(Photo via RawCharge.com)
By Michael Wax
I started getting into hockey around 2010-11. At that time, I was 10 years old and didn’t understand the rules of the game, and just watched it for the goals and the fighting. During that 2010-11 season, the Lightning were in playoff contention, a surprise considering they had picked in the top 10 in the prior three seasons. Coached by first-year head coach Guy Boucher, this team adopted his “boring” 1-3-1 coaching style and ran with it, making it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and getting within a goal of making it to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. While a deep dive of that entire 2010-11 team would be a fascinating article (and is coming soon 👀), I want to focus on one of the unsung heroes of that season: Sean Bergenheim.
After the 2009-10 season, in which he put up 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 63 games, Bergenheim took a chance on himself in free agency after the Islanders failed to give him a qualifying offer. The 1-year, $700,000 offer from new-ish GM Steve Yzerman was probably lower than what Bergenheim was expecting on the open market, but the lack of true forward depth on the 2010-11 Lightning heading into training camp looked enticing. Reports were encouraging after the signing. Islanders reporter Chris Botta commended the move on Twitter, saying Bergenheim was a “solid player on some bad teams”. Dominik Jansky, a contributor of SB Nation’s Lighthouse Hockey, had this to say about Bergenheim in his 2010 Grades:
“I think Bergenheim sort of is what most (realistically) hoped for: A decently talented wing who can produce with offensive linemates, but who can play smart two-way shut-down hockey on the PK and third line”
If you followed the Lightning at all the past two seasons, you’ll notice that comment brings up a lot of the same intangibles for Bergenheim that Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman brought to the back-to-back Champs.
(Photo via JFreshHockey)
During the season itself, Bergenheim did exactly what the scouting reports said he would: Applied a very solid two-way game on the third line. His penalty killing saw a dramatic decline from his time on Long Island, but he went from the 29th ranked Islanders unit in 2009-10 to a top-ten penalty kill unit with the Lightning in 2010-11. Bergenheim had never been a good finisher of his chances, but boy did he generate a ton of chances. According to JFresh's historical player chart, his even-strength offense percentage of 96% was actually the best percentage of the entire 2010-11 forward group, beating out the likes of Marty, Vinny, and Stammer. Does that have something to do with the quality of competition that Bergenheim was facing as a 3rd line winger? Probably. But 96% isn't nothing. Bergenheim's 14 goals and 29 points were both top-10 markers on the defensive-minded Bolts. While 14 goals were nice, a 7.7 shooting percentage was not. Luckily for Bergenheim, the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoffs would prove to be a different story.
After a surprising 46-25-11 record (103 points), the 5th seeded Lightning were scheduled to take on the 4th seeded Penguins. Bergenheim was extremely quiet in the first three games of the series as the Lightning fell behind in the series 2-1, and despite his first career playoff goal (and point) tying Game 4 at two goals apiece, the Lightning fell in OT to bring their backs against the wall. Game 5 was a massacre for the Lightning, and Bergenheim put up an assist in the 8-2 drubbing. From there, Bergenheim took control of the series. His Game 6 goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 advantage in a game they would ultimately win, while his Game 7 marker was the only goal of the clinching game. Both plays were eerily similar: the entire third line working along the wall to gain/maintain puck possession in the offensive zone, then Dominic Moore taking the puck from behind the net and no-look sweeping it over to a wide-open Bergenheim staring at a wide-open net. The Penguins series made Bolts fans believe in the Lightning, but the Capitals series would make them believe in Bergenheim specifically.
In the 2nd round, the Bolts took on the top-seeded Washington Capitals. Bergenheim had a fairly successful regular season against the Caps, putting up four points in six games. That success continued into the opening game of the series, as Bergenheim scored a goal during a net mouth scramble just two minutes into Game 1. Held off the scoresheet in Game 2, Bergenheim dominated as the series shifted over to Tampa. He opened the scoring once again in Game 3, being denied on a scoring chance before capitalizing on a semi-breakaway seconds later. From there, Bergenheim made sure that the Lightning were on their way to a sweep, recording his first career multi-goal playoff game in the clincher. The third line, and specifically Bergenheim, were rolling and faced their biggest test yet in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Bergenheim stated the ECF the same way he started the ECSF, scoring the series-opening goal in the first period of Game 1. With three Bruins being occupied with two Bolts, Bergenheim crashed the net and fired home the rebound. That was Bergenheim's eighth goal in nine games, and the third line of Downie-Moore-Bergenheim was showing the NHL world that they were for real. After not producing in Games 2 and 3, Bergenheim found himself in another key spot: scoring the tying goal to complete a comeback from the 3-0 deficit. Once again, Bergenheim got himself in prime scoring position by being a puck hound, stripping Tomáš Kaberle of the puck behind the net, and getting open space right in front of Tim Thomas.
Unfortunately for Bergenheim, he suffered a severe lower-body after only 4:19 of ice time in Game 5. He missed Game 6 and 7, and the Lightning were shut out in a 1-0 loss in Game 7. Does Bergenheim give the Lightning that extra goal-scoring spark in Game 7? Maybe. The injury showed how important he was to the team, and it's unfortunate that his Bolts career ended that way.
Looking back over a decade later, I truly believe that the 2011 run saved hockey in Tampa after years of terrible ownership and horrific seasons. Bergenheim is a big reason why, as he scored extremely important goals to get the Lightning to that position. Even though the Lightning decided to rebuild after this run, the main pieces were in place to create some stability in Tampa's hockey market.
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