PITTSBURGH — It wasn't the hardest shot D Marc-Andre Bergeron has ever taken.
But when Bergeron, 32, flicked a wrist shot from the left boards past Carolina's Dan Ellis in the first period Saturday night, it served as another example of how the Lightning veteran has contributed offensively.
It was Bergeron's first goal since Dec. 29, 2011, as he spent most of last season dealing with a lower back injury that led to surgery. He played in just three of Tampa Bay's first 13 games this season, often a healthy scratch.
But Bergeron has been in the lineup the past five, coach Guy Boucher saying before Sunday's game he has "brought something we're lacking," a puck manager who is poised with the puck and can help forwards fuel transition.
Bergeron has three points over his past five games and four overall (a goal and three assists). Boucher said it was "a matter of time."
"He's a guy that has got over 500 games in the NHL, 95 games in the playoffs," Boucher said. "He was the top scorer in the league for defensemen last year before he got injured. He's just been battling an injury and an operation. So it just took him some time to get his timing back."
PROUD PAPA: Assistant Steve Thomas rejoined the team, exhausted after a whirlwind trip to see his son, Christian, 20, make his NHL debut Saturday night for the Rangers.
"It was a long day," Thomas said, smiling. "But I made it."
Thomas, who flew from Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday afternoon, arrived at Montreal's Bell Centre with two minutes left in the first. He was pleased with how Christian did, logging 12:46 of ice time with two shots while playing alongside ex-Lightning star Brad Richards.
"The coolest thing is his first NHL game is at Montreal … Hockey Night in Canada," Thomas said. "He actually did some interviews between the second and third period on Hockey Night in Canada. He was just a little bit awestruck there. But I guess from what my wife told me, the first shift, it was like he was fired out of a cannon, going 100 miles per hour."
Thomas isn't sure how long Christian, called up from AHL Connecticut, will be with New York. The Lightning plays at the Rangers on Thursday.
HIGH PRAISE: Ellis, who played for Tampa Bay in 2010-11, said he has been impressed with how C Steven Stamkos has evolved.
"He's one of the top two players in the league, him and (Penguins C Sidney Crosby)," Ellis said. "The fact you see him now on penalty kills and stuff like that, just a testament to who he is. A lot of times, you see those skill players that just play the power-play minutes and five-on-five.
"But now that he's in that defensive role and can play all aspects of the game, he's going to be one of the best players until he wants to hang them up."
MISCELLANY: D Keith Aulie returned after missing two games due to a stomach bug. … D Brian Lee was scratched. … Boucher said RW Ryan Malone (lower body) is coming along, skating on his own in Tampa. … Boucher continued to praise rookie C Alex Killorn, who earned an assist Sunday: "He's doing it all right now: first on puck, defensive awareness, offensive drive, physicality, smarts."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]