- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- An hour after the team bus for the Boston Bruins crossed the border on its way from Lake Placid, N.Y., to Montreal, a customs agent joked that he attempted to deny access as the Bruins were on their way back to the Bell Centre for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Canadiens.
The agent then smiled when asked if he tried to take Bruins captain Zdeno Chara off the bus. Habs fans can't stand the sight of Chara and there are numerous reasons they boo him every time he touches the puck.
Customs agents and Montreal fans should forget about Chara and focus on his teammate Patrice Bergeron because the Bruins forward is a lot more lethal.
It's obvious Canadians could never loathe Bergeron the way Chara is so disliked north of the border. After all, Bergeron is a native of Quebec and one of the most respected players in the NHL.
Boston's assistant captain leads by example both on and off the ice, and he's clearly raised his game already in the playoffs. With the series even at two games apiece, Bergeron has been one of the best players on the ice for both teams.
"He's steady Eddie; he competes like a bugger every night and he's somebody you know is going to be there for you," said the Bruins' other assistant captain, and future Hall of Famer, Mark Recchi. "You know you can count on him. He's a coach's dream. He's a linemate's dream. He's one of those guys who competes and competes."
When the Bruins host the Canadiens for Game 5 on Saturday night at TD Garden, Bergeron enters the game with two goals and three assists for five points, while posting a plus-3 rating this series. His two-way play has sparked the Bruins.
"He's a gritty player," Recchi added. "He gets involved. He gets in dirty areas and he's very strong on the ice. He's very responsible defensively, one of the top two-way forwards in the league."
Bergeron plays with passion and he brings out the best in his teammates. Whether it's creating havoc on the forecheck, crashing the net with reckless abandon, blocking a shot for his goaltender or killing a penalty, his presence in the lineup is crucial.
"He's probably been our best forward," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's played well. He was the best player out there and he just competes hard."
He's a coach's dream. He's a linemate's dream. He's one of those guys who competes and competes.
"-- Mark Recchi, on Bruins teammate
Bergeron is the complete package. He loves playing the game of hockey. He respects the game and his abilities. He's a character guy.
"He's just so focused and determined, and everything about his game is professional whether it's conditioning, whether it's rest, whether it's focus, whether it's showing up every game to play," Julien said. "There might be times where we talk about Patrice and say, 'He hasn't scored in a while.' But no matter what, he's always doing something to help the hockey club, and that's what you want in your players. If they are not always producing, then they have to do something else to help the team, and he does that. He works hard and he's a great leader."
You would never know it by seeing him around the rink, or walking down Causeway Street, but Bergeron's quiet demeanor speaks volumes with the Bruins' locker room.
"He's more vocal than he ever has been," Julien said. "Early in his career, he's a young player and he was feeling his way through. But he's feeling really confident right now about his leadership role and qualities, and when he has to speak, he speaks. And he's one those guys who doesn't speak every game, but when he does speak, he's got the players' attention."
Bergeron arrived at his first training camp with the Bruins in September 2003 and he quickly impressed. Then-head coach Mike Sullivan described Bergeron as one of the best players in camp, and as a result, Bergeron made the team as an 18-year-old.
He's evolved into a true professional, both on and off the ice.
Even before Cam Neely became team president, he once called Bergeron a future leader of this organization. The Hall of Famer was right, and Bergeron has become one of the more consistent players in the NHL, especially during the playoffs.
"This is what it's all about. It's a fun time of year. You want to win and do whatever it takes," Bergeron said with a smile. "You step it up a notch because the games are faster, quicker and the tempo is higher and everyone wants to win, so you have to make sure you're ready."
He's always ready.
Bergeron is humble. He's quiet. He's genuine.
More importantly, he's the boy who came out of nowhere as an 18-year-old, and now this 25-year-old has become the capo of the Boston Bruins.
Just don't tell the agents at the border. Let them keep their focus on someone else for the rest of this series.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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