Zdeno Chara has led the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup finals in his time with the team. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
CHICAGO – Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara are really good pals, next door neighbors in the summers in Bratislava and teammates countless times for the Slovaks in international competition. Hossa figures he might have a way of breaking Chara down during this year’s Stanley Cup final.
“He’s so serious on and off the ice,” Hossa said. “I might try to tell him a few jokes out on the ice and see how that works.”
Can you just imagine? “Hey, Zdeno, two Slovaks walk into a bar…” The way Chara has asserted himself over these playoffs, anything is worth a try. The fact is, The Chara Factor looms enormously over this final, with the Blackhawks facing the task of trying to break him down. They even resorted to changing up their lines in practice Tuesday, splitting up the top line of Jonathan Toews between Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell, placing Michal Handzus between Kane and Bickell and putting Toews with Hossa and Patrick Sharp. Whether that was pre-series gamesmanship or an attempt to keep at least one of Toews and Kane away from Chara, it provides a good illustration of the effect Chara has on his opponents.
“You can’t break Chara down,” said Bruins teammate Tyler Seguin. “We call him a mutant because he does un-human type things.”
Those things would include the likes of averaging almost 30 minutes a game in the playoffs, being a large factor in holding the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins to just two goals in four games and raising the level of his game as the playoffs have progressed. Not only has Chara thrived in the role of being a shutdown machine, it’s one he welcomes. You could certainly argue there is not a player who looms larger, literally and figuratively, than Chara has in this post-season. Despite the fact he and partner Denis Seidenberg have lined up against the top opposing forwards, Chara goes into the final leading all defensemen in plus-minus at plus-12.
“You have no idea what this guy does for our hockey club,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s been an MVP since the day he stepped in the dressing room and he continues to be.”
Bruins teammate Chris Kelly has a theory about Chara. He played with Chara when both were with the Ottawa Senators and has been with him for the past three with the Bruins. Chara has matured, to be sure. That much is evident when you compare him to his days with the Senators when he sometimes looked lost and ineffective during those playoff disappointments against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But Kelly maintains that as long as Daniel Alfredsson was around in Ottawa, the Senators were going to be his team and Chara’s leadership capabilities on and off the ice were going to be stunted. But since joining the Bruins and becoming their captain, Chara has emerged as one of the great leaders in the game. There are not many shaky moments when he is out on the ice and while he has been a force in his own end, he has also made a significant offensive contribution with two goals and 11 points.
“I don’t think we’ve played anyone with his reach yet,” said Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, stating the obvious. “For us, we don't want to think too much about it, use our speed to our advantage on him, try to just play hockey, not worry so much about playing against Chara.”
For a team that doesn’t want to worry about playing against him, the Blackhawks certainly seemed to be focusing on Chara going into Game 1. The defenseman's greatest contribution will come in his matchups against the top two units for the Blackhawks. They are not a terribly big or physical team, but Chara will undoubtedly have his hands full in his own end keeping the likes of Handzus and Bickell at bay.
For his part, Chara is not about to give the Blackhawks any bulletin board material. He’s just doing his best to help the team, they have great players and it will be a tough series, playing defense is not a one-man show, blah, blah, blah.
No, Chara prefers to make his most profound statements on the ice surface. And most of the time they are emphatic ones that end with an exclamation mark.
ZDENO WORKS THE CROWD
Chara makes the members of the media work as hard for success as he does opposing forwards trying to beat him to the outside to cut to the net. He is a very thoughtful and introspective individual, but does not suffer those who don’t put the same kind of thought behind their questions. Case in point was the league’s pre-final Media Day Tuesday afternoon. After Hossa told a story about being Chara’s off-season neighbor, here was Chara’s exchange with a reporter:
Reporter: “What can you tell us about growing up together?”
Chara: “What do you want to know?”
Reporter: “What do you remember about him?”
Chara: “I remember a lot of things. What do you want to know? Ask me specific question.”
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