By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Every time you think you have a read on the 2018-19 Boston Bruins, something completely absurd happens.
You know, like somebody concussing a teammate by shooting them in the head with a puck or a defenseman taking a John Tavares shot off the throat. Wait a second: I almost forgot about the Bruins going like a billion minutes without a five-on-five goal from a forward not on their top line and their $7 million goaltender taking a vague four-day leave of absence from the team. Just casual things like that.
It's just been a completely bonkers kind of year.
But there's no way to properly explain the absurdity of what the Bruins were able to do without their No. 1 center.
Most recently without Patrice Bergeron for a should-have-been-brutal 16-game stretch, the Bruins posted a 9-6-1 record, grabbing 19 of a possible 32 points (the 13th-most in the league over that span). They also killed off 32 of the 40 penalties called against them, and were on the right side of six out of their eight one-goal games without No. 37 over that stretch. They did this while having a first-line revolving door featuring names such as Colby Cave and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
In essence, the Bruins survived without Bergeron and failed to plummet out of the strangely-competitive Atlantic Division.
The 33-year-old rewarded their survival with two goals and four points in his first game back on Saturday, a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators, seemingly restoring faith in the possibility of the Black and Gold putting an actual run together.
(That's not a joke, by the way.)
When Bergeron is in the lineup, the Bruins are a completely different team.
He's truly the heartbeat of this group and their believability factor.
The Bruins themselves seem to consider this an actual fact of life, too.
"We’ve been playing well lately without [Bergeron], but he just gives an emotional boost," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy offered after Saturday's victory over the Preds. "Just around practice [Friday], knowing he’s going to come back in the lineup, you can feel like the – we got a little more wind in our sail, so to speak."
"I think just having him back, you heard the crowd when he got announced," B's winger Danton Heinen said. "There is just something about him. He’s got that good energy and good leadership that everyone wants to follow."
But this time around, Bergeron's return is more than the obvious boost down the middle.
See, without Bergeron for over a month, the Bruins were forced to try different things with their forwards. Cassidy's biggest move was to put David Krejci between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The move got Krejci's game back to where it needs to be for the Bruins to go anywhere, and it's opened the B's eyes to the fact that Krejci still has his touch when playing with gifted wingers.
That realization prompted Cassidy to keep Krejci and Pastrnak together upon Bergeron's return, returning to the 'familiar pairs' ideology that made Cassidy's Bruins so successful upon his initial promotion to head coach in Feb. 2017.
It remains an unfinished product -- that second line is still without Jake DeBrusk (though he's also close to a return) and it remains unknown if Heinen has the goods to stick with Bergeron and Marchand on the first line -- but it's a potential solution. One that the Bruins were unable (or unwilling) to consider when they were simply trying to keep their heads above water as a one-line team prior to Bergeron's rib and shoulder ailments forced an adjustment on the part of the coaches.
"Listen, I like what they give us. They’re a good line. They’re good players," Cassidy said of his second line. "We may move Pasta back up to that top line. We’ve always talked about that, but let’s take a look at this for now. Danton, if he can hold his own up there then it makes us harder to play against, so that’s the big question. You’re playing against the other team’s, usually, top pair every night. Are you able to do that? So, we’re going to take a look at that and see if it works out."
With 10 of their next 15 games coming on TD Garden ice (and with eight of those 15 games coming against teams in the bottom-half of the league's standings), the Bruins will have plenty of time to build on this opportunity. One that comes with the undeniable potential of changing the entire complexion of their postseason roster (and Stanley Cup hopes).
Known as the team that's simply survived, this is not a luxury that the Bruins have been afforded at any point this year.
But now, with health returning to this battle-tested group, comes their time to thrive.
With a charge led by their best player, too.