TAMPA — When doctors gave Patrice Bergeron  the go-ahead, he was 100 percent confident that he would be 100 percent when he stepped on the ice Thursday night for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning.
“I was confident that I was ready, and the doctors and trainers were in the same boat as me,” Bergeron said. “So, it was time for me to be out there.”
Most importantly, there was zero hesitation from his coach.
“Not at all, as far as the hit was concerned,” Claude Julien  said. “If that would have been a concern, I don’t think we would have dressed him tonight. When we decided to dress him, he was 100 percent. And we felt confident about that.
So that hit certainly wasn’t a concern, and when I spoke to Patrice today, when he was cleared, my first question to him was, ‘Are you comfortable coming back?’ And there was no doubt in his mind. He said, ‘I’m fine, I’m ready to go.’ And that was something that was important, I guess, for everybody.”
Bergeron played his first game since sustaining a mild concussion on a hit by Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 6.
“Obviously I wasn’t very happy,” Bergeron said. “I was pretty disappointed, especially at that time of the year. You know, you want to be out there, you want to help your team.
So I was pretty happy with that big win. Gave me some time to, first of all, to rest, but don’t also miss — I didn’t miss too much time, which I was pretty happy. And obviously that first night was frustrating, and it was hard to take.
“But I thought I stayed pretty positive in the process again. And, I mean, obviously it’s behind me. I’m looking forward and I’m happy it was mild like it was.”
And while he didn’t score, his presence was more than felt on the ice for all of his 29 shifts in 19 minutes. Julien and Tim Thomas  both pointed to his presence for a renewed dedication to defensive principles in Boston’s 2-0 win that leaves them just two wins shy of their first Stanley Cup  finals since 1990.
“I really liked the way he played,” Julien said. “Obviously, you see the difference he can make for our hockey club faceoff-wise, but also his responsibility at both ends of the ice. His line was definitely better. His linemates obviously felt comfortable because they’ve been with him all year. So there was some chemistry there. And that certainly helped us tonight. I liked the fact that we had our four lines that were pretty stable and pretty good for us and very reliable.”
“He’s very good, not just at both ends of the ice but just in all areas of the arena, whether it’s in the faceoff circle or in our defensive corner, in the offensive corner, all over the place,” Thomas said. “And it was great to have him back. The most important thing is his health. So when I saw him get hit there against Philadelphia, it wasn’t a fun thing for me to watch, and I’m just glad that he’s feeling better.
“But since he is feeling better, he’s back and he definitely made a difference for us like he always does, and like he has been this whole playoffs. He’s one of the best, if not the best, player on the team.”
Added Bergeron, “I felt pretty good out there. I was pretty happy to be back to help the team. And, no, I didn’t know which game, it was more a matter of taking it a day at a time. And it felt good for the past week. So I decided I was ready to go, and I had some practices this week. And I had a little bit of contact with the extra guys on game day last game. And I felt good.”
After his health, the most important aspect of Bergeron’s return Thursday was his lack of hesitation of taking a hit in the heat of battle.
“It was,” Bergeron said. “But at the same time, I wasn’t worried. I was confident. I was ready. I was back 100 percent. And when you’re like that in your mind, you know you’re fine. I wasn’t really worried about that first hit. I knew I was going to be all right.”