Chara marvels at Ortiz's ability to maintain his high level of play


Chara marvels at Ortiz's ability to maintain his high level of play

BRIGHTON -- If anyone can appreciate the way David Ortiz is going out in his final season at age 40, it’s longtime Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Big Zee will also turn 40 this season, is in his second-to-last contracted year, and, like Ortiz, still maintains a superior level of play despite Father Time not exactly standing by him anymore.

Chara remains the Bruins' de facto No. 1 defenseman, though his Norris Trophy finalist days are clearly behind him. Still, he posted good numbers last season -- 9 goals, 37 points, plus-12 in 80 games --  and, as he showed in leading Team Europe to the World Cup of Hockey finals, is still capable of summoning his dominant shutdown capabilities.

So it’s no surprise the 6-foot-9 defenseman has marveled from afar at Ortiz’s ability to keep producing MVP numbers in his final season with the Red Sox.

“It’s impressive," an admiring Chara told "He’s done so much for the sport, and for the team and for the city. He’s going to leave a huge footprint in Boston, and everybody is always going to remember him. It’s not just for all the home runs he put up, but it’s also about the message he was able to send out away from the baseball field."

Much the same could be said about Chara, who led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, to the Cup finals in 2013, and who worked tirelessly to keep himself in superb shape.

“Speaking for myself, you have to have a passion and you have to love the game (to keep excelling into your 40s)," he said. "You have to enjoy the sacrifice and the pain. I’m sure there are many athletes that went through it, and David is one of those guys that kept himself in really good shape. You notice he works really hard in the offseason to keep in really good shape, perform and put up the numbers that he keeps posting. That’s a big credit [to Ortiz], because anybody that thinks it’s kind of easy to stay in the league, it’s quite hard.”

It seems from the outside that young Sox players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have played a role in pushing Ortiz toward the .315 batting average and 38 home runs he posted in his farewell season. Chara readily admitted the young up-and-coming Bruins players do exactly the same for him.

“The development of players, no matter what sport, is so much better and so much faster, and so much on a higher level that now you see guys that are 17, 18 and 19 [years old] and they’re ready to play," he said. "That speed-up development is implemented in juniors or PeeWees, or whatever, and the technology is helping these young athletes get to that highest level that much faster. It's a great thing. It pushes older, or more experienced, players to keep up and be that much better.”

The attention and focus on talented young players in Major League Baseball and the NHL will obviously always be there, and the “young gun” Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey accentuated that point while taking the tournament by storm.

It’s not often in this day and age that players approaching 40 can keep up, so perhaps every Boston sports fan should take a moment of appreciation in the here and now.

Elder statesmen like Ortiz and Chara still operating at such a high frequency deep into the twilight of their brilliant careers don’t come along very often. And to have two of them, champions and Hall of Famers in their respective sports, is a gift.

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

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Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

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There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

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B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

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It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

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Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the top spot in the East and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.