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Tampa Bay Lightning and Marc-Andre Bergeron are excited about his winning debut

Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron has two assists against the Blues in his first game after an injury in May while a Canadien.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron has two assists against the Blues in his first game after an injury in May while a Canadien.

TAMPA — The pain-killers, Marc-Andre Bergeron remembered, made him so sick, he stopped taking them.

And his knee, he said, would not move.

Two days after major surgery June 23 to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, one of the NHL's top offensive defensemen wasn't so sure about his future.

"You're wondering," Bergeron recalled Monday, "how everything is going to work out."

How about great? Bergeron, 30, had two assists Sunday in his Lightning debut, including one on Vinny Lecavalier's winning overtime goal against the Blues.

A power-play specialist, he has a prime spot on the top unit and plays for a potential Stanley Cup contender.

"It's a real chance," Bergeron said. "It's like waking up from a dream, but I'm actually doing it."

Bergeron's nightmare began in May, when he was hurt during a Canadiens playoff game. That made the unrestricted free agent a tough sell around the league as he searched for a contract.

But the Lightning, which Bergeron said was in touch from the July 1 start of free agency, signed him Jan. 4, two weeks after he was cleared for contact, and sent him to AHL Norfolk for 13 games of conditioning.

Though Bergeron, whose deal pays $1 million prorated to the time he is with Tampa Bay, said other teams were interested; the Lightning, because of "the way they are going and the spirit of the team," was his first choice.

And the team is thrilled to add his blazing shot that helped score 27 goals (14 on the power play) the past two seasons, fourth in the league among defensemen.

"When they signed him," left wing Simon Gagne said, "guys were excited."

"He's what we don't have," said coach Guy Boucher, who had Bergeron last season at AHL Hamilton, where he rehabbed an injury. "He's one of those guys who is so poised in traffic with the puck. He spots his guy, and the puck is on the guy's stick. And he's got a cannon."

If there is a concern with Bergeron, it is his defense, references to which make him bristle.

"That's just a wheel that started to roll when I was in juniors and kept rolling," he said. "Nobody plays in the NHL who can play one end of the ice. I'm getting a little tired of hearing that. It's up to me to prove people wrong, I guess."

At 5 feet 9, 198 pounds, Bergeron doesn't have the size to consistently mix it up with the tall trees. And as Boucher noted, "He doesn't have a long reach."

"But you can ask (Dan) Lacroix," Boucher said of his assistant coach who had that job with the Islanders when Bergeron was there from 2006 to 2008. "He's not as bad defensively like people think."

"Is he an offensive-minded defenseman who has to work on his defensive game? Yes, and he's aware of that, but he's come a long way," Lacroix said. "He's matured in the past five years, and his game has matured."

Bergeron was on the ice in the final minute of regulation against St. Louis, a real show of confidence by the coaching staff.

Still, Bergeron generally won't face the opposition's top line. That does not diminish his value.

Boucher called what Bergeron does at the point during a power play "magic at the blue line."

"And when the game is on the line, he wants the puck," Lacroix said. "He wants to make plays."

Easier after he gets his legs.

"I got off the ice (Sunday), I was like, 'My, God, that's fast,' " he said of the speed of the game. "I was out of breath."

Not that he minded.

"It's an exciting time to be back in the NHL with such a good team," Bergeron said. "You have to take advantage of that. I realized last summer you never now where you're going to end up. You have to enjoy it. That's what I'm doing right now."

Thompson out: Center Nate Thompson likely will miss tonight's game against the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum as the team acts cautiously. Thompson's "head was spinning" after the win over the Blues, Boucher said. And though a concussion was not diagnosed, "It's a good moment to give him a break."

. Tonight

Lightning

vs. Sabres

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Versus; 620-AM

Key stats: The Lightning has not scored more than one power-play goal in a game since Dec. 20 against the Hurricanes. Tampa Bay is 11-for-80 (13.8 percent) with the extra man in 21 games since. … Tampa Bay LW Marty St. Louis has just one goal in his past nine games but has eight assists. … Since a stretch in which he had only one point, an assist, in six games, C Steven Stamkos has nine goals, 15 points in 10 games. … Tampa Bay is 9-2-0 against the Northeast.

Tampa Bay Lightning and Marc-Andre Bergeron are excited about his winning debut 02/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 7:16am]
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