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(Bruce Bennett/2011 Getty Images)
(Bruce Bennett/2011 Getty Images)

Bolts' Bergenheim breaks out as playoff scoring star Add to ...

A few little known facts about Sean Bergenheim, the Tampa Bay Lightning forward playing the part of Chris Kontos or John Druce in these playoffs - someone who produces modest offensive numbers in the regular season, but is suddenly tied for the playoff goal-scoring lead with seven.

Bergenheim is a Finn, not a Swede, grew up in Helsinki, and played for the Jokerit junior team at the same time as Teemu Selanne was finishing up with the senior team. The fact that he is one goal ahead of Selanne in playoff scoring is something of a personal achievement, given that he (along with Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros ) was his hero growing up. Bergenheim originally wanted to be a goaltender, to follow in his hockey-playing father's footsteps, but enrolled in figure skating at the age of three and ultimately started out as a position player.

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He is a former first-round draft choice (22nd overall by the 2002 New York Islanders) and spent enough time playing in the Islanders' organization to know exactly what they were getting when goaltender Dwayne Roloson came aboard in a mid-season trade.

Last summer, when he knew wasn't going back to the Island, he made a list of teams that might need what he provides - a role player, usually on the third line - and the Lightning was near the top of his preferred destinations. When he learned they were also interested in him, negotiations eventually took place and resulted in him signing a one-year contract with the team.

Still, there was nothing in Bergenheim's modest regular-season resume (14 goals, 15 assists in 80 games) to suggest that he would be one of the scoring stars of the first half of the 2011 playoffs. And yet, there he is, with seven goals in 11 games, as the Lightning are through to the conference final and await the winner of the Boston Bruins-Philadelphia Flyers' series.

Bergenheim is a thoughtful man and that comes through on a conference call, when he is asked to explain what accounts for his improved scoring. He begins by saying that he'd had one run like this before - when he scored a career-high 15 in his next-to-last season with the Islanders and he started to feel some confidence around the net in the final two months.

"I'm older and I understand what we're doing right as a line and why I'm getting these chances," said Bergenheim.

When asked to explain further, Bergenheim said there were two - no three reasons - to explain his scoring breakthrough. The first related to linemates Dominic Moore and Steve Downie, the chemistry they've developed and how they're trying to find him on the ice. The last was that he's relaxed more around the goal, not pressing as hard to finish as he was in the past. "And by relaxed, I don't mean I wouldn't be playing aggressive. I want to be first on the puck. But in the past, maybe I've been too tense before in my game."

But the second reason was perhaps the most illuminating because it required an adjustment in his own style and acknowledged the changing nature of goaltending as well. Nowadays, goalies are all seemingly able to go post-to-post in a hurry, and they're all able to their pads down flat on the ice, covering everything down low. Bergenheim figured that in the past, he was frequently in too tight most times to generate any really good scoring chances because there was nothing to shoot at.

"One mindset I've been working on is not being too close to the net," Bergenheim explained. "That's something I've tried to get rid of for a long time, but I think some of these goals that I've scored, I've been a little bit further away from the net, which has given me better angles to shoot at. Maybe I've been a little more open so my linemates have found me better."

Of course, sustaining their momentum in the next round will be the trick for the Lightning who could be off a long time now, depending upon how the other series unfold. But after playing five games in eight nights, Bergenheim figured the Lightning can use the rest right now and then it's back to the task at hand and building on their seven-game win streak. For all their playoff scoring heroics, Kontos and Druce didn't win Stanley Cups in the end. That's the only part of the story Bergenheim wants to change.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

 

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