Season rests on Chara's injury

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Season rests on Chara's injury

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.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Morning Skate: No surprise cheap-shot artists are running wild

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Morning Skate: No surprise cheap-shot artists are running wild

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while hoping everybody on this Memorial Day takes some time to appreciate all of those that made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. We should also take a moment to say thanks to people like the three heroes in Oregon that stood up to a hateful bigot earlier this week, and in doing so reaffirmed what the majority of people living in the US believe we are all about while trying to live up to that ideal every day.
 
-- A number of NHL legends are shaking their heads at the dirty play that we’re seeing in these playoffs, particularly those plays targeting the superstars that people pay big money to see in the postseason. Why should anybody be shocked by this? The rooting out of enforcers, and fighting, has taken accountability out of the game for the cheap-shot artists and dirty players, and leaves little real deterrant for players looking to take out opponents with dangerous plays. I wrote about this a couple of years ago when the NHL threw the book at Shawn Thornton for going after Brooks Orpik, and in doing so chose to protect somebody trying to hurt opponents (Orpik) and punish somebody trying to protect his teammates (Thornton). It was a sea change for the league, and something players didn’t forget as more and more enforcers were quickly weeded out of the NHL. This is what the rule-makers and legislators wanted, and now it’s what they’re getting just a couple of years later with dangerous stick-work, cheap shots and a general lack of respect for fellow players.
 
-- Here's why the Tampa Bay Lightning would consider trading a player like Jonathan Drouin, and the major impact that could have on the offseason trade market.
 
-- Down Goes Brown has a Stanley Cup Final rooting guide for the other 28 other fan bases now that Nashville and Pittsburgh are in the final series.

-- So which goaltender has the edge in the Stanley Cup Final: Nashville's Pekka Rinne, or Pittsburgh's two-headed monster of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury?
 
-- Scotty Bowman says winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles has become monumentally difficult since the advent of the salary cap.
 
-- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are pushing each other to be betters, and showing exactly how a team should be led by its superstars in the salary-cap era for the league.
 
-- For something completely different: We can confirm through this report that a lot of hot dogs are eaten in the summertime. So glad we have people to research these kinds of things.