Head injuries aren’t slowing down Patrice Bergeron and Simon Gagne


Going into the Eastern Conference finals, the health of Simon Gagne and Patrice Bergeron ranked as two of the bigger questions. Both Gagne and Bergeron came into the 2011 playoffs with a history of concussion issues and suffered head injuries in their second round series. Gagne came back in Game 1 while Bergeron had to wait until Game 3, but in both cases, it was natural to wonder if they would be able to contribute on their traditionally high levels.

As it turns out, it seems like each player hasn’t missed a beat.

Gagne causes problems for the Bruins again

Gagne is the leading scorer for the Tampa Bay Lightning in this series, scoring three goals and two assists for five points and a +5 rating in five games. He was the only Lightning player to score a goal in Game 5 by finishing a nice one-timer set up by Steven Stamkos. This five-game run pushes his 2011 playoff point total to 11 points in 12 games, with a +7 rating.

(Then again, maybe Gagne is just a Boston Bruins killer. He tormented the Bruins as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in their 2010 semifinals series, scoring four goals and one assist for five points and a +2 rating in the four games he played.)

Bergeron lifts Bruins’ play at both ends

A mild concussion kept Bergeron off the ice for the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, but he’s right back to his spot as the team’s most complete forward. He scored two goals and one assist for three points and a +3 rating in his three games back. He’s also been dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 64 percent of his draws in Game 3 and about 55 percent in Game 4 and 5. Bergeron is tied with five other players for third place in playoff scoring with 15 points.

Obviously, these two cases provide small sample sizes, but both players seem like they’ve made seamless returns. Gagne might not get the same attention as Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis but he’s another dangerous forward for the Lightning.

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Bergeron is a do-everything forward as always for Boston, playing big minutes and making great plays, such as his sublime pass to set up Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal in Game 5.

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Concussions are a worrisome issue in the NHL, but it’s nice to see Gagne and Bergeron bounce back so profoundly from those injuries.

Goalie nods: Niemi expected for Stars against Penguins

Antti Niemi, Jonathan Toews
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Talk about getting thrown into the fire.

Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.

Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.

Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.

We’ll start to find out tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.


Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.

Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.

Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.

Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.

Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.

Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Flyers want to prove doubters wrong

Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux
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Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.

“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly. 

So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.

That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”

The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.

“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”

That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.

Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen