Notes: Chara responds in big way

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Notes: Chara responds in big way

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON After getting knocked around the ice by Ryan Malone and the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 Saturday at St. Pete Times Forum, Zdeno Chara and defense partner Dennis Seidenberg rebounded strongly with physical, productive play Monday night in the Bruins 3-1 win at TD Garden.

Chara led the Bruins with four shots on net and set the game-winning goal in motion with a confident rush into the offensive zone in the second period that sent the Tampa Bay defense scrambling around him.

The offensive pinch led to Patrice Bergeron cycling in the corner and feeding a perfect pass to Brad Marchand as he cleanly beat Martin St. Louis to the net on a backdoor play. Marchand slammed a shot past Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith with slightly more than four minutes to go in the period.

Chara has clearly been focused on the defensive end of things for much of the first two rounds of the playoffs, but there was an even-handed approach to his game in Game 5 that also resulted in the 6-foot-9 Slovakian defenseman parked in front of the net during several power-play possessions.

It was a big game, said Chara, but he added: "The next game is the most important game.

Theres been plenty of clamoring for Chara a tall drink of water, as Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith called him following Game 5 to shift around and mix it up a little bit in front of the net. Thats what coach Claude Julien finally did while thinking a bit outside the box on the power play.

Weve always had that plan in the back of our minds," said Julien. "And . . . because our power play was not very good in Tampa, we said . . . we were going to have to make some changes. And we had Zdeno . . . go to the front of the net. And I know it kind of takes something out from the back end, but we had players we kind of felt could maybe jump in at that point, and maybe at least get some shots on net.

"I thought Chara did a great job in front, and hes a big presence and hes a hard guy to move. And we had some chances and the power play at least, even if it didnt score . . . gave us at least a little bit of momentum."

Unfortunately the new look didnt yield any actual results. The Bs power play squad went 0-for-4 despite the new looks and wrinkles.

Johnny Boychuk missed the final half of the third period after getting slammed by Steve Downie behind the net, a play that drew a boarding penalty. Julien -- who said Boychuk, who had to be helped off the ice by Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron, was "fine" -- wasn't pleased with the hit.

"I havent had an opportunity to look at it, said Julien. I havent watched the video yet. I know some people have, but from what I hear its not a great hit. Ill maybe save my comments more for after I see it."

Julien was mixing and matching lines in the third period, and used Rich Peverley as a little bit of a swingman after shortening his bench in the third period. The Bs coach alternated Peverley and Tyler Seguin on the line with Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder during the final 20 minutes.

This is a guy who deserves the ice time he got tonight, said Julien. Late in the game on that third line, they were starting to throw Martin St. Louis . . . and starting to throw Vincent Lecavalier. They were trying to take advantage of maybe the lack of experience in Tyler.

So I had to put Peverley out there at that point and make sure we had some experience against some of those guys. This is where Pevs becomes a real useful player. He did a great job on the penalty kill and he jumped in there on the third power play that we had. He was used for faceoffs and was very good . . .

"You cant just put a guy like him, basically, on the fourth line and just give him a few minutes. He served us really well tonight. He played a real solid game.

Peverley finished with 14 minutes of ice time, scored the empty-net goal that made the final 3-1, and won five out of six faceoffs as part of a strong effort by the Bs centers, who dominated the faceoff circle Monday night.

Chris Kelly was wearing the Bruins Chalk Line 1980s jacket following Monday nights Game 5 victory after playing a pivotal role on the penalty kill unit that held the Lightning to an 0-for-4 night. Kelly joked after the game that the biggest reason he was wearing the jacket was because of the team rule that one player couldnt wear the jacket in back-to-back wins a stipulation that eliminated the spectacular Tim Thomas from consideration.

Historically, Game 5 has proved crucial for the Bruins when a best-of-seven series. The Bs are 17-4 when they lead a series 3-2 and 2-16 when they trail a series 3-2. The Lightning, meanwhile, are 2-0 when they lead a series 3-2, and 2-2 when they trail a series 3-2.

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

Chara 'felt pretty good' in first game back

Chara 'felt pretty good' in first game back

BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara knew which question was coming, so he didn’t even wait for it to be asked in the postgame B’s dressing room.

“I felt pretty good for the first game. It was a good game to come back,” said Chara, who finished with a minus-1 rating in 23:31 of ice time. “Obviously, Florida is a very good skating team and it is always kind of challenging to play them. But I had no issues. It felt good to be back and, obviously, big win.”

Surprisingly the Bruins didn’t have many issues from a defensive standpoint in the six games that their captain missed with a lower body injury, and finished with a 3-2-1 record and 10 goals allowed in the aforementioned six games.

That was something Chara, off to the best start to a season in at least a couple of years, remarked on both right before and after returning to the B’s lineup on Monday.

“I was very proud. It was exciting to see how they battled and it’s never easy. Every game is a challenge and every game is a big game,” said Chara, who has one goal and six points along with a plus-11 rating in 20 games this season. “There’s never an easy game. But guys were battling. They were playing some hard opponents and they won some really big games by gutsy efforts.”

Still it was good to get Chara back into the mix as a top shutdown pairing with 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and that allowed the rest of the defensive pieces to fall into place for the Black and Gold.

Clearly there was a little bit of rust on Chara after just practicing for a couple of days and he’ll really be pushed with so many games coming up in a short period of time, but it is nearly impossible to push the 39-year-old out of the lineup after he’s worked his way back in. The timing, the reads and the positioning will all get back to top form quickly for the 19-year veteran, but his coach thought it was a good first step with him while showing no issues moving around on his skates throughout the game.

“He played okay. It was his first game back and, you know, a lot of responsibility,” said Julien. “You expect guys to work themselves back in, and I think he did a good job.”

Now Chara will focus on working himself back into the rhythm he was in prior to the injury, and preparing his nearly 40-year-old body for the grinding schedule that awaits them for the rest of this month.

NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

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NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

By all accounts, 20-year-old Brandon Carlo has been outstanding for the Boston Bruins.

The rookie D-man was remarkably strong and consistent skating with Zdeno Chara as a top-pairing shutdown D-man before the Bruins captain went down with injury, and he was still very good after adjusting to life without partner Big Zee over the last six games.

Carlo had a couple of assists and a plus-3 rating while topping 20 minutes of ice time in each of the games without Chara, and rightly saw it as an opportunity to show what he could without the 6-foot-9 safety net on his left side. It’s exactly those kinds of challenges that spark Carlo’s competitiveness and get the fire burning that he so desperately needs in order to play at such a high intensity level every night in the NHL.  

“Zee helps me a lot, but I feel like at the same time I have the strengths to be able to handle myself on my own in this league,” said Carlo, who leads all rookies by a wide margin with his plus-12 rating for the season. “It’s a great opportunity to get out there and build relationships defensively. I just take it as an opportunity to prove myself in this league by myself. It was an opportunity to gain some confidence in different ways. With Zee playing so well and with such great chemistry between us, it gave me a whole bunch of confidence.

“Playing with different guys and matching up against the other team’s best players or matching up with third and fourth lines and maybe taking a few more hits, it shows that I can play anywhere in the lineup. It’s another great opportunity to prove myself.”

Well, Carlo has proven himself and passed that test along with all of the other NHL rookie exams set in front of him more than a quarter of the way through the regular season.

Clearly there are obvious gifts with Carlo plain to anybody watching him for the first time. He has the 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame that simply can’t be taught and that size allows him to win battles against stronger, more experienced opponents looking to do battle with him in Boston’s defensive zone.

He also has a very good point shot he consistently threads through traffic, and that has him on pace for a very respectable seven-goal, 20-point rookie campaign without any power play time mixed into his ice time. The decision-making with the puck and the passing is tape-to-tape more often than it’s not, and Carlo usually does a good job of avoiding the kind of high risk passes that can turn into goals against while battling other team’s top line players.

He keeps it simple and keeps it focused on defense, but Carlo also shows there is more surface to scratch with his offensive game.

Some of Carlo’s talents are a little less apparent to the casual observer, however.

The defensive stick-work, in particular, is something that you notice after watching Carlo shut things down in the D-zone night after night. He uses his long wing span and king-sized stick to poke pucks away from attackers, and has an uncanny ability to sweep the puck away from speedier players that were able to get a step on the big D-man.

“The one thing is that he’s so long and his stick is so long, it gives him time to recover because as a young kid in the league you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” said Torey Krug, who has had to learn to survive in the NHL without those particular gifts. “He has the ability to come back and recover. The second part of that is being unfazed by it. He can make a mistake on one shift, and the next shift he shrugs it off and says ‘Okay, I’m not gonna get beat like that again.’ He has the ability to overcome that. He has the right head on his shoulders with the willingness to listen, to learn and to just keep getting better.”

The stick-checking in the D-zone is exactly how somebody would teach their hockey-playing kids to utilize the stick in the defensive zone, provided those puck prodigies were 6-foot-5 with excellent strength and hand-eye coordination to boot. Carlo said it’s something he’s nearly always been able to do as a big-bodied defenseman, and that certainly was reinforced by his coaching at the WHL level with the Tri-City Americans.

“There were not a lot of teaching points there. The stick is just something that I’ve always just loved using,” said Carlo. “Whenever I was on 1-on-1’s with my teams the guys would hate going against me because my poke check was so good. It’s just something that I really took pride in, developed and just got better and better with over time. There are certain things guys have told me [over the years] like using the straight back-and-forth instead of the windshield wiper [stick check].

“With my size I kind of had to adapt to the long stick, and I really enjoy using it [as a defensive weapon]. It gives me an extra step and an extra opportunity to get the puck away from guys too, particularly when they get behind me. It’s nice that I can use that long reach to get me out of sticky situations at times.”

Claude Julien made certain to point out that it’s something Carlo brought to the table prior to joining the Bruins organization, and was noticed immediately by the Providence Bruins coaching staff last season in his handful of games with them. It’s something of a rarity for a 19 or 20-year-old player to have that kind of stick technique down to a science to the point where it becomes a defensive weapon for him at the NHL level.

It’s also something that’s made Carlo’s transition to the NHL almost seamless despite just eight games of AHL experience entering this season.

“Most young guys always have two hands on their stick and it’s up around their waist, and you have to do a good job of teaching them to keep one hand on the stick with sticks on pucks,” said Julien. “Those are the kinds of things where it’s hard [sometimes] to break younger players in because for some reason they’re told to keep two hands on their sticks when they’re younger. At this level we need the one hand to have sticks on pucks.

“That’s what came out of last year when he first got to Providence. He had a very good stick and that’s what we were told. He had that before he came here, and that was one of his strengths. You continue to work with him because that has been one of his best weapons. Zdeno is probably one of those guys that’s going to tell you it served him extremely well, so he’s learning from the best when he’s playing with [Chara]. No doubt that’s been a big part of why he’s able to play here right now is because he defends well, and he uses his stick well.”

It’s exactly those kinds of fundamental strengths that have the Bruins believing they’ve got the real deal in a top-4, shutdown D-man in Carlo, and that the 20-year-old Colorado native has played himself into a big part of the big picture future for the Black and Gold. 

ONE TIMERS

*Seeing Brad Marchand lose it on a linesman Saturday afternoon in Buffalo reminds me of his preseason comments on getting on the good side with the refs this season. Marchand had just engaged in a scuffle with Rasmus Ristolainen, and then the Bruins winger engaged in a verbal scuffle with one of the officials during the ensuing face-off. Cameras caught Marchand saying “Do your job! Do your job!” before dropping a couple of clear F-bombs his way before the puck was dropped. Well, so much for racking up the brownie points to change the reputation with the refs, eh Brad?

*In case it isn’t already obvious, expect the Bruins big trade acquisition prior to the deadline to involve a top-6 forward that can put the puck in the net rather than a top-4 defenseman. They could use both, of course, but they are looking to find somebody that can finally fill into Loui Eriksson’s left wing role on David Krejci’s line, and both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller haven’t been perfect solutions for the playmaking Krejci. Certainly the Black and Gold will look at 22-year-old Frank Vatrano when he comes back as well, but there’s no telling how long it’s going to take a youngster like that to fully come back from foot surgery. The Bruins may just hedge their bets by going out and getting another winger after putting together a whole collection of centers on the roster this summer.

*Continued prayers and thoughts for Craig Cunningham as it sounds like he’s on the road to recovery in very slow steps out in Arizona. He is a great kid and deserves all the positive thoughts that Bruins Nation can send out to him.

*If you haven’t already, go out and pick up fellow Bruins writer Fluto Shinzawa’s new book entitled “Big 50: Boston Bruins: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Bruins.” The Boston Globe writer goes deep into the B’s history books for some Old Time Hockey anecdotes and characters, and also gives you a close-up view of the last 10 years as he’s covered the daily doings of the Black and Gold. It’s not that big of a book either, so it looks like the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for the Bruins fan in your family.

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.