No one on the Bruins roster can completely fill Patrice Bergeron’s shoes. One can only try to make up for at least some of what the Bruins have lost in his absence. On Tuesday, Riley Nash did just that.
In the first game since confirmation that the four-time Selkie award winner would miss a minimum of two weeks with a foot fracture, Nash took his place on the Bruins’ top line and proceeded to play a major role in some key moments in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Yeah, it’s not the easiest of jobs. I think Bergy [Bergeron] is obviously one of the top center men in the league. He just makes things look so much easier out there — and he’s always in the right spot, always making the right play,” Nash said postgame. “For me, we are kind of in different positions. I am not trying to make as many plays. I try not to mess up, you know, just get pucks out and establish forechecks”.
Not messing up and establishing forechecks: two boxes Nash can check off after Tuesday night.
Following a late first period goal which extended Carolina’s lead to two, Nash got the Bruins back within one with three seconds left, a goal that changed the momentum of the game for good. The Bruins were being wholeheartedly outplayed in the opening frame and were just seconds away from taking a two-goal deficit into the first intermission. But instead, a heavy forecheck by new-Bruin Tommy Wingels opened the door for Nash. True to his word, he did not mess up.
“Wingels made an awesome play on that one, that was all him. Then their goalie came way out, which was probably the right play because I was all alone and I didn’t think I had a whole lot of room to shoot at,” Nash recalled. “So I pulled it around him.”
The first-period tally was a special one for Nash, his 11th of the season.
“Yeah, a career-high [in goals],” he said. “It feels good against the old team.”
Nash has been an underrated component of the Bruins’ success this season. The coaching staff has shown tremendous confidence in him throughout the year, putting him on the ice in key situations — especially faceoffs.
Just over a minute into overtime, Nash was mimicking Bergeron again. He started by emerging victorious from a puck battle in the Bruins’ zone, and finished by setting up Charlie McAvoy for a two-on-one which ended with the latter scoring the game-winning goal. A two-on-one that was created by Nash’s work in his own zone.
Once again, Nash did not make a mistake.
“Well right now I think there is a little bit more responsibility — not just on me, but [on] everybody — to kind of shoulder the burden that Bergy has left,” Nash explained. “I felt comfortable chipping in here and there and I think the bounces have gone my way.”
Moving from the third line to a more speedy and skilled first line is no easy task; neither is creating chemistry with a pair of wingers you’re not used to playing with. Nash, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak struggled at times, but overall their first go of it as a unit was solid.
“[I] felt bad for Marchy [Marchand] and Pasta [Pastrnak] at times tonight. They’re used to getting pucks at certain times and in certain situations,” Nash said. “But hopefully if we stay together, I’ll figure that out and start making a couple more plays.”
Nash’s performance this season has not gone unnoticed behind the Boston bench. In fact, it’s ultimately what earned him the role of filling in for Bergeron.
“The first thing you’re trying to replace is that element on that line. You’ve got two wingers that like to be creative, and I don’t want to say take chances, but I will say, they like to take chances,” Bruce Cassidy offered. “You need a backbone on that line, and that’s where Riley – listen, there’s no replacing Bergy. But, he [Nash] has some of his traits, and we’ve tried to ask him to bring those traits out when he’s playing on that line.”
The comparisons to Bergeron did not stop there; before the game, Marchand called Nash a “mini Bergy.” Nash did not seem to mind that one bit.
“That just means I’m a little worse version,” Nash joked about the Bergeron comparison. “I’m fine with that because he’s extraordinary. But yeah, I think it’s a chemistry thing too.”