But such quick returns are possible, says Boston University School of Medicine's Dr. Robert Cantu, who has treated Bergeron and is a specialist in sports-related head trauma. Recovery time is just unpredictable, Cantu says, because no two concussions are the same.
"Successive concussions are not necessarily worse," Cantu says. "Those of us who see many hundreds of concussion patients each year realize that each concussion is unique to the individual. There is not a way that you can say of somebody who had five concussions that his sixth will necessarily be worse. In some cases it can be, and we worry a lot if somebody has protracted symptoms from what seemed like a minor hit. That's a red flag, where we think, Should this person be playing this sport, taking these blows anymore? But if you recover completely from a concussion that's been properly managed, the next one you receive may not be worse."
By Game 2 of the Eastern finals against Tampa Bay on May 17, Bergeron was back at TD Garden, able to comfortably watch from a suite with friends. By Game 3, at the St. Pete Times Forum 13 days after the concussion, he was back on the ice. In 19 minutes, 13 seconds of ice time Bergeron won 18 of 28 face-offs and helped neutralize Tampa Bay's excellent power play in a 2--0 victory that put Boston up in the series two games to one. He scored twice in Boston's next game, a 5--3 loss, and while he put up just one point in the following three games, his strong defensive and face-off abilities helped the Bruins win two of them—including the 1--0 victory in Game 7, during which he won 15 of 23 draws.
"He was a huge difference maker," Chiarelli says. "If you watch him closely during a game, you'll see he's almost always in the right position. We're a straight-line team, and he gives us so much defensive presence coming back up the middle of the ice."
Says Marchand, "He's always thinking ahead, where the next play is going to go."
BERGERON BEGAN HIS CLOSE EXAMINATION OF THE sport at a precocious age in his native Ancienne-Lorette, near Quebec City. The first time he donned skates, at age five, Patrice was so overwhelmed by the new game in front of him that he literally sat inside one of the goal nets and just observed everybody else the rest of the day, simply to figure things out. As he recalls, "My parents [mother Sylvie, a social worker, and father Gerard, who works for Quebec City] didn't think I liked hockey. They said, 'You don't have to come back here if you don't want to next time.' And I said, 'No, I actually enjoyed it.' I learn a lot by watching, and then I can [play] after. It's always been that way."
Drafted 45th overall by the Bruins in 2003, Bergeron jumped to the NHL straight from juniors. Though he has proved a capable NHL scorer—twice producing 70 or more points in a season—he is distinguished mostly for the tenacious two-way play that earned him a spot on Canada's gold-medal-winning Olympic team in 2010.
In Game 1 of the finals against Vancouver, Bergeron made his biggest impact as a chew toy, when he had his gloved right index finger chomped on by Vancouver pest Alexandre Burrows—a moment that shall live in Stanley Cup infamy. Bergeron wasn't hurt, but the Bruins were hurting after losing the first two games. Back in Boston, Bergeron was his usual self in Games 3 and 4, going +3 with two assists in lopsided Bruins wins. In the process he outplayed a man he is often compared with: Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler, who at that point had an early hold on the Conn Smythe Trophy.
"Bergeron to us is as much as Kesler is to them," Bruins coach Claude Julien had said on the eve of the finals. "He brings the same elements. He plays hard every game, he's a great face-off guy, power play, penalty kill.... [He] does it all for us."