TAMPA — Ever since veteran defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron was inserted into the lineup in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Tampa Bay has yet to lose.
The Lightning is 7-0, including coming back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Penguins and sweeping the top-seeded Capitals.
"I'd like to believe it's only me," Bergeron said, laughing. "I'm not that dumb."
But in Wednesday's 5-3 victory over Washington, Bergeron played a pivotal role. His power-play goal, a sizzling slap shot from the high slot 5:07 into the third, gave the Lightning a two-goal lead and proved to be the winner.
And it put a big smile on the face of Bergeron, who hadn't scored in more than two months.
"It was great," he said. "That's why we're here. That's why we put on the jersey. It's an awesome feeling."
It was the kind of goal — and moment — the Lightning envisioned when signing Bergeron, 30, as a free agent in January. Bergeron, a power-play specialist with a spectacular shot, gave Tampa Bay another weapon with the man advantage. And Bergeron, coming off surgery for a torn right ACL, picked the Lightning because he believed it could lengthen his shortened season with a playoff run.
But he scored just two goals in 23 games, the second on Feb. 19, and was getting frustrated. It didn't help that he was a spectator for the first four postseason games due to a back injury.
"It wasn't easy," Bergeron said. "But I wasn't healthy."
However, Bergeron picked a good time to strike, sending a shot through the blocker side of Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth on Wednesday.
"That's why we went and got him," coach Guy Boucher said. "That perfect, knee-level shot that I saw him do last year many times with the Canadiens."
Bergeron finally cracked the Lightning lineup for Game 5 against the Penguins as Boucher decided to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards, a setup he used often during the regular season. And the fact Bergeron came up with a huge goal Wednesday didn't surprise Boucher but instead symbolized what he believed the playoff run has been all about: Everybody contributes.
"What makes (the goal) important is that there's a guy who hasn't scored in a while. And when you get that, it certainly has a tendency to give you wings and make the players feel that we're even stronger than we were a minute before," Boucher said.
"I'm really happy for him, and the players were really happy for him, too. You could see it on the bench."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]om.