BOSTON — Sometimes you need your best players to play their best games when you need it the most. That’s pretty much where the Bruins were at Friday afternoon, and captain Zdeno Chara delivered.
Chara was the best player on the ice Friday afternoon as the Bruins came from behind to defeat the New York Rangers 3-2 in front of a sellout TD Garden crowd in the annual day after Thanksgiving matinee. Chara gave B’s fans plenty to be thankful for with arguably his best game of the season, no small feat in another solid season for the former Norris Trophy winner.
The big defenseman registered a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, fight and assist, each of which played a pivotal role in Boston’s ability to come back from being down 2-1 late in the first period.
There’s never been any doubting of Chara’s defensive abilities. He’s widely considered one of the best shutdown blue-liners in the game, and he remains that. What he’s done so well this season, however, is showcase a different skill set, a collection of offensive skills that have made a difference as well. He’s been able to show those skills off most on the power play, but he impressed in the offensive zone in 5-on-5 play on Friday as well.
Chara set up Brad Marchand with the first goal of the game. The big defenseman started the offensive possession by maneuvering into the slot with some nifty stickhandling before putting a shot on goal. It was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist, but Chara skated through the slot and back to the left wing where he eventually got the puck back. He passed it across the slot to Brad Marchand on the right wing, and the winger one-timed the pass for the game’s first tally.
“He’s been dangling and making some great plays,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “It seems like he’s creating some plays and really jumping on the rush and beating wingers coming at him with head fakes and he’s been playing great.
“I think you’re a little more on your heels if you’re going at him. You don’t know if he’s going to shoot all the time so that obviously makes you guess a little bit.”
Chara’s game wasn’t limited to the offensive game, though. He once again proved an unwavering willingness to stick up for his teammates. Late in the second period, a scrum developed around the middle of the net. Taking exception to a slash to David Krejci, Chara inserted himself into the middle of the gathering. Before too long, he was grabbing at New York defenseman Brian Boyle. The bodies eventually parted as Chara squared off with Boyle, throwing him around like a rag doll and getting a couple of big right hands to connect with Boyle’s face.
It was probably no coincidence that the fight came 31 seconds after Ryan McDonagh scored to give New York a 2-1 lead. Chara, who was sporting a black left eye that left him looking like a 6-foot-9 Rocky Balboa, said he was more concerned about protecting his teammate than swinging the momentum or anything like that.
“It’s part of the game, I guess,” Chara sheepishly said. “Sometimes those scrums involve little heated moments or emotions. You have to protect your best players and that situation just happened. Boyle is a really strong, tough customer and it was just one of those things that happened.”
Unsurprisingly, his teammates saw things a little bit differently.
“Like we’ve often said, he’s obviously our leader. We feed off him. When you see that fire like he had, you want to step your game up and do the same. There’s obviously no better defenseman and not better leader in my mind. It was great to see him going like that.”
Chara’s work didn’t end there, though. For good measure, the big D-man uncorked one of his patented slap shots from the top of the slot in the third period. The blast beat Lundqvist to give the Bruins, who tied the game with a goal from Bergeron in the opening minutes of the third period, the 3-2 lead. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It was especially important for the Bruins to have a good showing after Wednesday night. On Thanksgiving Eve in Detroit, the Bruins were run out of the building, losers of a 6-1 blowout to the Red Wings. They needed to be better Friday, and they were, and much of that was spearheaded by Chara.
“We didn’t feel good about our game [after Wednesday night],” Chara admitted. “It was just one of those nights where we didn’t execute anything and nothing was really happening for us. Detroit played really well and they deserved to win that game, but those kind of games do happen and it’s just the way you have to bounce back and regroup from nights like that. I thought today obviously we did a pretty good job.”
Coming off of their worst loss in a really long time, Chara was at his absolute best Friday afternoon, which is just what the Bruins needed.