The play that led to the game winning goal in overtime Friday night was somewhat symbolic of how the year has gone for Marc-Andre Bergeron. Healthy for the first time two years, Bergeron won a race across ice to gain possession of the puck and set the play in motion that eventually led to the game winning goal. It was a race that Bergeron started a step behind, but still managed to win.
“I took a shot, it was kind of a funny shot,” Bergeron said. “The puck was no placed properly and missed my shot a little bit, but it hit a stick and it broke that guys stick. He was the guy that ended up going into the corner to get the puck, so I knew he couldn’t do much with it because he didn’t have a stick, so I decided to forecheck and when he moved it the other way around, I saw that defenseman kind of looked tired. I decided to give it a try and I got it, and from there I gave it to Marty and he did rest.”
Bergeron has turned heads this year, not only because of his strong offensive play, but also because of his play on the defensive end. Outside of the occasional bad turnover, Bergeron has played with a lot more confidence on the defensive end. He has made smarter plays with the puck, showing poise and confidence and generally avoiding the area’s that have gotten him into trouble in the past. The downside to any offensive defenseman is the occasional turnover that plagues them at the worst possible time, something that has not eluded Bergeron in the early going, but overall his game is much improved through the first month of the year.
In his first 13 games this year, Bergeron leads the NHL in assists with 13, and leads the Lightning in points with 15. He is also averaging just over 19 minutes a game.
So what has been the difference?
“The biggest difference is last year I started playing in February,” Bergeron said. “The past two years I have had back surgery and knee surgery, those are pretty serious injuries. This summer I had the chance to work out and do everything like everyone else, it felt right and it felt great. I made sure to show up to camp in good condition both physically and mentally. So far its been paying off.”
For Lightning coach Guy Boucher, Bergeron coming up with big plays in the clutch is not surprise. It is something he has dealt with as an opposing coach before in junior.
“Bergeron is a pressure guy,” Boucher said. “We know that. I’ve known that for a long time. I hated this guy in junior. You knew it, you smelled it coming, and he would give it to you. You saw that last year in the playoffs and we see it again this year. Its not something new, its just something he has to manage. He plays like all the other players, you don’t want to be impatient with him. When its there, make it happen. When its not there, no need to force the play, its going to come to you.”
So how exactly does one become a pressure player in the NHL night in and night out?
“Its character, its winners,” Bergeron said. “We need that on the team, and we have that here. We are really proud to have players like that in this locker room. It’s the only way to go if you want to win games. Teams are so tight now, the difference between the best team in the league and the worst team in the league is maybe 15 points by the end of the year. Its not a big margin. Every night is a battle now.”