Bergenheim not feeling any pressure
Tampa Bay surprise story Sean Bergenheim wanted to be a goalie when he first started playing hockey, and the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins undoubtedly wished he had pursued that plan.
Bergenheim has raised his profile among hockey observers with seven goals in 11 playoff games, helping Tampa Bay knock off their two opponents to earn an Eastern Conference final berth.
Bergenheim has never scored more than 15 in a regular season, which included nearly four years with the New York Islanders and this year, his first with Tampa Bay.
A few other impressive parts of the offensive outburst — this is his first NHL postseason experience, he didn't find the mark until Game 4 of the first round against Pittsburgh, and all of his goals have been even strength.
The Lightning swept the Eastern Conference champion Capitals out of the playoffs on Wednesday, and the team's unlikeliest hero spoke to the media on a conference call a day later.
"It doesn't help to take too much stress," he said. "You just have to play relaxed and I think that's something I've been fairly happy about with my own game, to play relaxed. I think that's been a big key."
Fairly happy? If Bergenheim gets ecstatic with his game, the Lightning could well be hoisting their second Stanley Cup in seven years.
The Lightning have won seven games in a row against the higher-seeded teams, a rare achievement in the playoffs (the all-time single playoff winning streak is 11, held by three teams).
"We did play a little bit nervous [at the beginning]," admitted Bergenheim.
Bergenheim said it's indispensable to have leaders like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, who were part of the franchise's 2004 championship team. Those veterans helped relax the younger players when they were down 3-1 in games to Pittsburgh.
For his part, St. Louis is not surprised the 27-year-old Finn is flourishing.
"Bergie's a warrior. You can't say that game he didn't work hard [this season] ... he leaves it out there every game," said St. Louis in a separate conference call.
Bergenheim didn't get much big game action during his time with the lowly Islanders, but has participated in several world championships at various levels for his native Finland since he was 17.
He grew up in the Helsinki suburb Espo, and idolized not only countryman Teemu Selanne, but non-Finns like Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros.
It would be a stretch to say he plays like any of those three players, but he's found his niche in Florida as a dependable two-way player.
New York selected him 22nd overall in 2002, but the sides parted ways last summer. Bergenheim said Tampa Bay was one of the teams he targeted as a fit, and was thrilled when there was mutual interest.
The Lightning paid the relative bargain price of $700,000 US, and he'll be an unrestricted free agent come July 1.
"When you focus on what you're going to do, or what you should do, you don't think about the pressure ... ," he said of why he's been able to pot seven goals with one assist in the last eight games.
Demonstrating a similar attitude as Finns such as Esa Tikkanen and Jarkko Ruutu displayed in the playoffs, Bergenheim said it was fun to be out there when the intensity ratchets up and players "get pissed at each other."
You might expect Bergenheim to want to keep playing to stay in a groove, but the forward said he welcomed what could be a significant break after a span on five games in eight days.
Besides, he said, he expects the next series to be the most physical due to the potential opponents (Boston or Philadelphia).
It's only the halfway mark of the playoffs for Tampa Bay, but with the play of this cool customer, they just might make it to the finish.