BOSTON – It’s pretty clear that something wasn’t right with Zdeno Chara during the last few games of the Stanley Cup Final.
The 36-year-old defenseman was clearly fighting off some unmistakable signs of exhaustion on the ice, and he seemed to have been slowed by some kind of leg injury that sapped his dominating ways against the speedy Blackhawks. Chara was a minus-6 for the Bruins in the final three games of the series against the Hawks, and muffed a pinch attempt in the second period that led to a Jonathan Toews goal in Boston’s 3-2 loss in Game 6 at TD Garden.
The lost one-on-one battle with Toews plus a soft five-hole goal by Tuukka Rask allowed the Blackhawks to get back into the game, and provided more evidence that Boston’s captain was having some struggles at the end of the playoffs.
“You have to give them credit for putting a strategy together, but at the same time Zdeno is one of those players that unfortunately wasn’t 100 percent,” said Claude Julien. “So he battled through it, and that's what I mean by being proud of those guys.
“Playing hurt is part of it, and our guys did that. That's why I say you've got to be extremely proud of those guys. It's going to take a little while before we can realize the accomplishment that we had in making it to the Final again, but right now it doesn't feel good.”
Chara was slow to make turns in his own end, was much more deliberate than usual skating the puck up the ice, and simply didn’t have the average skating ability that he needs to keep up with quicker offensive attackers. Those seem to all be evidence of an injury, exhaustion, or both.
Chara was also caught in the middle of the net on the Toews-to-Bickell goal with 1:19 to go in the third period that seemed to rattle the Bruins bench, and left them vulnerable to the Dave Bolland game-winner on the very next shift. The big defenseman was on the ice for 10 of the final 12 goals against for the Bruins, and was very clearly a shell of himself after averaging 29:32 of ice time over 22 postseason games.
The burden was a little too much in the end, though Chara wouldn’t admit to physical fatigue or cop to an injury following the game.
“I think you if I had to really talk about defense, I thought throughout the whole playoffs we did a really good job. [Chicago] did find some holes and at times, I have to be honest, it’s not just a matter of being in the right position or covering guys,” said Chara, who finished 3 goals and 15 points along with a plus-7 in 22 playoff games.
“Some bounces, you need to have go your way. If it gets deflected and goes off skates and this and that, obviously that’s not an excuse but you need to have some bounces.
“It seemed like we didn’t get those like we did before. But you know, they did a great job going to the net and creating a lot of traffic in front.”
It was clearly more than bad bounces that dogged Chara and the Bruins once Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell really started attacking the 6-foot-9 captain, but Chara's partner Dennis Seidenberg also needs to shoulder some of the blame for Boston’s shutdown pairing going awry.
Seidenberg seemed to have just as many issues with the speed and aggressiveness of Chicago’s top line, and consistently found himself out of position while leaving Chara in untenable spots all alone in front of the net.
It speaks to what everyone was left with after Stanley Cup Final was over: Chicago’s best offensive players were able to ultimately defeat Boston’s banged-up best defensive players, and that’s why Boston found themselves on the losing end with Lord Stanley’s Chalice in the TD Garden house on Monday night.