One common denominator among all Stanley Cup-caliber teams is a No. 1 defenseman who positively impacts the game at both ends of the ice, especially in the defensive zone and on special teams.
For the Boston Bruins, that man is 6-foot-9 captain Zdeno Chara, who proved why he deserves to win this year’s Norris Trophy during his team’s 1-0 victory Thursday night over the Montreal Canadiens that tied their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series at two games apiece.
From the opening faceoff, Chara was dominant and didn’t give an inch anywhere on the Bell Centre ice.
“Obviously, this one was very important,” Chara told reporters after Game 4. “You want to even up the series, you don’t want to be down two games, that’s not a good position to be in. We realized that, and we worked really hard for it. It was a very even game. It was scoreless until overtime and then we finally got one in on (Candiens goalie Carey) Price on a third effort.”
Defensively, Chara was a rock. Whether it was standing guys up at the blue line (see GIF below), taking away time and space quickly, using his long reach to break up passes, clearing traffic from Tuukka Rask’s crease or excelling on the penalty kill, Chara led one of the better defensive performances we’ve seen from Boston this postseason. He also had a game-high six hits with three blocked shots.
Chara did all of this against top competition, too, evidenced by his 29.5 QoC rating. Only Torey Krug faced better opponents (30.5 QoC) in Game 4 among B’s D-men.
Chara was tasked with shutting down the Canadiens’ highly skilled line of Thomas Vanek, Tomas Plekanec and Michael Bournival. He succeeded by limiting their scoring chances, not allowing them to score and owning the possession battle.
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A deeper look into Chara’s Game 4 performance shows how important he was offensively. His incredible 70.1 corsi-for percentage (puck-possession stat) illustrates how often Boston controlled play and generated attacking zone pressure when he was on the ice.
The B’s also averaged 23.9 percent more shots when the captain was on the ice, and his accurate first passes out of the defensive zone helped the Bruins start the rush up ice and gain clean entry into Montreal’s zone. Helping the Bruins maintain possession is one of the underrated aspects of Chara’s game. He handles the puck extremely well for someone his size.
Having an all-around defenseman of Chara’s caliber is a gigantic advantage for the Bruins. He’s one of the few players capable of shutting down multiple elite forwards while also making an impact offensively. He’s always well positioned, rarely takes chances and consistently makes the smart, simple play in his own zone.
Chara’s true value was on full display in Game 4, and as long as he’s not battling an injury or overworked in the team’s remaining playoff games by playing too many minutes, the Bruins’ defense should give the team a good chance to win each night.
Advanced stats via ExtraSkater.com. GIFs via Twitter/@MyRegularFace.