WILMINGTON, Mass. — Zdeno Chara is ready to face whatever the Montreal Canadiens throw at him Thursday night. After all, it can't be much tougher than surviving Wednesday's grilling at the hands of the Montreal media.
The Canadiens' press corps was out in force for the Bruins' practice at Ristuccia Arena, and they were all here to speak to one man. Chara has been Public Enemy No. 1 in the Province of Quebec since his hit sent Habs forward Max Pacioretty first into the stanchion between the benches, then into a hospital bed in the clubs' last meeting at the Bell Centre on March 8.
Pacioretty hasn't played since, though he is recovering more quickly than originally expected and may return in the postseason after suffering a severe concussion and fractured vertebra. Chara hasn't missed a game since the incident, as he was not suspended for the play, further drawing the ire of the Montreal fans and media and even leading Montreal police to open a criminal investigation.
According to TSN's Darren Dreger, Chara hasn't spoken with police yet, but he did get the third degree from the Montreal media on Wednesday.
Among the inquiries was Chara's reaction to the heavy criticism he has received from the Montreal fans and media.
"It's tough to really address that," Chara said. "I don't know if I should even try. It's one of those things that probably right now they believe in one thing and it's really hard to explain that it just happened. It's a really bad accident. Unfortunately a very bad one. I don't think, even in a rivalry, nobody is trying to hurt anybody or do something to harm anybody. It's just sometimes the extensions and nets and doors and all those things, they are in the way and it's just very unfortunate that we run into them. I can't control what they talk about or what they say about me. I just have to focus on my game."
That focus will be tested on Thursday, in what promises to be a very highly-charged and emotional matchup. Beyond the back story of Chara's hit and the 182 penalty minutes of the previous meeting at the Garden, the game will also go a long way toward determining the Northeast Division crown and could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.
"You just have to be in control," Chara said. "Obviously it's part of the game, to be emotional and play with a lot of energy, but you have to keep the emotions bottled up and not let the emotions take over the game."
The two points on the line will be the primary focus for both teams, but Chara knows the Canadiens might also be seeking some payback for his hit on Pacioretty.
"I don't know," Chara said when asked about the possibility. "Obviously we'll see."
Bruins coach Claude Julien deferred those questions to the Canadiens.
"I don't know," Julien said. "You're going to have to ask them that question because the retribution would be coming from them, wouldn't it?"
Julien did offer some praise of how Chara has handled the situation and his play amid the ongoing controversy.
"Zee's fine," Julien said. "I liked his game [Tuesday]. Didn't anybody else? I think he was pretty solid. He's handled himself as good as he can. He's fine. I think in moving forward here there's a lot for us to work on and build on, and that's what we're doing now and that's what our focus is."
Pacioretty is also moving forward in his recovery, which was welcome news to Chara and the rest of the Bruins.
"Obviously I'm glad that he's doing much better and he's probably going to be playing [again] based on the reports that we heard," Chara said. "I'm glad that he's going to be fine. That's good news."
Julien echoed those sentiments.
"You're glad to hear those kinds of things," Julien said. "Right from the get-go we said those are things we don't like to see in our sport, having guys injured. We've had a lot of our players go through the same thing. I think it's pretty universal that the players don't want to see those kind of injuries, so when there's good news that comes about they're happy for the player. There's no doubt that was good news to everybody's ears."
Chara also reiterated that he has reached out to Pacioretty, but he's yet to speak with him since the incident.
"I made a few attempts and I'm waiting for him to respond back," Chara said. "But so far nothing."
Chara could get a different kind of response on Thursday from the rest of the Canadiens, but he's ready for that too.
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