BOSTON -- It wouldn’t be out of line for the Boston Bruins to hope for a bit of a Thanksgiving miracle when it comes to the health of team captain Zdeno Chara.
The 39-year-old defenseman exited Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden after his first shift of the second period, and never returned to a game where the Bruins defense fell apart without him while allowing three goals in the middle period. Chara had absorbed a hit in the corner from Blues forward Jaden Schwartz during his final shift of the game, but he finished off the full shift before leaving the bench area for the Bruins dressing room right afterward.
So it was unclear if Chara’s injury related to the Schwartz hit in the corner, or perhaps there was a pre-existing reason.
The most abundantly clear development in Chara leaving the game: the Bruins were rattled for the rest of the second period, and really don’t have anybody that can step up and fill in for the 6-foot-9 defensive stopper. Instead 19-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo was on the ice for both the game-tying and go-ahead goals for St. Louis in the second period, and Torey Krug was a minus-3 while leading all Bruins with 24:44 of ice time in the loss.
“I just think that in the second period, with five D’s, we got caught in our own end at times for long periods of time, and then we had some guys that were out there tired, and some of those guys were obviously D’s,” said Claude Julien. “So it cost us a few goals there, and I think that’s where there was a big difference in the game, because overall I thought our first period was good. I thought our third period we did a lot of good things, and again, it’s probably you wish you had better finish on those opportunities. So I’m not going to criticize the effort. I think overall, we competed against a pretty good hockey club, but at the end of the day, we needed to find that extra goal or those extra couple of goals.
“Some of those guys on the back end, I thought, did a great job of being challenged at playing more. Joe Morrow was one of those guys, and Brandon Carlo had to step up there, and that’s the first time he’s played without his partner. It just goes to show how important Zee [Zdeno Chara] is to our hockey club, and to Brandon.”
The bad news is that Chara doesn’t come out of games unless something significant is bothering him, so his high threshold for pain has been crossed in a pretty major way. But Chara has also shown a penchant for healing quickly from injuries as well, and the Bruins have to hope that is again the case with zero viable options at No. 1 defenseman without him.
“We’ve got to be smarter when we’re down a man like that, especially a big part of the team like [Chara] is,” said David Backes. “Hopefully it’s very temporary and he’ll be back in short order, but if not, we’ve got to have different guys pick up the slack and move forward. He’s obviously an awesome player, but we’re going to have injuries to guys and we need to spread the wealth and all shoulder a little bit more load, and find ways to win games.”
That’s all well and good in theory, but Chara is the most irreplaceable player on Boston’s roster outside of goaltender Tuukka Rask, and he was off to a strong start (one goal, six points and a plus-12 rating in 18 games) as he approaches 40 years old this season.