It would be nice to know what Zdeno Chara was thinking as he went through the handshake line as his season came to an end.
Unfortunately, the Washington Capitals defenseman wasn’t made available to the media after the Boston Bruins eliminated the Caps in five games Sunday night. The Bruins players who did talk after the game fielded obvious and predictable questions about the unfamiliar foe, the former B’s captain, on the other side of the sport’s most revered tradition.
It’s unrealistic to believe it was a truly bittersweet experience for Chara. It was likely far more bitter than sweet, of course. But it had to at least be somewhat gratifying to square to Patrice Bergeron, with that familiar “C” above the Spoked-B and know his former club is in a good place with Bergeron running the show.
Bergeron, unsurprisingly, had his finest game of the series in the clincher. He scored a pair of goals, won 15 of 25 faceoffs and logged 2:39 of shorthanded time as the Bruins held the NHL’s No. 3 power play to nothing on four chances. The new Bruins captain, who probably would be a decade into the role had it not been for Chara’s presence, hasn’t missed a beat with his former teammate in D.C.
In fact, the Bruins’ comfort with Bergeron’s ability to lead the group must have made it at least slightly easier to end a 14-year relationship with Chara.
Like Chara, a lot of Bergeron’s leadership skills are rooted in finding even footing with his teammates. That, of course, starts long before stepping onto the ice. Harboring an inclusive environment and making everyone feel welcomed and valued is far more important than power-play units or forechecking responsibilities.
“The most important part is to realize we’re a close group,” Bergeron said Sunday morning ahead of Game 5. “The closer we are, the more in sync, I guess, we are. the better we get along off the ice, the better it is on the ice, and we can bring the chemistry on the ice. … it’s always been the same.”
That’s not just lip service. There’s no better example of this being effective than the results seen by Taylor Hall since joining the Bruins at the trade deadline. Boston might have revitalized the former No. 1 pick’s entire career.
“Bergy is the catalyst,” Hall said earlier this month. “He’s very professional. The way he plays is something everyone should strive for, that two-way ability. There’s also, what’s the word, is it compassion — you’re allowed to be yourself here. You’re allowed to be yourself and come and laugh, have fun and joke around. But when the game starts, you’ve gotta compete, you’ve gotta play the right way, and that’s an atmosphere I’ve enjoyed. It’s not super-serious all the way. We’re not here to just do our work and leave.”
At this point in his career — Hall is playing for his fifth team in 11 years — he’s basically an expert on NHL dressing room dynamics.
“Other teams, you have to fit into the mold of the team and the personality of the team overall,” Hall added. “Here, I think guys are welcomed to be themselves and work it out that way. For me, it’s been successful so far, and that’s probably just a big reason, off-ice, being comfortable.”
That compassion Hall mentioned was a hallmark of the Chara Bruins. Bergeron has taken that torch and run with it, while also playing his typical brand of hockey.
“(He’s) a guy that has led this team for a lot of years,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Sunday night after his team closed out the Capitals. “This is his first year with the ‘C’ on it. He wants to put his signature on the club in the regular season and now the playoffs. I’m sure he’s digging a little bit deeper, if that’s possible for him, because I think he’s a guy who shows up every night and gives it everything he’s got.”
Bergeron, meanwhile, is always ready to do what a good leader should do — and share the praise.
“I feel like we’re a team where it feels special to win together, everyone chipping in and contributing. I’ve said it all along: I have a great leadership group and core that, we’re really close to each other and rely on each other to lead,” he said Sunday night.
“I’m just happy we got the win and finished it off and can look forward to moving on to Round 2.”