BOSTON -- In times of trouble and turbulence during a winding 82-game regular season, it’s up to the leaders on a hockey team to respond during the low moments. They don’t get much lower than Wednesday’s season-worst 6-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, so it was imperative that B’s captain Zdeno Chara step out of his season-long struggle to lead the way for his Bruins in the Thanksgiving Showdown.
The 36-year-old did exactly that in notching the game-winning goal and sparking his teammates’ emotions by beating Brian Boyle to a pulp in the second period of a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers at TD Garden. The goal and hockey fight ended up part of a rare Gordie Howe hat trick for the B’s defenseman that led the way for the Black and Gold.
“I wouldn’t do it, that’s all I can say,” said Dennis Seidenberg, of fighting Chara. “He’s just too big and his arms are too long and that wouldn’t make sense.”
The Bruins now have an 8-2 record this season when they accumulate a fighting major, and boast a 50-22-3 aggregate record when they fight since the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Chara certainly wasn’t calculating those odds when he was pounding Boyle’s face with his right fist, but the results are difficult to argue.
“He’s obviously our leader and we feed off of him,” said Patrice Bergeron, who also scored a goal in a win that makes the Bruins 8-0-2 in their last 10 games at TD Garden. “When you see that fire like he had, you want to step your game up and do the same. There’s obviously no better leader, no better defenseman in my mind so it was great to see him going like that.”
It wasn’t rosy for Chara throughout, however.
He struggled in his own zone during the first period, and watched Mats Zuccarello blow right past him with speed and skill en route to a scoring chance at the Boston net. Tuukka Rask knocked that one away, but Chara wasn’t as fortunate later in the first when Rick Nash powered by both the B’s defenseman and Patrice Bergeron before scoring New York’s first goal of the game. The defensive miscues and difficulty keeping pace with offensive attackers has been a point of difficulty for a player like Chara, who is usually a defensive stopper in all situations.
Perhaps it was that frustration from a rough first period, or the embarrassment of the Wings loss, or a little vexation at a season that’s been subpar for the elite defenseman’s standards.
Whatever the reason, Chara finally blew his stack in the second period. He wasted little time coming to the defense of David Krejci when 6-foot-7 Brian Boyle started bullying the Bruins playmaker, and quickly dropped the hammer on the former Boston College forward in a battle of true NHL heavyweights. They don’t make them much bigger than the 6-foot-7 Boyle, and the 6-foot-9 Chara in the clash of the titans.
“That’s part of the game, I guess. Sometimes scrums involve a lot of heated moments, or emotions,” said Chara, who has only earned five fighting majors in a Bruins uniform and hadn’t dropped the gloves since back in 2011 against the Philadelphia Flyers. “You have to protect your best players in that situation. The situation just happened, Brian [Boyle] is really strong and a tough customer. It was just something that we just kind of reacted on.
“We had a lot of energy and a lot of emotions. I thought for the most part we were playing the way we want to continue to play. It was a good job by everybody.”
Chara and the Bruins’ game seemed to really elevate from the time of Chara’s brawl with five minutes to go in the second period, and set up some heroics in the third period. After Bergeron scored the game-tying goal in the final stanza, Krejci returned Chara’s actions on his behalf with a juicy saucer pass as the big man was set to shoot in the slot.
Chara wound up for one of his trademark hard slappers that beat Henrik Lundqvist for the game-winning goal. It capped off a good end result for Chara, who finished with a team-high seven generated shot attempts along with a plus-2 rating and his sixth goal of the season.
In a moment during a long season when Boston’s best players had to rise to the forefront, Chara did exactly that along with other leaders in the B’s dressing room.
“I think our whole team played with more emotion, obviously, when you look at the last game we played, and you look at this game,” said Claude Julien. “It’s the personality of our team. You get beat the way you did last game, you want to come back and certainly bring yourselves back.
“I thought today we just played a good solid game all around; lots of physical play, lots of emotion and scoring chances, we had lots of them. We hit some posts and everything else, but I think today I can honestly say I felt like it was a good game. We were the better team, and that’s what I wanted our team to be.”
That it came under the leadership and direction of Chara, among others, is no surprise given the way he’s helped captain the Bruins through much choppier waters in year’s past. Even if he’s been challenged more personally this season than in year’s past, Chara once again answered the bell vs. the Rangers with his customary, needed authority on Friday afternoon.