Haggerty: Chara again proves he's super-human

Haggerty: Chara again proves he's super-human
May 17, 2013, 10:30 am
Share This Post

BOSTON –- Amazingly, there have been some questions about Zdeno Chara’s legendary leadership qualities in recent weeks as his Bruins team continued to struggle to find their consistency and motivation in an erratic season.

Some of those were the same old tired half-truths and whispers that dogged Chara early in his career with the Bruins when the team routinely underachieved in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  

But the bulk of those notions about Chara’s captaincy were seemingly put to bed when the 6-foot-9 defenseman raised the Stanley Cup over his head two years ago. They reached their expiration date at just about the same time the Slovakian warrior let out a Stanley Cup victory scream that would have made Arnold Schwarzenegger from Predator jealous.

Perhaps Chara put any remaining questions in a submission sleeper hold on Thursday night with his tour de force performance in Boston’s 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 against the New York Rangers at TD Garden, a yeoman’s work kind of game for Boston’s best defenseman while also helping to cover for an injury depleted Boston blue-line corps featuring three rookies. It was a moment where Chara had no choice but to be excellent if the Bruins hoped for a chance to win, and he was exactly that and then some: it was arguably his greatest individual playoff game in a Bruins uniform.

It wasn’t just soaking up the minutes and finishing with 38:02 of ice that meant he basically played half of the overtime game, however. It was also Chara’s ability to make a defensive play to kick-start the entire transition game in overtime that set up Brad Marchand’s game-winner. It wasn’t a thunderous body check from the 6-foot-9 tower of power, or a courageous blocked shot on a heat-seeking missile headed toward the net that sparked things, though.

“On that play you know if you look at it it’s a great play by Z [Zdeno Chara], also just to get that little detail that goes a long way,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It was pretty much a four-on-two on that play and that poke check there just set us free pretty much.”

It was a savvy, smart poke check at exactly the right time of the extra session that freed both Bergeron and Marchand to begin their quick advance into the New York end, with Ryan McDonagh out of position after making an ill-timed decision to aggressively pinch.

Those are the kinds of subtle plays that Chara makes all of the time, and the ones that some seem to miss looking for him to simply crush an opponent in the corner, or wind up for a 108-mph slap shot in the offensive end.  

“We seem to talk about this guy almost every time because of what he is. Tonight was one of those things where the little details make a big difference in the game. That poke check that he made at the right time, and then giving us a chance to come back and score was huge,” said Claude Julien. “Zdeno [Chara] does those things over and over, and that’s why I said to people that even though he hasn’t been nominated for a Norris, he’s been our Norris Trophy winner every year by the way he’s played.

“The amount of time he’s played, and the players he’s played against. He continues to do that, and we appreciate that kind of play from him a lot. This is the kind of thing that you get from Zdeno [Chara], and tonight wasn’t any different.”

Chara was justly wearing the Army Ranger Bruins jacket handed out to the Bruins player of the game while addressing the assembled media at the press conference podium following the game. The 36-year-old defenseman was typically stoic and laconic as he’s been through this entire playoff run while taking care to make sure he’s available and accountable win, lose or draw.

“I’m just trying to help the team as much as I can and whatever coach feel comfortable putting out there, I’m fine with that,” said Chara. “We got power play (earlier in overtime) to give us some momentum, we created some chances and that basically carried on for the rest of the overtime.

“But also they got some chances too. So, it just happened that we got an odd number situation and we scored.”

It just so happens Chara was a big part of that play that developed in overtime for the game-winner after shepherding the Three Little Baby Bears defenseman through the first Stanley Cup playoff game. Much was expected out of Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski playing in place of injured Bruins players, and Chara helped guide them through with advice and the power of his example on the ice.

The 6-foot-9 captain came through the clutch play in overtime, led all players with nine shots on net, scored a second period goal on a knuckling puck from the high slot and doled out six hits along with a pair of blocked shots in the kind of full box score that denotes a full day’s work.

But the leadership component for all of the young defensemen that needed to step up in Game 1 was a very real thing as well. It’s never a big rah-rah speech or a touchy-feely moment with the Bruins Captain, but plenty can be learned simply by watching Chara go about his own unique “Slovakian Iron Man Hockey” example on the ice when his team needs him most.

“You try to obviously try to talk to them on the ice as much as you can. [The] Coaches [are] doing their part so, and also you’ve got to let them play, the way they naturally like to play. That’s the biggest thing,” said Chara. “But like I said, it’s something that’s never easy for any player to come in and all of a sudden be put in a spot like this.

“You’ve got to make sure that as a unit of five we all play a certain way to make it easier on certain situations.”

Not everybody can play the way that Chara plays, and that much is obvious given his physical gifts and the unquenchable work ethic that has him climbing mountains and riding portions of the Tour de France course on his road bicycle in his downtime. But the rest of the Bruins can certainly follow his hard-working example on the ice as they did in a roll-up-your-sleeves overtime victory in Game 1, and that’s true leadership at any level of sports.

Chara, leader of man, proved exactly how valuable he is once again with a performance in Game 1 against the Rangers that proves the Bruins captain has lost absolutely nothing from his game at the tail end of his prime. But we should expecting nothing less from a guy that’s always seemed a little super-human to the rest of us mere mortals.