But the Bruins might face an even bigger challenge off the ice, dealing with all the hoopla and hysteria that will surround their first-round series with the Habs.
Any meeting with Montreal, especially in the playoffs, creates an intense atmosphere. But this particular clash has some added spice to it, as the Bruins will make their first trip back to Montreal since Zdeno Chara‘s controversial hit on Max Pacioretty when the series shifts north of the border for Games three and four.
“I expect there to be a heightened sense of emotion from the media, from the fans, just from people walking around the city,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said in a conference call on Monday afternoon. “I don’t anticipate any security concerns. You’ve seen how emotional it gets up there, so I think it’s going to be a bit of a frenzy. We’re preparing for it, and whatever happens. We’ll deal with it.”
No one has dealt with it better than Chara himself. He was not fined or suspended for the hit that drove Pacioretty into a stanchion between the benches on March 8, but has been vilified by much of the hockey media, especially in Canada, and subjected to verbal abuse almost everywhere he’s played since the incident. That reaction will reach new heights, or more likely lows, when he makes his first return to Montreal in this series.
“I was really impressed with the way that he handled it and the way that he played,” Chiarelli said. “His play didn’t falter. He gets booed pretty much everywhere in the Northeast anyways, so I don’t think that was too much of a change for him.”
Chara actually improved his play down the stretch. Up through that March 8 game in Montreal, Chara had managed just 1-7-8 totals and was a plus-1 with 35 penalty minutes in 21 games after his hat trick against Carolina on Jan. 17. In his 15 games since, Chara has 3-9-12 totals and is a plus-12 with just six PIMs.
Overall, he finished the regular season with 14-30-44 totals and led the NHL with a plus-33 despite usually playing against the opposition’s top forwards and playing a team-high 25:26 a game. Chara also dished out 153 hits, blocked 111 shots and led the Bruins with 264 shots, building a resume that Chiarelli believes warrants consideration for a second Norris Trophy as the league’s top defensemen in the last three years.
“I think this guy should be a strong Norris candidate,” Chiarelli said. “I think he’s been very good this year. This [Pacrioretty] incident may overshadow the fact that he’s deserving of a candidacy for the Norris. Again, I think he’s had a real strong year. His game is not sexy, but his game is really, really effective and he’s shown again this year that he can play at that level and he continues to play at that level. But I was really impressed with the way he finished off after that incident.”
The fallout from the hit on Pacrioretty isn’t over. While the league chose not to discipline Chara, the Montreal police did launch an investigation into the incident. That investigation remains open, but the Bruins don’t expect any issues with the authorities when they return to Montreal.
“They’ve been very good, the authorities up there, and I don’t anticipate [any issues],” Chiarelli said. “Nothing untoward will happen when we get up there.”