow in a 5-1 thrashing of Carolina. When you go through a spell like that, anything that crosses the goal line looks like an Alexander Ovechkin highlight reel special.

Despite the dry spell, the Bruins stuck with Bergeron, giving him key minutes, trusting him in tough situations. Still, there's no separating a player from his paper these days, and the Bergeron who returned this season has been nowhere close to earning the $4.75 million he is pulling down. For a while, it looked as though he'd become every GM's nightmare scenario: a big contract who suffers a significant injury and returns to collect that paycheck as a shadow of what he was.

"You'd really notice that he'd lost some of his bite in the corners," an Eastern Conference scout told SI.com. "He was always at his most effective when he was physical in the offensive zone. When he does that, he creates the room he needs to make plays."

Problem was, Bergeron wasn't doing much of that this season even before his most recent injury, suffered when he tried to put a mid-ice hit on Carolina's Dennis Seidenberg back on Dec. 20. Not that anyone blamed Bergeron for being a bit skittish, but with their first legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup in nearly two decades looming, the Bruins wanted more.

It had been a frustrating vigil. At least until the past few games, when Bergeron has emerged as Boston's most effective forward. A return to form? Hard to say at this point, but he seems to be re-engaging fully in the battle.

"This is the guy they paid for," the scout said. "He's really started to put the shoulder into guys. He's had a couple of big hits lately, I think one was on [Tuomo] Ruutu in that [Carolina] game, and he made a smart play to set up [a goal by David Krejci]. You see that confidence coming back into his game."

Now here's the paradox: The better Bergeron plays, the sooner his tenure in Boston might conclude.

With a healthy Bergeron, along with Krejci and Marc Savard, the B's have enviable depth down the middle. For this year's Cup run, that's critical. But come this summer, it might be an unaffordable luxury.

The Bruins likely will enter the offseason with more than $42 million committed to just 14 players. Both Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez are eligible for unrestricted free agency, and while only Thomas is likely to be retained. He's looking at a bump from his current $1 million to something in the $4-5 million range. Expect the high end if he wins the Vezina.

Boston also has to come up with costly new deals for restricted free agents Phil Kessel (the team's leading goal-scorer, with 24) and breakout star Krejci (59 points). If their deals are in the same range as Thomas's, GM Peter Chiarelli won't have much wiggle room to fill out his roster . . . and he may find that allocating nearly $5 million to his third line center isn't the most fiscally prudent move. And as Bergeron finds his game, he moves past the injury concerns and ups his value on the trade market.

July's still a long way away, but as the fans in Boston toast Bergeron's health, they should remember that each goal can bring him closer to leaving town.

Jamming The Crease

Scattershooting while wondering why NHL officials never go for the guns anymore when calling a 10-minute misconduct . . .

Smart move by the Rangers to schedule the Maple Leafs as the opposition after Sunday's jersey retirement ceremony honoring Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate. No guarantees of course, but the odds of the crowd leaving happy are better than if the Blueshirts had invited the Bruins to the party. By whipping up on the Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Boston improved its mark to 3-0 this season against teams holding retirement ceremonies prior to the game. Former Bruin Glen Wesley was the latest to have the B's rain on his parade. Boston has also taken the shine off nights honoring Patrick Roy (Montreal) as well as Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote (Chicago) back in November . . .

Lots of trade talk surrounding the struggling Avalanche -- Jordan Leopold and Marek Svatos being the names most often mentioned -- but the team may have another interesting asset in T.J. Hensick. The 23-year-old offensive-minded center could be obsolete with the imminent return of Paul Stastny and emergence of Wojtek Wolski. Hensick's on the small side (5-10, 185) and struggles against larger opponents, but he impresses with his slick hands and plus hockey sense. He can play the wing, but he's not as effective there, making him more valuable elsewhere than in Colorado . . .

Now that Bob Gainey has provided the NHL trade market a long-needed high colonic, doesn't the pressure to make the next deal fall squarely on the shoulders of Scott Howson? With his Blue Jackets holding down the sixth spot in the West after a sloppy 4-3 win over the Leafs, Howson owes it to the team and its long-suffering fans to address the glaring need down the middle. Solid checking center Manny Malhotra is woefully miscast as the first line pivot. He's game, but with just two goals in 14 games, he's an offensive black hole.

A move will not only send the right message to the stakeholders, it can go a long way toward revitalizing Rick Nash, whose game has looked sluggish of late (that goal and assist Thursday night in Toronto notwithstanding). And the chance to play with a high-end pivot may encourage Nash to re-up with the club before his contract expires at the end of next season. If Buffalo is shopping Tim Connolly, Howson should be finalizing his offer right now.

 
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