BOSTON — Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara won’t be around forever, and the B’s are about to get a glimpse of what life without the captain could be like.
Chara played his final game before the Olympic break Tuesday night as the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 at TD Garden. The club has two more games before the league-wide break, but Chara is leaving early to serve as the flag bearer for Slovakia at the opening ceremony. That means the Bruins will play their next two games without one of the best defensive players in the world.
Claude Julien’s bunch will have to find a way to make up for the 25:57 average ice time that Chara logs every night. It’s fitting that Chara’s last game before the break showed his importance, as the Boston blue liner logged some heavy minutes against Vancouver’s top line featuring Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Unsurprisingly, that line was kept off the stat sheet Tuesday night, thanks in large part to another great shutdown effort from Chara.
The Bruins, as expected, will use a team effort to try to fill in for Chara’s minutes Thursday against St. Louis and Saturday against Ottawa. The B’s recently recalled David Warsofsky from Providence, and he’ll be back in the lineup for the next two games. He’s obviously not being called upon to replace Chara, as every player will need to chip in and pick up his game.
“I think everyone will [be given more minutes],” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said after Tuesday’s win. “They are going to expect a lot out of me. As a defense corps, we have to step up and not try to replace what [Chara] brings to the table, but just step your game up individually and just try and keep it simple out there.”
Boychuk, who played one of his best games of the season Tuesday, might be the one who sees the biggest bump in minutes, too. With Chara out of the picture and Dennis Seidenberg out for the season, Boychuk becomes the resident old man on the Boston blue line. The 30-year-old has the most NHL experience of those in the mix, and he’ll have to be the anchor for the final two games.
“I just realized that today,” Boychuk said of his temporary seniority. “These guys that we have back here, they don’t play like rookies, that’s for sure. I am pretty sure that they will do a great job.”
That is certainly true. The injuries the Bruins have faced — especially on the back end — have forced some players to grow up quickly. That’s led to opportunities for players like Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski, who have seemingly improved every night. They’ll get their latest chances to make an impact as they see greater minutes and roles in Chara’s absence.
“As much as [Chara] is a big part of that back end, other guys have done a great job in making our whole D-corps pretty solid,” Julien said. “So I would have to expect the same thing. But we all know that when you lose a guy like Zdeno, it’s a big, big piece of your team. And then you move forward with it, and to me it’s an opportunity for us to maybe even [see] more how good we are as a team rather than looking at just individuals.”