By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – As a child of Quebec, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron might not be familiar with the tale of Wally Pipp.
And although some of the Pipp story has been altered over the years to better fit the narrative, Pipp has become synonymous with losing a job because someone else steps in and never relinquishes the position. Lou Gehrig replaced Pipp at first base for the New York Yankees and went on to become The Iron Horse and a Hall-of-Famer.
Somewhere in Boston on Thursday, Bergeron was watching the Bruins and probably had a Wally Pipp-sized knot in his stomach.
Newcomer David Backes filled in for the injured Bergeron in the Bruins season-opener on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets and found instant chemistry with Bergeron’s usual left wing Brad Marchand. The result was a combined 12 points by Backes, Marchand and right wing David Pastrnak in a 6-3 victory.
Once it was announced Bergeron wouldn’t be making the trip to Columbus and Backes moved up to the spot between Marchand and Pastrnak, it was obvious the Bruins were going to be a one-line team. No one could have anticipated that coach Claude Julien had assembled a super line, and when the Bruins fell in a 2-0 hole it looked like they were actually a no-line, no-defense team.
But then Marchand continued his transformation from sidekick to hero.
It all started with his 37-goal season last year and continued at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, where he electrified his home nation with an MVP-caliber (if the media wasn’t in the bag for Sidney Crosby) performance for Team Canada. The Bruins reaped the benefits of the extra confidence and improved skills of Marchand early in the second period, when Marchand jumped a D-to-D pass behind the Columbus net and set up Pastrnak’s first goal of the game to cut the lead to 2-1.
Marchand was all over the Blue Jackets the rest of the way. His keep-in and relentless cycle helped set up Backes’ first goal that cut the deficit to 3-2. Then Marchand set up a Pastrnak one-timer, which Backes tipped in to tie the score at 3-3.
Marchand forced a giveaway in the defensive zone and then hustled to score on a rebound seconds later to give Boston a 4-3 lead. And then the cherry on the sundae was his end-to-end rush and self-pass move toward the goal that led up to his second goal and a 5-3 lead.
Who knew that all this time Marchand was carrying Bergeron and not the other way around?
Calm down; I kid.
Saint Bergeron has nothing to fear.
Undoubtedly when Bergeron returns he’ll be back to Marchand’s right and Backes will move to another line to resuscitate David Krejci or possibly Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes.
The Bruins prevailed in dramatic fashion, but there were plenty of issues that have to be solved. Krejci was quiet with Ryan Spooner and Danton Heinen on his wings. If Spooner doesn’t change his mentality and become more of a trigger man, the Bruins might have to do some more line juggling and give Krejci at least one veteran. Austin Czarnik had some troubles centering the third line and wound up on the fourth line in the third period.
On defense, both Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara made some mistakes but they bounced back and held their own in the NHL debuts.
Czarnik made the most of his ice time when moved to the fourth line with a strong setup of a Noel Acciari scoring chance and a great back check to end a Columbus rush before the Blue Jackets could cross the blue line.
There are still plenty of things for the Bruins to iron out but they grabbed two points against one of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference despite not playing their best 60 minutes. Things will fall into place quicker if Bergeron can return as soon as Saturday against Toronto or perhaps Monday against Winnipeg.
After watching the game Thursday, he might’ve hit the road to join up with his teammates regardless of how much he’s still being bothered by his lower-body injury.
Can’t let Marchand and Backes have all the fun and no one wants to be Wally Pipp.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.