BOSTON — Zdeno Chara walked to the podium for postgame news conference Thursday night with almost a little bit of a jump in his step. You would certainly understand if the big fella was lumbering a little, though.
That’s because the Bruins captain had just played an astounding 38 minutes and two seconds of hockey in Boston’s 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their second-round series. But there Chara was, taking what seemed like just a leisurely stroll into the press conference room to field questions from the waiting media, like it was just another day.
He did so wearing the custom-made Army Rangers jacket that the club hands out among themselves to the player of the game following each win. Chara certainly earned it in Game 1. The 36-year-old buoyed a makeshift defensive corps for the Bruins that had a trio of young defensemen, including two players who were in Providence last week and a rookie who can barely vote, let alone drink.
Chara’s Herculean effort is even more impressive when you consider he was doing so just 72 hours after logging 35:46 of ice time in a Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’m just trying to help the team as much as I can,” Chara flatly stated. “Whatever [head coach Claude Julien] feels comfortable putting me out there, I’m fine with that.”
Chara obviously did that and more in Game 1, but most importantly, he was a stabilizing influence on the Bruins’ back end. Those minutes are obviously huge, but they’re even bigger when Chara is logging them for a defensive corps featuring the likes of Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski instead of battled-tested veterans like Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden.
It’s no surprise that on a night that Chara played so well and so much that the aforementioned trio of rookies also stepped their game up a bit.
“Any time you have young players put in a role like this, it’s not easy,” Chara said. “They handled it pretty good. They tried to play a simple game and it’s working. I’m sure it’s going to be more challenging, but we just gotta help them out as much as we can.”
Helping those rookies along isn’t necessarily something Chara has to do, but then again, it does kind of come with the territory as the team’s captain and a perennial Norris Trophy contender.
“You try to talk to them on the ice as much as you can,” Chara said of trying to help the youngsters along. “The coaches do their part also. Also, you’ve gotta let them play. The way they naturally like to play, so that’s the biggest thing. Like I said, it’s something that’s never easy for any player to come in and be put in a spot like this. We’ve gotta make sure as a unit of five that we all play a certain way to make it easier on certain situations.”
No doubt that impact is felt by Chara’s young apprentices.
“It’s huge,” Bartkowski said of Chara’s impact. “If we didn’t have a guy who could log all those minutes — I’m dead tired and I can’t imagine what he feels like. That’s huge, and he performs every shift. It’s not like he’s just out there taking up space. It’s huge for the team.”
Of course, Chara’s Game 1 wasn’t just logging big minutes, shutting down New York’s top forwards and doing some on-ice mentoring. Chara logged big, heavy minutes, but they were good minutes. He scored the team’s first goal, added an assist, put a game-high nine shots on goal, had six hits and was a plus-2. He also made a crucial poke check that led to Brad Marchand‘s game-winner in overtime.
It’s another ho-hum effort for one of the game’s best defenseman, another effort that won’t ever be overlooked by anyone in the Bruins’ dressing room or coaching staff.
“Zdeno does those things over and over and that’s why I said to people that even though he hasn’t been nominated for a Norris [lately], he’s our Norris Trophy winner every year by the amount he’s played and the way he’s played,” Julien said. “The players he plays against, and he continues to do that. We appreciate that kind of play from him a lot. This is the kind of thing you get from Zdeno and [Thursday] wasn’t any different. “