By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Down in Florida during the winter, Jean Ratelle doesn’t get the Bruins games on television unless they’re playing one of the Florida teams.
He’s deprived of the joy of watching Patrice Bergeron on a nightly basis.
Thanks to the Bruins honoring the 11 players who scored 20 goals from their 1977-78 team, Ratelle was at TD Garden on Tuesday night. And Bergeron put on a show to remind the 1985 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee what he’s missing.
Bergeron, who was honored on the same night with a bobblehead giveaway, scored two goals in the third period to help turn a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames.
Bergeron is on fire, with 17 goals in his past 19 games and 27 goals on the season for the Bruins, who are 20-2-4 in their past 26 games and just one point behind Tampa Bay for first place in the Eastern Conference
“I don’t know … I’m trying to shoot more, I’m trying to I guess put the puck on net,” Bergeron said. “Obviously when you’re in a tight game, you try and make a difference. And our line tries to make something happen, that’s what we were on the ice for.”
Of course, there’s so much more to Bergeron’s game than scoring. His two-way game, as evidenced by his four Selke Trophy wins, is unparalleled. And everything he does well at both ends of the rink starts with his work ethic and his cerebral ability to always be one or two steps ahead and be in the right place at the right time. Those attributes are what most often lead modern-day observers of the game to compare Bergeron to Ratelle. Even Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s first thought when asked about comparing Bergeron to a past Bruins center was to go to Ratelle.
Before the Bruins-Flames game, assembled in a room with 10 of his former teammates and his former coach Don Cherry, Ratelle described the comparison to Bergeron as “great” and showered Bergeron in compliments.
“That’s what you always try to accomplish as a player. You have to do the physical part and the mental part [of playing the 200-foot game],” Ratelle said. “The mental part is you have to be in the right place. The mental part is you have to help the defense. When we played, the centers help the defensemen, you try to make it easier when they get the puck, help out. And Patrice can do that really well. He’s a really great defensive player.”
Ratelle got to see everything Bergeron does for the Bruins on Tuesday, including executing the coaches’ game plan to perfection. Cassidy said the Bruins needed to make adjustments to their penalty kill in order to deny Johnny Gaudreau from working his magic and limit the shots by Calgary’s point men. There was Bergeron with his body in perfect position and his stick in every lane, helping the Bruins keep the Flames’ power play off the scoreboard in five attempts.
Cassidy also said the Bruins had to make a power-play adjustment because the Flames were “jamming us at the blue line.” The Bruins thought they could get behind the Calgary defense without carrying the puck into the attack zone or dumping it in. Well it took just 12 seconds of an early-period power play in the third for Torey Krug, with his head up as always, to connect with an open Bergeron, who went in alone and scored the go-ahead goal.
“Bergy, from that area of the ice, he’s lights-out this year and getting rewarded for hitting the net, first of all, and putting in a tough spot for the goalie to handle,” Cassidy said.
Prior to his second goal, Bergeron blocked a shot and initiated the breakout. He then was perfectly positioned in the slot to tip Brad Marchand’s wobbly shot into the net for a 4-2 lead. It was a shift that once upon a time would’ve been called a “Ratelle shift” and is now synonymous with Bergeron, and might be known as a “Bergeron shift” for decades to come beyond his retirement and eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.
Although Bergeron and Cassidy both said the center is trying to shoot more, the numbers don’t bear that out (he’s averaging 3.68 shots per game compared to 3.82 last season). But his shooting percentage has more than doubled to 14.7 from 7.0. As always, some of that could be attributed to luck, but one can’t overlook that Bergeron’s playing with the two most dangerous offensive weapons he’s ever played with – Marchand and David Pastrnak. Their speed and their shots open up so much space for Bergeron to put his much-improved shot to work.
At an age when many players’ offensive prowess begins to wane, the 32-year-old Bergeron is scoring better than ever. Some players can buck the aging trend, and coincidentally after the Bruins acquired Ratelle at 35 he scored 33, 25, 27 and 28 goals the next four full seasons in black and gold.
Bergeron and Ratelle had met before Tuesday, and they got reacquainted Tuesday morning after the pregame skate talking about how well this season is going for the Bruins. At this rate, Ratelle’s going to have a lot of chances to watch Bergeron on those nationally television postseason games.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.