Chara steps to the head of the line

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Chara steps to the head of the line

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara may finally be rounding into the leader everyone always wanted him to be.

Thats no knock on the 6-foot-9 defenseman and Bruins captain in his fifth year with the team, and his 13th year in the NHL, of course.

Its more a nod to the demands that come along with wearing the C on the Black and Gold sweater of the Spoked B tribe, and the downright crazy expectations of a frothy fan base that hasnt tasted from the Stanley Cup in 39 anguish-filled years.

Chara couldnt just be a sterling leader by example or the hardest worker on the team as hes always been during his All-Star, Norris Trophy caliber career with the Islanders, Senators and Bruins.

Chara had to show fire and emotion in times of need for his team, and learn how to connect with every single member of his hockey club on a greater level than simply showing them how many pull-ups he could do in 60 seconds.

There was an emotional component to the job that Chara always seemed to be searching for, and it was clearly a process. It would seem that in his most challenging NHL season the Bs defenseman finally broke down those walls, and everyone within the organization has taken notice of his evolution as hes battled true adversity all along the way.

Weve been together for both our tenures here. We went to one conference final with Ottawa and lost, so that was a bit of painful memory. We just kind of connected briefly after Game 7 and I could see a little bit of a twinkle in his eye, said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. It was kind of a special moment for me to share with him. I cant say enough about him as a player and his defensive impact on the game.

I think in the Tampa series you saw him try and do a little more offensively on his own and at clutch times. That was -- for me -- him stepping up. His leadership abilities have grown exponentially. I cant say enough about Zee and the impact that he has in the locker room -- and on the ice.

The crowning moment came following the Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning when Chara finally experienced the victorious glory hes waited for his entire career.

Chara was invited to center ice to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly that signified Bostons Eastern Conference Championship, and his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

This was after taking down the Montreal Canadiens in seven games after that team, that city and that whole region forced Chara through the ringer for his clean hit on Max Pacioretty. This was after a police investigation for a hockey hit deemed a hockey play by the league that polices these sorts of things.

This was after Chara missed Game 2 with a case of severe dehydration that forced his hospitalization and caused him to drop a sickening 10 pounds over a 24-hour period leading up to the game.

This was after Chara blew away the questions about his 0-5 career record in Game 7 leading into this years playoffs with big performances in Game 7 victories over the Habs and Lightning.

It would have been natural for Chara to be thinking about himself when he was called to accept the Prince of Whales Trophy, pondering deeply what the victory meant to his standing both in the league and in the long history of the Bruins organization.

But thats not what happened at all, and it spoke volumes about Charas priorities.

Chara conjured up images of the 2001 New England Patriots when he summoned all of his teammates to crowd around the conference trophy and get a group picture with a mildly surprised Daly.

Why surprise?

Because its not normally done that way in the tradition-beholden NHL.

Chara departed from the norm to include an entire team thats grown incredibly tight over the last four years amid concussions, cheap shots, playoff collapses and a European trip that bonded the squad tightly together.

It was a group gesture that made a lot of people happy up and down the organizational ladder, and revealed just how closely the Bruins have developed into a unit that rises and falls on a united front.

It says a lot about the team. Zees never been there so he goes up there and you always talk about whether you touch the trophy or not. Youre probably thinking about a bunch of different things like Wow, we made it and all this stuff, said Chiarelli. You can tell what was first on his mind Lets get the team up there.

You look at the photo afterwards and its a pretty cool photo. Zee is growing exponentially as a leader. Im certain that he would say also that his support group is very strong. It has been getting stronger as a group. Hes a very effective and very good leader for this team.

Chara was anointed leader because of his role as a captain, but hes been supported by a stalwart leadership group within the Bs dressing room.

Mark Recchi has been a big factor in the Chara evolution as a leader because its given the big defenseman a veteran thats seen everything during his 21 years in the NHL. Chara listened to the 43-year-old from the first day he arrived in Boston via a trade with the Lightning three years ago.

Patrice Bergeron is the emerging force thats becoming a voice just as strong as Chara and Recchi when it comes to leadership, intensity and the commitment to bringing a Cup back to Boston. It was Bergeron and Chara after all that believed so much in the Bruins Way of doing things that they both signed on for lengthy contract extensions before the season commenced in Prague.

That trio is supported fully by Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ference, Tim Thomas and now by Chris Kelly, Shane Hnidy and a burgeoning group of young leaders within the dressing room taking their paces from the vets. Its created the perfect environment of winning inside the Bs dressing room, and Chara has seen it built from the ground up when he arrived in Chiarellis first season.

Its pretty special here, said Chara. Winning Game 7s thats when you know that everybodys buying into it. Everybodys willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes for the win.

We are just showing our desire. We want it bad and for every player in this room and every fan outside of this arena. We are very thankful to the fans and all the people for our support.

Chara has shown it while playing against the Canadiens at much less than 100 percent when he did return from his dehydration episode, and managing to lead the NHL playoff field with a plus-11 while lining up against the best offensive players in the world. Its left little doubt how much of a game-changer Chara is on the ice, and what his standing is within an organization thats boasted some pretty outstanding defensemen in its black and golden history.

It does validate that were filling the holes with the right people and bringing the right organization together. It validates the quality of the management and the leadershipnot just at the top but throughout the organization, said Bs owner Jeremy Jacobs. From the player on the ice, you take Zdeno Chara. His leadership is indispensable. I think the organization from the top to bottom has evolved into a singular objective.

Its taken time and some stunning defeats over the years for that message to be honed into something ready for a Cup-worthy ascension, but Chara has finally reached it this season as a leader still operating at an elite level.

Chiarelli always envisioned what Chara would become before his career was finished in Boston, and big Zee is now that guy forged through the fire of experience and time.

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

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.