Chara honored before game, dazzles during it


Chara honored before game, dazzles during it

BOSTON -- Tuesday night was actually game No. 1,002 for Zdeno Chara.

But since he played the previous two games on the West Coast, the Bruins recognized the feat with a pre-game ceremony before Tuesday's game against the Tampa bay Lightning, that included a visit from his wife and daughter, and gifts from Bruins teammates and the NHL.

"Its obviously very nice to get that recognition and ceremony," said Chara after the game. "Like I said, I very much appreciate it. Its very nice from the NHL, the Boston Bruins organization, from my teammates and everybody that supported me.

"But when that ceremony is over, you have to focus on the game and you just got to be ready because you have to play 60 minutes. Theres no other way to really describe it, Just be ready and play hard the whole game."

And just like the Bruins' captain does every night, Chara --just moments after saying goodbye to his family and the ceremonial gifts -- quickly re-focused and played a more-than-solid 24-plus minutes of hockey, leading the Bruins to a 5-2 win over the Lightning.

Chara finished the game with three assists and was the only player in the game with a plus-3 rating.

"You can take away his three assists, and still look at his game and say he was solid," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the win. "Everything he did was simple, efficient, and he was rock solid tonight. I really liked his game. And to cap it off with a three-point night was nice to see."

Chara didn't just have three assists. He had three of the most meaningful assists in the game.

The trio of helpers came on Boston's first three goals, which included the game-winner by Benoit Pouliot with 8:26 left in regulation.

Chara had the secondary assist on Pouliot's goal. But it was his shot from the point that resulted in Brian Rolston's pass out front, which resulted in a 3-2 Bruins lead.

Chara's second assist on the night came with 4:55 left in the second period, and put the Bruins up 2-1. Chara blasted a shot from the right point, and Dennis Seidenberg cleaned up the juicy rebound at the left post, beating Dwayne Roloson upstairs.

But it was Chara's first assist of the game that was most impressive. Midway through the first period, Chara held the puck at the middle point and decided to skate it deep into the offensive zone on his own. He dangled through several Lightning players, and when he got down to the bottom of the right circle, Chara made a bold decision to take the puck hard to the net, rather than let one rip from afar.

Chara's attempt to stuff it in with force was saved by Roloson. But Shawn Thornton was on the doorstep to flip the rebound upstairs and tie the game at 1-1.

The goal went to Thornton, but it was clear who made the play happen.

"You're always taught when you take it to the net, good things will happen, and they did," said Chara. "We scored on the rebound, and it ended up being a good play.

"Sometimes things just open up for you," added the captain. "I was looking for a chance to ride the blue line, and all of a sudden I had the chance to cut that seam and I took it. And then, I kind of thought, 'Im going to have to shoot the puck right away.' And then another thing opened up and I was kind of excited to pass on shooting and I took it to the net, and sometimes those things just open up for you and you have to take advantage and make the best out of them."

And Chara made the best out of an emotional pre-game ceremony that doesn't always leave you with the proper mindset to have the type of solid performance he had on Tuesday.

"Obviously this was a special night for him, and he wanted to make sure that everything he did was good and positive," said Julien. "And he was a real solid contributor for us tonight."

Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context


Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context

Stephen Gostkowski doesn’t miss field goals often and he never misses extra points. His performance this season might not be the end of the world, but there’s no denying his departure from the norm: He’s missing field goals more often and, as was the case in the AFC Championship last season, he hasn’t been automatic on PATs. 

The stats are well-known by now: He’s 9-for-12 on field goals and 16-of-17 on extra points. His three missed field goals are tied for the most he’s had in a season dating back to 2013, and the current season is only six games young. 

For those who have followed the Patriots in recent years, it’s only natural to feel the sky is falling with Gostkowski. After all, the former All-Pro has been nearly peerless in recent seasons, leading the league in field goals made in 2013 and 2014 and tying for second last season. He was arguably the best in the league, and now, six games into the 2016 season, he’s been mediocre. 

The question is whether the Patriots can live with mediocre, and the answer is “definitely.” 

Of the 10 playoff teams last season, four had kickers who missed at least five field goals, including the two Super Bowl participants. Denver’s Brandon McManus had five missed field goals last season; Carolina’s Graham Gano had six. 

The list of good teams with OK kicking performances goes on, and it undoubtedly includes past Patriots teams. Remember, Adam Vinatieri missed nine field goals during the Patriots Super Bowl-winning 2003 season. 

Then there are Gostkowski’s past seasons. He’s obviously had a tremendous career, but he’s had less glamorous seasons sprinkled in with the All-Pro performances. Everyone has lived to tell about it. 

Take 2012. Gostkowski missed six field goals, tying a career-worst set in his rookie year of 2006. He still finished tied for eighth in field goals made, one behind Justin Tucker and ahead of, among others, Vinatieri. The Patriots went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship, a game the Pats might have won against Baltimore if they didn’t rely on Gostkowski for more than half (seven) of their points (13). 

Gostkowski is currently tied for 15th with nine field goals made. He’s yet to have a particularly costly miss like he did with the PAT against the Broncos last postseason, although his lone field goal attempt in the Pats’ Week 4 loss to the Bills -- a 48-yard miss -- would have made it a 10-point game early in the second half. 

At his current rate, he’ll miss a career-high eight field goals. That is not good, and while it wouldn’t quite put him in end-of-the-line-David-Akers territory (Akers missed 13 field goals in 2012, his second to last season), it would put him in uncharted territory for a great career. 

If there's any silver lining with Gostkowski's numbers down, it's that he doesn't seem to have lost his leg. His 53-yarder in the season-opener was four yards shy of his longest kick from last season. 

Having a capable kicker is important. Having an elite one is a luxury the Patriots have had for the majority of the last 20 seasons. A miss in a key spot can doom a season, but Gostkowski still has time to correct what’s been a down year.