Bolts-Bruins pregame report: Is Bergeron debate becoming a distraction?

BOSTON -- There is a certain element of the absurd when it comes to the discussion of injuries and players' availability come playoff time.

Exhibit A in the Eastern Conference finals is Patrice Bergeron.

The Bruins' top two-way center and playoff points leader was injured in Game 4 of the second round against Philadelphia after a collision with Claude Giroux. Bergeron skated the past couple of days and also took part in this morning's skate with the Bruins in advance of tonight's Game 2.

But will he play?

A team source told Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com that Bergeron would not play, but would likely be available for Thursday's Game 3 in Tampa. We couldn't ask Bergeron himself, though, because he wasn't made available to the media. That's pretty standard, as injured players rarely speak to the media regardless of which team they play for.

"As far as Bergeron was concerned, I think if he's in, you're going to see him in the warm-up tonight," Boston coach Claude Julien said this morning.

But here's the question. Let's assume for a moment Julien knew he would not have Bergeron at his services as of Tuesday morning. What would the harm be in revealing that? Or conversely, if he knew Bergeron was going to play, why not tell people? Is the assumption that the less the Tampa Bay Lightning know about the Bruins' game plan, the better?

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher doesn't seem to be losing much sleep over whether Bergeron plays.

"Every time we play, we're planning for the other team to have their best players on the ice so we're never surprised or disappointed," he said this morning.

The Lightning have been pretty frank about their own injury issues this spring.

When Pavel Kubina and Simon Gagne went down with head injuries in Game 1 of their series against Washington, Boucher said the next day they wouldn't be available for Game 2. Then, when the series shifted to Tampa Bay, he announced neither would play in Games 3 and 4.

"When we can say they're not playing, we'll say it," Boucher said. "When it's day to day, sometimes it's minute to minute, and you'll know it just after the warm-up."

"We don't want to state the extent of the injuries, for obvious reasons, but it's pretty clear with Gagne and Kubina, we told everybody they weren't playing the day before because we knew they weren't going to be playing," he said. "After that we weren't sure about Gagne, but then it became obvious."

Gagne returned for Game 1 against Boston, as the Lightning had said he would in the days leading up to the start of the Eastern Conference finals. Kubina is still out and did not make the trip to Boston for the first two games of the series and does not appear to be close to a return.

We asked Julien if he knew what Bergeron's status would be and whether the coach thought there was a competitive advantage to keeping that knowledge internal.

"No comments," he replied although he did add, "Good try."

Fair enough.

Julien is not the first coach to muddy the waters on his lineup in the playoffs. And sometimes you just don't know.

We recall the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres playoff tilt in 2006 when Dominik Hasek was trying to get back into game shape after tweaking his groin at the Torino Olympics and did not play again for the rest of the regular season.

The goalie skated almost every day, and every day Ottawa coach Bryan Murray was forced to answer questions about Hasek's availability. The players were regularly asked what it would mean to have him back and what it meant that he wasn't in the lineup even though Ray Emery was playing well.

Did it affect the team's focus? Who knows, although the Senators did bow out meekly in five games.

The same dynamic exists early in the Eastern Conference finals. Bruins players have been asked about Bergeron's possible return and keenly know his absence is felt on a regular basis.

Is it a distraction? If the Bruins win Game 2 and even up this series regardless of whether Bergeron's in the line-up or not, the question is moot. If Bergeron isn't in the lineup and Boston loses, one thing is certain: the "will he play/won't he play" sideshow will live on for at least the next couple of days.