But the Boston captain will likely miss at least some time after being described as day to day by coach Claude Julien on Monday. Chara isn't expected to play Tuesday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Garden, and his status for the club's ensuing road trip to Ottawa on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Saturday is undetermined.
So how do the Bruins cope without their defensive leader, even if just for a few games?
First, they don't panic. The Bruins aren't focusing on who might be out of the lineup in the coming days. Instead, they are relying on the ability of the players they will have available.
"When other guys go down, it's just part of the deal," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said after the club practiced without Chara Monday at Ristuccia Arena. "The guys don't make a big deal out of it. He's going to come back. So guys just go out and play their game the same way they would have before except probably with more minutes, and that's about it. But it's not like when Zee's in the lineup we get to play at 70 percent. You're playing hard whether a good player is in the game or not. You're just doing your part."
Ference stressed the need for the Bruins not to try to do too much to make up for Chara's absence. No one individually is going to be able to bring everything to the game that Chara does, but collectively the defense corps of Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Ference, Joe Corvo, Adam McQuaid and now Steven Kampfer should have the depth to withstand his loss, at least in the short term.
"Collectively you just keep doing what you do well," Ference said. "It's not about trying to come in and do what he does. Everybody is good in their own right and plays the game the right way, so it's just a matter of a couple guys will probably get a bit more ice time, but they're not changing their game or doing anything outside of what their strengths were before."
The biggest strength of the Bruins is the system they play, and that won't change even without Chara.
"Not at all, we don't believe in changing our game because one guy is out," Julien said. "We play the same way. We just need guys to step up and be able to fill in some of the minutes that he takes during the game and that's as far as we'll go with an injury."
Julien did admit that Chara's absence does cause more of a ripple effect than most. He leads the Boston defense with 6-13-19 totals, tops the team in ice time (24:48) and shots (85), is second in hits (59) and leads all NHL defenseman (and is second only to Tyler Seguin among all skaters) in plus/minus with a plus-18 through 28 games.
"When you lose a key player, it's a big void," Julien said. "But other teams, including ourselves, have dealt with that in the past. There's nothing more you can do about it. To say he leaves a big void, doesn't mean we can't fill it. We feel right now that we have enough guys that can come in and do the job. We don't feel it's going to be a factor. We certainly not going to come out at the end of a game and say we didn't win this because Zdeno wasn't in the lineup. Our group is a good enough group that we can still overcome those kinds of injuries."
The Bruins are confident they will find a way to pick up the slack without Chara. They don't have an alternative for as long as he is out, and they welcome the challenge. That includes Seidenberg, who is second to Chara in ice time at 24:12, and that number is sure to rise in the coming games.
"I don't really have a choice," Seidenberg said. "I like challenges. I think every guy on the blue line likes challenges. We're all ready for it. It will be tougher without him obviously, but it's something everybody is looking forward to."
The Bruins don't have a lot of experience playing without Chara. Since he signed with Boston in 2006, Chara has missed just 12 regular-season games in five-plus seasons. He's also missed just one playoff game in that span, sitting out Game 2 of the opening round against Montreal last spring after being hospitalized for dehydration.
The Bruins lost that game to fall into an 0-2 hole against the Habs, before rallying to win that series and eventually claiming the club's first Cup in 39 years with Chara and Seidenberg united on the top defense pairing leading the way. Still, the Bruins are confident they can cope without their captain for at least a little while, in part because of the experience and confidence they gained in that Cup run.
"He's an important player, but it's one of those things that every team goes through," Ference said. "And the good teams with depth and that have a strong system and good confidence in what they're doing have a lot easier time dealing with those things. I think we're one of those teams that has that, so [Chara's absence] is definitely not going to be used as an excuse, that's for sure."
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