Season rests on Chara's injury

Season rests on Chara's injury
December 11, 2011, 3:32 am
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COLUMBUS The Bruins got to experience life without Zdeno Chara for roughly 27 minutes in Saturday nights grudge match against the Blue Jackets.

Give them credit for rising above the Chara injury, a rare Tim Thomas benching and an early two-goal hole for a needed victory, but none of that is a normal recipe for long-term success.

The Bruins cant love the prospects of moving on without Chara after he suffered what appeared to be a left knee injury in Saturdays 5-3 victory over Columbus at Nationwide Arena. The team is calling it a lower body injury for the time being, and coach Claude Julien couldnt or wouldnt tell whether it was minor or serious.

We dont know if its minor or major, or anything, said Julien. Im not quite sure. I havent had a chance, so its hard to comment until I know the severity of it. Throughout the season, youre going to have some injuries and youre going to have to live with them.

But in that very statement, major hasnt been ruled out for the 6-foot-9 freak of hockey nature, who was spotted walking under his own power in the visiting dressing room following the win.

I hope its nothing too serious, right? said goaltender Tuukka Rask. Thats a big load for a lot of other guys to be carrying if Chara is not in there.

So at this point its not a great leap to paint a scenario where Chara misses some time. Maybe its not the entire season, maybe its not a month, and maybe its not more than a game or two.

But its telling that the Bs captain never returned to the ice during a tight game after exiting with seven minutes to go in the second period.

If Chara is lost for any extended period of time, the Bruins would be hard-pressed to maintain their current status near the top of the Eastern Conference. They would also essentially be kissing any Cup hopes goodbye if their franchise defenseman is out for the season.

But enough about worst-case scenarios and could be situations with regard to big Zee and his mystery knee.

The facts are indisputable: It was a tight one-goal game when Chara collided awkwardly with Antoine Vermette during a Columbus forecheck near Bostons blue line. The big defenseman went right down the runway with trainer Donnie DelNegro once he finished up that shift, and was never seen again. It appeared on video replays Charas knee buckled after hitting Vermette.

With Chara down for the night it was up to Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid to step up and become a shutdown tandem in Charas absence.

It was also Dennis Seidenbergs job to absorb a whopping game-high 26:20 of ice time in a game that saw the Bruins empty the tank.

Boychuk was instrumental in keeping Columbus 1-for-6 on the power play with 5:36 of shorthanded ice time, and the blossoming blueliner nearly showed his effectiveness isnt just a byproduct of skating regular shifts with Chara.

McQuaid blocked a team-high four shots and Andrew Ference was quietly effective while logging his most ice time since mid-October (22:03). Up and down the lineup, each defenseman did his part to fill in for the fallen leader.

Its great to see them step up, said Milan Lucic. Weve had to deal with a lot of injuries in years past. Obviously last year we were lucky to stay healthy as long as we did, but when injuries happened somebody always stepped up. As a defense corps everybody stepped up in the second half of the game.

Hes big Zee for a reason and hes been the best shutdown defenseman in the league for the last couple of years. Hes our captain and our leader, and if he goes down it takes everybody to step up and fill the void.

The other part of any equation featuring a defensemen corps filling Charas absence by committee: Providing offense along with the air-tight defense. That was Corvos job and he built on a first-period goal with a power play score after Vermette was whistled off for hooking. Corvo finished with a game-high five shots on net and finally showed the big, heavy point shot that Boston would be forced to feature much more often if Chara isnt able to answer the bell for any period of time.

Its pretty key for the guys to pull together with McQuaid and Boychuk getting more and more minutes with Zee not out there. They really stepped up, said Corvo. They played really well in the third after he scored to shut them down.

Once Chara has met with the Bruins doctors in Boston, the team will know exactly whats what.

But it goes without saying Chara is arguably the most irreplaceable player in the entire NHL given his strength, intensity, leadership, blistering slap shot, power play acumen and overall offensive capabilities. Nobody can fill the size-12 skates of the 6-foot-9, 260-pound defenseman.

Chara is on pace to score a career-high 60 points and finish a career-best plus-55, and is soaking up 25 minutes of ice time a game. Those kinds of numbers represent the best-of-the-best elite around the NHL.

Life without Chara is a sobering thought after watching the Bruins battle and scrape to beat the NHLs worst team without his services for nearly half the game, and thats a bridge the Black and Gold don't want to cross if they dont have to.