Monday night at Madison Square Garden, Bruins fans thought they had witnessed their worst nightmare: Patrice Bergeron, wincing on the bench after taking a shot from teammate Dennis Wideman in the second period. He left the game and did not return.
It looked bad, real bad.
But the Bruins got a better diagnosis than expected on Tuesday morning, when Bergeron was evaluated by doctors. The 24-year-old center is expected to miss two weeks with a broken right thumb, and his Olympic hopes should not be jeopardized.
The Bruins cannot afford to lose their best player for an extended period of time. Bergeron is not only the team's leading scorer, but he's a leader in the locker room. And this team could use a few players to step up and answer the challenge presented by head coach Claude Julien.
After Monday night's loss to the New York Rangers, Julien called out his club.
"I hope we're hungry and want to compete a lot harder than we have been and for 60 minutes," Julien said. "That's been our biggest challenge this year. We're winning some hockey games, but we're not happy with our 60-minute effort. We're not satisfied with our consistency on a nightly basis. That's something we have to improve from here to the end of the year."
The "A" on the chest of Bergeron's sweater was moved to that of veteran leader Mark Recchi, who has performed this season much like Bergeron has. Recchi tallied a power-play goal on Tuesday night in Ottawa to help his team earn a 4-1 win in a Northeast Division matchup. More importantly, though, he's one of the players in the B's dressing room who can help this team understand that a 60-minute effort is what wins hockey games.
"I'm not going to say our leadership is poor because those same leaders were here the year before and the year before that and did an outstanding job," said Julien. "It's up to the group to assemble themselves and decide what they want to do as a team and go out there and prove it every night."
Half the season is over. The Bruins are currently in a playoff spot, holding down the fifth position in the Eastern Conference, but teams are breathing down their backs. From here on out, the Bruins must put together more efforts like the one they had on Tuesday night. They have to continue to play the way their head coach has asked them to and the way the many leaders in that locker room know they're capable of.
The schedule doesn't get any easier. Just look at the best team out West, the Chicago Blackhawks, who come to town on Thursday night.
A complete effort is not out of reach for the Black and Gold. It's already been accomplished many times this season. Consistency is key, and the Bruins will have to continue to get themselves up for games and not rely on choice words from Julien as motivation.
"It's not always up to the coach to be a cheerleader," said Julien. "We give them guidance. We give them a game plan. We give them everything else. But they have to do their share as well and be prepared to put in the effort for 60 minutes because obviously we can't from behind the bench."
The Bruins figured that out on Tuesday night. Here's hoping they continue to do so as the schedule rolls on.
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