BOSTON – No one who knows the man was surprised by the scene, and yet it was hard not to gasp just a little as Zdeno Chara strode out from the Boston Bruins dressing room for Thursday’s morning skate, two-and-a-half days after suffering a broken jaw.
The term warrior gets thrown around loosely in sport, but seeing the oldest NHLer trying to prepare himself for Game 5, it was the first that pops to mind.
“It’s just ingrained in him. When you hear the stories of how he was brought up. He was brought up as a tough, hardworking person,” Brad Marchand said.
“He wants to win more than anything, and he shows that every single night. You never know what he’s playing through — he keeps everything quiet and to him, and he’s not worried about complaining about injuries or anything like that. He’s willing to play with one leg, one arm. It doesn’t matter. He’s out there working as hard as he can and sacrificing his body because he knows, at the end of the day, you win — it’s worth everything you go through.
“Not everyone has that. You can’t teach that; you can’t push that on people. It’s either in you or it’s not. He’s able to play through pain, a lot more pain than most people. Probably anyone in this league. It’s incredible to see. I know I couldn’t do what he does.”
Chara skated around and fired pucks while wearing a shield and clear jaw protector.
The first worry was that he might have suffered a concussion as well. He didn’t.
If the doctors clear him to play Thursday night, he will.
Chara only communicated to reporters through a couple written responses, downplaying his extraordinary durability and concerns that he might reinjure his face by throwing it in the way of the Blues’ relentless forecheck.
“At this time of the playoffs, everyone has injuries and there are challenges that you have to overcome to play,” Chara said, via the club. “I’m no different than any player on either team.”
Tell that to teammate John Moore, who thoughtfully considered his captain.
“Much is made of his professionalism, his toughness, his approach, but until you see that in the flesh, you have a whole other appreciation for it,” Moore said.
“The guy’s 42. When I’m 42, I’m certainly not going to be the first guy in the gym, weighing all my food, squatting the most on the team. Those are all things you respect.
“What he’s going through, that’s something I’ll tell my kids about when they wake up with a fever and don’t want to go to school. Those are life lessons that I’ll carry long beyond hockey, that I’m very grateful to have with Zee.”
Dunn empathizes with Chara
In a cruel twist of symmetry, St. Louis defenceman Vince Dunn returned from his own face injury the night Chara suffered his.
“I really feel for him,” said a sincere Dunn, who can relate. “It’s not easy to see. It’s not easy to feel that. I’ve felt the same thing, so I feel bad for him and hope he’s doing OK.”
The 22-year-old tried describing the pain of a puck smashing your mouth, speaking for a man who can barely talk.
“At first you don’t really know what’s happened. It’s just a shock to your face. You look down and you see blood in your hands, so I think overall it’s just a pretty big shock to yourself,” Dunn said. “It’s scary. You feel a little helpless at the start, but there are lots of support and guys pick you up.”
Sidelined since halfway through the Western Conference final, Dunn made an immediate impact in Game 4, setting up Ryan O’Reilly’s opening-minute goal and delivering a sorely needed offensive push from the back. Captain Alex Pietrangelo says the perfect word to describe Dunn is dynamic.
“I had so much energy inside of myself that going out for that first shift, my legs were just shaking. It was just a lot of excitement. There’s no real way to prepare yourself for a game like that. You can practice and do all the things off the ice to try to get yourself prepared, but until you’re out there and until you get into the flow of the game, that’s when you start to get the hang of it,” Dunn said.
“I just bring a little more dynamic to the back end. I like to create. I like to quick-up pucks. I like to be that next wave of offence. It’s a series where they’re pressuring very hard, so as quickly as we can we need to get it into the forward’s hands, get through that neutral zone and onto the forecheck. If I can be a part of that, that’s great.”
Bruins weighing options on defence
Starting with Charlie McAvoy, head coach Bruce Cassidy publicly challenged his healthy defencemen to elevate their play in light of all the injuries.
At Wednesday’s practice, the D pairing looked like this:
With both Chara and Matt Grzelcyk (concussion) game-time decisions, 30-year-old journeyman Steven Kampfer is a good bet to make his Cup Final debut. Kampfer scored once in the two playoff games he’s been used this year.
Prospect Urho Vaakanainen hasn’t played a game in 41 days, and that was in the AHL. He’s a long shot.
Cassidy is still considering going with seven defencemen for insurance, in which case David Backes, who played a team-low 9:09 in Game 4, would be the best bet to get scratched.
Edmundson out, Bortuzzo in
Edmundson was hardly used in Game 4’s victory (7:24) and is a minus-3 in the series.
“It’s been very good, the competition. We’ve used everybody — that’s what you need to do in the playoffs,” Berube said. “All the guys realize it. They care about each other.
“You don’t have to be happy about it, but you still have to be a good teammate, and they have been very good that way. It’s great to have the depth.”
Goalie Jordan Binnington believes the 6-foot-4 Bortuzzo can play a key role in front of him.
“He’s a great role guy, a great shot blocker for us,” Binnington said. “It’s good to have him back.”
Bruins’ second line gets called out—and rightly so
The highest-paid Bruin, centre David Krejci, has zero points in the Cup Final and zero goals in the past two series.
Left winger Jake DeBrusk has scored just once in 11 games.
Right winger David Backes has one point in the past two series.
The Bruins’ supposed second unit has been taking on water, and it’s a problem that has been addressed in meetings and video sessions over the two off-days.
“It’s been frustrating personally for me all playoffs. But in saying that, it’s not about personal achievements right now,” says DeBrusk, who has three post-season goals. He had six last year and only played two rounds.
“We feel it. We play the game. We understand that we need to do more out there. It’s a matter of timing plays and execution as well. It could be as simple as a chipped puck that doesn’t get in the right area—next thing you know, you’re playing in the D zone. Credit St. Louis. They’ve done a good job.”
Cassidy said Backes does his thing, but DeBrusk needs to use his speed to get on the inside more.
“Typically Krejci is very receptive, but he still likes to play his way. We’re going to have to be halfway on that, then go from there,” Cassidy said. “We have to find a way to get them back feeling good about their game.”
Blues are the ultimate road warriors
Despite their rabid fan support at Enterprise Center, the Blues have enjoyed much more success in enemy territory in these playoffs. The Blues are 8-3 record as visitors. Only five teams in NHL history have earned more road wins in a single playoff year.
“When you’re on the road, you have no one to impress,” Brayden Schenn explained. “You come out, you play for one another, you keep it simple. And I think we’ve done a good job of that during the playoffs.”