Bergeron undecided about the future after B’s stunner

Bergeron undecided about the future after B's stunner

BOSTON — Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said he was uncertain about his NHL future after Boston lost to the Florida Panthers in overtime in Game 7 on Sunday night.

Bergeron, 37, is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Bruins players had spoken openly about sending off Bergeron and fellow Veterans Center teammate David Krejci, also 37, with a Stanley Cup win. Bergeron just finished his 19th season. Krejci, who is also a free agent, has played 16 seasons.

“It hurts. You compete hard and fight for it all year, so it’s tough,” Bergeron said. “I’m going to take some time and talk to my family and then move on from there. It’s hard to process at the moment. We are shocked and disappointed.”

That is perhaps an understatement. The 2022-23 Bruins were the most successful regular-season team in NHL history, setting league records for wins (65) and points (135) in a single season. They were favored to defeat the Panthers, a wildcard team, and at times led 3-1 in the series. But the Panthers rallied to force a Game 7, rallied to tie the game with a minute left in rule and then eliminated the Bruins with an overtime goal from winger Carter Verhaeghe.

Bergeron missed the first four games of the series. At first, the Bruins said he was suffering from an illness that swept through their dressing room. But eventually his absence was settled as due to injury. After Game 7, Bergeron revealed he played with a herniated disc in his back and said he wasn’t sure about off-season treatment.

The Panthers won all three games that Bergeron played in the series, including overtime wins in Games 5 and 7 in Boston.

After Boston was eliminated Sunday night, Bergeron stood motionless on the bench with his teammates, processing what had just happened. Eventually, he motioned for the Bruins to join him on Center Ice to give fans in the TD Garden a stick salute. Afterwards, Bergeron ran to the Bruins bench door and hugged each of his teammates as they headed into the dressing room.

Last in line was Brad Marchand, his longtime linemate. They hugged on the now-empty rink as Boston fans cheered to acknowledge the emotional moment.

“The friendship we’ve built and the relationship we have has been special. Hopefully it’s not the end, but it’s up to him to make his decision. Whether he continues playing or not, our bond will last a lifetime,” Marchand said.

The Bruins winger said he will forever be indebted for what Bergeron has done for him as a player and as a person.

“He’s just the perfect person on or off the ice. Such an incredible leader, such an ambitious, incredible family man, great father and great friend,” Marchand said. “That took me a lot. It really changed the way I approach my daily life and the way I approach the game. He allowed me to play with him for a long time. We were lucky.” I’ve had him in this group for a long time. I tried to be like him and lead like he did. I will be forever grateful to him.

During his post-series media availability, David Pastrnak wore a hat with Krejci’s name on it. Both players are originally from the Czech Republic, where Krejci played last season before returning to the Bruins on a one-year deal. Krejci has served as a friend and mentor to Pastrnak.

“I can’t say enough about her. Krejci is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had and one of my best friends. I’ll always be grateful for that,” he said.

Coach Jim Montgomery praised Bergeron for his leadership and skill throughout the season and helped Montgomery in his first season with Boston. When he was injured, Bergeron was in the coaching room helping with the Panthers game plan.

“It was an incredible experience just because of his awareness, his maturity, his ability to communicate, his ability to listen and then just how great a hockey player he is,” Montgomery said. “I learned a lot from him this year. I hope to learn more next year.”

Bergeron was asked if the impressive way the Bruins’ historic season ended could compel him to return with that team for another run at the Stanley Cup.

“Again, it hurts now,” he said. “I need to step back and think about it with my family.”

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