RALEIGH, N.C. — Patrice Bergeron bent over at the waist, stick placed over his knees, in the manner that every player who’s had his heart torn out knows too well.
He circled in the neutral zone. He tapped Charlie McAvoy with his stick. He did the same with several teammates.
Then Bergeron approached center ice. As captain, he wanted to lead his teammates in the handshake line.
He shook the hands of all of his opponents. He skated to the door in front of the visiting tunnel. He hugged every teammate.
Whether these were actions of a captain or a soon-to-be ex-Bruin is unknown.
“It’s too early right now,” said Bergeron after the 3-2 Game 7 loss when asked if he could share his thinking regarding his decision about his future. “Not after … it’s too fresh right now. It still stings, obviously, from a hard-fought series. Came up short. Obviously I’m going to have to think about it. But I’m not there right now.”
Bergeron’s contract is expiring. Whether he wants to continue is up to him. The Bruins would be delighted to have him back, perhaps on a year-to-year basis.
But Bergeron takes pride in excellence. He is not wired to be a player who accepts slippage. His postgame appearance — sharp blue suit, blue tie, hair combed just right, all complementing the stitches under his right eye — signals his pursuit of perfection.
Nobody knows this better than his closest teammate.
“Um, yeah,” Brad Marchand, following a long pause, said with a tremble in his voice. “He’s the backbone of our team. Obviously the biggest part of our team. So obviously, yeah, we want him to come back. But whatever happens, he’s earned the right to make whatever decision he wants and take the time he needs. I guess time will tell.”
Marchand has been through it all with his long-time center. That he could be left chasing a second Stanley Cup without Bergeron in lockstep is not something the left wing finds enjoyable.
“That’s why this one probably hurts more, is the unknown for next year with him,” Marchand said, after another pause to collect himself. “He’s done so much for this group and sacrificed so much that it would have been nice to make a good run for him. So it’s disappointing.”
(Editor’s note: This story will be updated.)
(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images))