Chara-Hamilton a shutdown pairing so far

Chara-Hamilton a shutdown pairing so far
May 10, 2014, 1:30 pm
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BOSTON – Don’t look now, but the Zdeno Chara/Dougie Hamilton defense pairing is living up to its shutdown billing. Many wondered how the 20-year-old Hamilton would fare playing big minutes with Chara, and tasked with shutting down the other team’s best forwards once things got a little rough in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That’s been the domain of Dennis Seidenberg for the past few years to great success. It was one of the great unanswered questions once the German defenseman went down with a right knee injury a couple of days after Christmas. Still, Chara and Hamilton have been excellent together and haven’t allowed a five-on-five goal as a defensemen pairing in the four games against the Montreal Canadiens.

In fact, they’ve only been scored upon once in the entire playoff run thus far. That was the third period Pavel Datsyuk winner in Game 1 vs. Detroit. Since then, it’s been nothing but zeroes for Dougie and Big Zee. They’ve looked impregnable while doing it.

“Well, hopefully you didn’t just jinx it,” said Hamilton to CSNNE.com. “That’s exactly our responsibility and that’s what makes us happy after games. We try to limit their scoring and hopefully that gets us the win.

“We just need to keep playing hard, and keep playing the same way, and limit them.”

The biggest test of the playoffs for Hamilton was how he would respond to the vital job of holding down the other team’s best offensive players. So far, he’s been advanced beyond his years with smart positioning and just enough physicality.

Chara was on the ice for an empty-net goal for Lars Eller and some Habs power-play goals and Hamilton was on the ice for the P.K. Subban penalty-box debacle in Game 3, but they’ve been bulletproof together.

That’s job No. 1 in the playoffs for the duo as far as both Hamilton and Chara are concerned. They have Max Pacioretty tied in knots with their size, strength and long reach with the sticks that’s breaking up any attempts to take the puck hard to the Boston net.

Pacioretty is without a goal in the series and broke a series-long silence on Saturday morning by declaring that “it’s gut-check time” and “obviously Chara has gotten the better of me.” That’s a pretty clear piece of brutal self-evaluation for one of Montreal’s big offensive guns who has been firing blanks so far against Boston and who has a long history of battles with the 6-foot-9 stopper.

Similarly, Thomas Vanek and David Desharnais have been quiet in five-on-five play. That’s something the Bruins defense needs to continue shutting down this series.

“We’re just trying to play a really strong defensive game as a team,” said Chara. “It’s a priority for the whole team to play well and strong defensively. We take a lot of pride in the way we play in our zone, and it always comes down to winning races and battles. That is the key for us.”

Some of Boston’s best players are still struggling to find their footing in this Original Six dogfight, but Chara and Hamilton are operating the highest levels defensively with an almost perfect record. That’s tough to do once the real bullets start flying in the Stanley Cup playoffs.