LOS ANGELES, CA Zdeno Chara was proud to be playing in his 1,000th NHL game Saturday night, but he was even prouder still of the way his teammates helped make it a winning experience for everyone in Black and Gold.
Chara didnt unleash a 108-mph slapper against the Kings for a backbreaking goal or leave Anze Kopitar quaking in his boots after a bone-rattling hit. In fact Kopitar managed to send Chara crashing to the ice during one of their nastier confrontations behind the Boston net early in the first period.
The 6-foot-9 defenseman simply did what he does best: he played hard, honest, intimidating defense for upwards of 23 minutes of ice time in Bostons 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center. That might have included a game-saving defensive stop in the final minutes, but at its heart it was all about underrated, unassuming, winning hockey at the defensive end of the ice.
There is no question that you want your 1,000th to be a winning game, said Chara, who sounded like a captain unwilling to settle for anything less.
Chara also came up with the difference-making play of the game with 1:15 to go when he dropped to one knee and extended a daddy long-legs kick save to block a shot while the Kings scrambled for the potential game-tying strike. Big Zee managed to deflect a shot that appeared headed straight for the vacant cage in a one-goal game with Tim Thomas out of position.
Once that threat was gone Boston withstood Los Angeles desperate last gasp attack with the extra skater on the ice.
They put a lot of pressure on us. They had an extra guy. Its always tough to cover up everybody. They were just throwing pucks at the net, said Chara. There was a loose puck and I just to keep it from going into the net. So I dropped down to block it.
Thats always been my bread and butter. Im known more for defending and shutting guys down than scoring. If I can help offensively I like to do that, but the most important thing is winning hockey games.
Thomas certainly wasnt going to critic Charas street hockey goaltending-style when it accomplished the most important goal: stopping the puck.
It was frantic. It always is, but I was focused on keeping my mind from getting too frantic so I wouldnt get pulled out of the net, said Thomas. Thats what it takes when you get to the end. Theyve got six guys in the zone doing anything they can to throw pucks at the net. Sometimes you need a little help and tonight I got help from a 6-foot-9 giant.
The 6-foot-9 giants elongated kick save protected the lead, and then allowed all of the players on ice to crowd around Chara once the game was over. They congratulated their captain on becoming the 275th NHL player to crack 1,000 games played, and they congratulated each other on a battle-hardened victory against a tough bunch of Kings.
Its a great feeling. Anytime you can win a hockey game its a great feeling, said Chara. You can see that the mood in the room after the game was really, really good. I cant ask for anything more than the guys gave me tonight.
I appreciate it; its a great group of guys. Im really proud to be part of this team and this group. You can see that they battle really hard for me and for everybody. I thought that this game had special meaning for everybody.
The win allowed the Bruins to maintain their three-point lead over an Ottawa Senators team that romped all over the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier Saturday night. Despite the large contingent of Bruins fans in the crowd, there was little fanfare during the game about Charas NHL milestone with the action happening so far away from hockey home in Boston.
But there will be gifts, recognition and an appropriate ceremony when the Bruins play their next home game at TD Garden next Tuesday night, March 27, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just call it a Chara party that the 35-year-old is looking forward to hosting.
Its nice to be in front of your own fans. Its been an honor to be playing for the Boston Bruins and playing in this league. I have a lot of fun. I enjoy it every day, said Chara. I enjoy working hard. When you get recognized for the dedication and the hard work its really gratifying.
Theres something symbolic about Chara throwing his body in front of a puck to save the game-tying goal late in the third period of an important road game that just so happened to be his 1,000th NHL game.
Its the exact kind of rugged defense and indomitable will to win thats lifted Bostons game since Chara first arrived in town six seasons ago, and its the reason the defensemans 1000th game is merely a pit stop on the way to greater things.