BOSTON — For a few hours at least, Zdeno Chara could turn his focus back to the game.
While the controversy over his hit on Max Pacioretty on Tuesday, the league's decision not to suspend him and Montreal authorities' pursuit of a criminal investigation of the incident continued to rage throughout the hockey world, Chara returned to the ice to face the Buffalo Sabres Thursday at the Garden.
The Bruins fell 4-3 in overtime, but Chara appreciated the chance to get back to the game he loves.
"It's obviously one of the things that I love to do," Chara said. "Playing hockey is obviously my most important thing, and to be on the ice that's for sure where I feel most comfortable."
Making him feel a little more comfortable was a sold-out crowd of 17,565 at the Garden which cheered Chara whenever he touched the puck early in the contest.
Not everyone was as easy on Chara. There was little doubt that the officials were keeping a close eye on the Bruins captain. Boston was called for eight minor penalties in the game and were down two men twice. One of those penalties was a questionable boarding minor on Chara early in the second period.
"The referee made a call," Chara said. "I have to respect that. There's nothing I can do about it. … I thought the guys did a great job to kill that. We spent most of the second period on our heels, killing penalties. Then we got going."
The tight officiating and ongoing controversy didn't appear to outwardly affect Chara's game, and he vowed that he won't change his physical approach. He led all players in ice time at 25:54 and was a plus-2 with two assists, three shots, two hits and two blocked shots. He sent a message early with a hit on Jason Pominville that his game would be the same as it always was.
"I don't see any reason to change my game, my style of play," Chara said. "I'm going to continue to play physical and play hard. That's my game. I don't see any reason for any change."
Depending on the results of the criminal investigation, Chara may still face consequences for the hit that left Pacioretty with a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra. Chara doesn't believe it should be a matter for the courts, but he reiterated his remorse over Pacioretty's injury and his desire to speak with the Canadiens' forward.
"It's something that for sure shouldn't go that far," Chara said of the investigation. "It's very unfortunate. I keep repeating that. I feel bad about it. You don't want to see anybody get hurt. … We all feel bad about it. It doesn't matter if it's a rivalry or not a rivalry, we all want to see the guy recover.
"I will try to reach out to him and talk with him either over the phone or try to see him in person," Chara added. "But I totally understand and respect that now he needs time and space and be around his family. I'm sure when the time is right I'll reach out to him."
That potential reconciliation will have to wait. On Thursday, it was just a matter of putting the distractions aside and getting back to work, even if just for a few hours.
"I thought he handled himself well today," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "With everything that's going on it hasn't been easy on anybody. We keep mentioning that we understand what the other guy is going through, but our guy, as he mentioned several times, did not deliberately do it. So when you don't do something deliberate and you understand some people are accusing you of it, it's not easy to deal with. And the way he handled himself tonight, he deserves a lot of credit."