Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

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Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara prides himself on the reputation hes built, and the respect he's earned, during his decade-plus in the National Hockey League.

Its no overstatement to say that Monday was a big day for a big man.

After more than a month of scrutiny following his hit on Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre, which unfairly painted him to be some kind of fire-breathing monster, and the vague drama thats played out after a dehydration episode caused him to miss Game 2 against the Canadiens, its fair to say this has been the most challenging season of the 6-foot-9 defenseman's career. But he's fought through it all, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

Nor did the announcement on Monday that he was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy as this season's top defenseman.

We actually talked about it a few weeks ago, and he said to me that he didnt think he was going to be a Norris finalist, said Charas defense partner, Dennis Seidenberg. I said Youll see and that he would be up there again. Sure enough he was. I think rightfully so, since hes so dominant in his own end and always seems to chip in with some really timely offense. Its what a Norris defenseman is all about.

If it was me, it would be really gratifying because there was so much negative stuff written about him . . . He must really be happy about being recognized.

Being able to bask in the announcement that he's a finalist for the fourth time in his career was a nice respite for Chara. Teammates could hear the relaxed tone in his voice and see the spring in his step as he enjoyed one of the best days hes probably had in more than a month.

With accusations of intentional dirty hits, and foolish criminal investigations, swirling all around him in addition to normal playoff pressure, Chara has been in the market for some good news for a good long while.

He finally received it, and was appropriately appreciative.

Its obviously a big honor. Im very humbled and very thankful, especially when you consider how many guys have had good seasons and breakout seasons, said Chara. Im just thankful that the people that did vote recognized the definition of the Norris Trophy award.

Chara has captured one Norris Trophy in his career -- in 2008-09, amid Bostons run to the top spot in the Eastern Conference -- and will compete for this one with Detroit's six-time Norris winner Nik Lidstrom, and Nashville's Shea Weber. All three Norris Trophy finalists hold elite reputations within the NHL as franchise defensemen, and each of them would be an excellent candidate for a number of different reasons. Each also has black marks against him.

Lidstrom is a force of nature who's still going strong for the Wings at age 40, but he also had the first negative plusminus of his career. That may be the first sign that the Swedish defenseman is starting to slow down, though 62 points and 23:28 of ice time per night might indicate otherwise.

Weber has the shot, the skating, the leadership and the reputation while playing for an up-and-coming Predators squad. But the argument could be made he isnt even having his best season in the NHL.

Clearly we know who Claude Julien thinks should take home the hardware from Las Vegas this summer as the best defensive defensemen in the game.

Obviously Chara's a well-deserving player, said the Bruins' coach. There are a lot of reasons. I think everyone who knows him here knows he plays lots of minutes. He also always plays against other teams' top lines. Hes utilized as a shutdown 'D' against the top players on other teams. The plusminus stats at the end of the year plus-33 . . . I think that speaks for itself . . . and certainly offensively hes contributed as well.

"If youre talking about Norris and talking about a defenseman that brings a lot, hes certainly one of them. I dont think there are many players in this league who will raise their hand and say they really enjoy playing against him.

Even though hes played in something of a weakened physical state against the Canadiens and -- as noted by ex-Bruins coach and noted CBC analyst Don Cherry last week -- is not quite as ferocious as normal, Chara still remains the most irreplaceable piece of the Black-and-Gold puzzle. He finished the year with similar offensive numbers to his Norris Trophy campaign two years ago, leads the Bruins with eight power-play goals, is Bostons best penalty killer and lines up against the oppositions best lines while leading all NHL defensemen with a plus-33 this season.

That leaves Chara at a whopping plus-68 in his five seasons with the Bruins. The plus-33 matches the best season of his career, which he achieved as a 26-year-old playing for a stacked Ottawa Senators team in 2003-04.

Chara has been incredibly heartened by the recognition he received as a true defenseman, as he is by the movement away from simply handing Norris recognition to the defenseman who posted the biggest set of fantasy stats. That played out in Chara reaching the top three in voting rather than offensive specialists like Anaheims Lubomir Visnovsky or Phoenixs Keith Yandle a pair of high-powered offensive defenseman who didnt factor into the penalty kill or play against other teams top lines during their breakthrough campaigns.

In the minds of many, it's true hockey value on the ice rather than gaudy point totals and power-play specialties that hold meaning when it comes to finding the best blueliner in the NHL landscape.

Its something I take a lot of pride in, said Chara. Im very competitive when it comes to defending top lines and playing against top lines. I know its not an easy job, but I really get up for it every night. You cant think that its just you. Its the five guys that are on the ice with you and the 25 guys that are on the team helping you. But its a big motivation for me to face such skill and great players.

It will be back to the riotous Bell Centre, and the grind of the playoffs, on Tuesday for Chara and the rest of the Bruins. But Monday was perhaps what the doctor ordered for the big fella.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Backes set to star in Animal Planet special this weekend

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Backes set to star in Animal Planet special this weekend

It’s only a coincidence that it will air the same week that the Boston Bruins went Hollywood with their annual three-game road trip through California, but David Backes and his wife Kelly are going to get some solid TV time this weekend. The animal-loving couple are going to be featured Saturday night in the all-new Animal Planet special "Stars to the Rescue," which highlights the Backes family’s excellent work to ensure every animal has a ‘furever’ home.

The lifelong animal lovers have adopted five rescue pets that all made the move from St. Louis to Boston this summer, and launched Athletes for Animals in 2013, a non-profit organization supporting professional athletes and animal advocacy efforts. The 32-year-old Backes chose a Boston animal shelter as his first setting to meet with the Boston media this summer after signing with the Bruins in free agency, and spoke glowingly about his inspiration for marrying two of his passions: helping animals and sports.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," said Backes, the proud owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty and Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly). "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said, ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

The “Stars to the Rescue” special premieres on Saturday night at 8 pm on Animal Planet where there will be a full segment on the Backes family, but here’s a clip where Backes talks about his well-publicized involvement with a number of stray dog rescues during his 2014 Olympic Hockey stint with Team USA in Sochi, Russia.

Backes isn’t the only Boston athlete featured during the Animal Planet special as it also chronicles the stories of other well-known athletes and celebrities and the dogs they can't live without: Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, Baltimore Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley, Selma Blair, ESPN Correspondent Michelle Beadle, WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and more. From training buddies to comforting companions, “Stars to the Rescue” shows first-hand how these celebrities first met their cute rescued canines and how their dogs have impacted and transformed their lives for the better.

What we learned in Bruins' 4-1 win over Kings: Back on track

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What we learned in Bruins' 4-1 win over Kings: Back on track

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