Bruins

Chara steps to the head of the line

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Chara steps to the head of the line

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara may finally be rounding into the leader everyone always wanted him to be.

Thats no knock on the 6-foot-9 defenseman and Bruins captain in his fifth year with the team, and his 13th year in the NHL, of course.

Its more a nod to the demands that come along with wearing the C on the Black and Gold sweater of the Spoked B tribe, and the downright crazy expectations of a frothy fan base that hasnt tasted from the Stanley Cup in 39 anguish-filled years.

Chara couldnt just be a sterling leader by example or the hardest worker on the team as hes always been during his All-Star, Norris Trophy caliber career with the Islanders, Senators and Bruins.

Chara had to show fire and emotion in times of need for his team, and learn how to connect with every single member of his hockey club on a greater level than simply showing them how many pull-ups he could do in 60 seconds.

There was an emotional component to the job that Chara always seemed to be searching for, and it was clearly a process. It would seem that in his most challenging NHL season the Bs defenseman finally broke down those walls, and everyone within the organization has taken notice of his evolution as hes battled true adversity all along the way.

Weve been together for both our tenures here. We went to one conference final with Ottawa and lost, so that was a bit of painful memory. We just kind of connected briefly after Game 7 and I could see a little bit of a twinkle in his eye, said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. It was kind of a special moment for me to share with him. I cant say enough about him as a player and his defensive impact on the game.

I think in the Tampa series you saw him try and do a little more offensively on his own and at clutch times. That was -- for me -- him stepping up. His leadership abilities have grown exponentially. I cant say enough about Zee and the impact that he has in the locker room -- and on the ice.

The crowning moment came following the Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning when Chara finally experienced the victorious glory hes waited for his entire career.

Chara was invited to center ice to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly that signified Bostons Eastern Conference Championship, and his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

This was after taking down the Montreal Canadiens in seven games after that team, that city and that whole region forced Chara through the ringer for his clean hit on Max Pacioretty. This was after a police investigation for a hockey hit deemed a hockey play by the league that polices these sorts of things.

This was after Chara missed Game 2 with a case of severe dehydration that forced his hospitalization and caused him to drop a sickening 10 pounds over a 24-hour period leading up to the game.

This was after Chara blew away the questions about his 0-5 career record in Game 7 leading into this years playoffs with big performances in Game 7 victories over the Habs and Lightning.

It would have been natural for Chara to be thinking about himself when he was called to accept the Prince of Whales Trophy, pondering deeply what the victory meant to his standing both in the league and in the long history of the Bruins organization.

But thats not what happened at all, and it spoke volumes about Charas priorities.

Chara conjured up images of the 2001 New England Patriots when he summoned all of his teammates to crowd around the conference trophy and get a group picture with a mildly surprised Daly.

Why surprise?

Because its not normally done that way in the tradition-beholden NHL.

Chara departed from the norm to include an entire team thats grown incredibly tight over the last four years amid concussions, cheap shots, playoff collapses and a European trip that bonded the squad tightly together.

It was a group gesture that made a lot of people happy up and down the organizational ladder, and revealed just how closely the Bruins have developed into a unit that rises and falls on a united front.

It says a lot about the team. Zees never been there so he goes up there and you always talk about whether you touch the trophy or not. Youre probably thinking about a bunch of different things like Wow, we made it and all this stuff, said Chiarelli. You can tell what was first on his mind Lets get the team up there.

You look at the photo afterwards and its a pretty cool photo. Zee is growing exponentially as a leader. Im certain that he would say also that his support group is very strong. It has been getting stronger as a group. Hes a very effective and very good leader for this team.

Chara was anointed leader because of his role as a captain, but hes been supported by a stalwart leadership group within the Bs dressing room.

Mark Recchi has been a big factor in the Chara evolution as a leader because its given the big defenseman a veteran thats seen everything during his 21 years in the NHL. Chara listened to the 43-year-old from the first day he arrived in Boston via a trade with the Lightning three years ago.

Patrice Bergeron is the emerging force thats becoming a voice just as strong as Chara and Recchi when it comes to leadership, intensity and the commitment to bringing a Cup back to Boston. It was Bergeron and Chara after all that believed so much in the Bruins Way of doing things that they both signed on for lengthy contract extensions before the season commenced in Prague.

That trio is supported fully by Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ference, Tim Thomas and now by Chris Kelly, Shane Hnidy and a burgeoning group of young leaders within the dressing room taking their paces from the vets. Its created the perfect environment of winning inside the Bs dressing room, and Chara has seen it built from the ground up when he arrived in Chiarellis first season.

Its pretty special here, said Chara. Winning Game 7s thats when you know that everybodys buying into it. Everybodys willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes for the win.

We are just showing our desire. We want it bad and for every player in this room and every fan outside of this arena. We are very thankful to the fans and all the people for our support.

Chara has shown it while playing against the Canadiens at much less than 100 percent when he did return from his dehydration episode, and managing to lead the NHL playoff field with a plus-11 while lining up against the best offensive players in the world. Its left little doubt how much of a game-changer Chara is on the ice, and what his standing is within an organization thats boasted some pretty outstanding defensemen in its black and golden history.

It does validate that were filling the holes with the right people and bringing the right organization together. It validates the quality of the management and the leadershipnot just at the top but throughout the organization, said Bs owner Jeremy Jacobs. From the player on the ice, you take Zdeno Chara. His leadership is indispensable. I think the organization from the top to bottom has evolved into a singular objective.

Its taken time and some stunning defeats over the years for that message to be honed into something ready for a Cup-worthy ascension, but Chara has finally reached it this season as a leader still operating at an elite level.

Chiarelli always envisioned what Chara would become before his career was finished in Boston, and big Zee is now that guy forged through the fire of experience and time.

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

Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

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Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wondering if it shouldn’t be more of an issue that potential Red Sox manager Alex Cora was good buddies with Dustin Pedroia when the two played together in Boston.

*Jaromir Jagr suffers a lower-body injury and then goes on Hockey Night in Canada’s “After Hours” program to show once again how wonderful it is to be “The Jagr.”

*The Ottawa Senators get Erik Karlsson back this week, but now they’ve lost power forward Bobby Ryan for a month with a broken finger.

*The Montreal Canadiens are getting exposed for the very flawed team that they are during a brutal start to the 2017-18 season.

*Keep an eye out on the Los Angeles Kings now that they’ve suffered an injury with Jeff Carter and do appear to be in the running for the playoffs this season.

*New Jersey Devils fans help a singer belt out the national anthem after there might have been a case of forgetting the words.

*Doug Gilmour might not have always enjoyed the prying eyes while playing in Toronto, a case that gives you an idea what it’s like to be a pro hockey player in a market like Toronto where everybody knows your name.

*For something completely different: There’s no doubting that Aaron Judge has brought life and energy back to the Yankees and that’s something that’s very good for baseball.

 

Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

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Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

BOSTON – It feels like the Bruins might finally be hitting their critical mass with all of the injuries in the first few weeks of the season.

The B’s were down Tuukka Rask, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and David Krejci as the new injuries Saturday night and clearly missed those players, along with the others currently out with injuries in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. The Bruins had a three-goal lead in the second period and a two-goal lead in the third but frittered away both while allowing the hapless Sabres to outshoot them 21-6 in the third and overtime.

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Anton Khudobin battled his rebound control for most of the game while facing 42 shots on net but it was the absence of Miller and McQuaid in the D-zone that made it a little too easy for Buffalo to push Boston when it mattered late.

Torey Krug was on the ice for the last three of Buffalo’s goals and was out penalty killing late in the third period in a spot where he would never have been in if the B’s were healthy on the back end.

“That’s where the appreciation comes in for the Kevan Miller’s and the Adam McQuaid’s of the world. They’re not always flashy, but in those instances, they’re money. They get it done. And that’s why they are paid to get it done,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So yes, we miss them. But, last week we missed other players. So the guys that are out there, it’s up to them to get it done, right?

“It didn’t happen tonight, and hopefully we learned from it and can be hungrier the next time. There’s not much else to analyze that. That was it. Someone had to play in that situation. We pick guys who we figure would get the job done, and it didn’t work out for us. Next time, we’ll keep working at it.”

As part of the injury factor, there are also players that are banged-up and back in who are also clearly not back to full strength. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and David Backes (diverticulitis) are both back from their early-season issues and Krug continues to play with a healing fractured jaw, but all three key players combined for just a single assist and three shots on net in a game that featured nine goals.

Krug was the most noticeable weak link in the loss as he was overwhelmed in the D-zone on the game-tying goal when an Evander Kane shot bounced on him on its way into the goal. Krug was down on his stomach after losing his balance while battling in front of the net. Krug then was out for an extended period in OT before bumping a Sabres player around the crease who fell into Khudobin just as Ryan O’Reilly was pushing the game-winning goal past him.

Krug spoke on Saturday morning about feeling like things were starting to come together for him but he finished a minus-3 against the Sabres with his big, bad teammates out with injuries. He's a startling minus-8 after the first two weeks of the season.

“Obviously we have to do a better job tonight. Two-goal lead in your own building, it’s got to be the hardest place for the opposing team to come in and overcome that. We’ve got to be better,” said Krug. “I thought I had an opportunity to win a battle in the corner on that loose puck. Just trying to swat away and all of a sudden it comes out the other side, and we just couldn’t overcome. That’s survival mode. “Especially when they were able to make changes like they were. We just got to stay calm, composed, and make sure we’re not getting beat one-on-one. We obviously managed it for a while, but we just couldn’t get the puck back.”

It was also clearly about Khudobin, who had a big chance to put the Bruins team on his back with Rask out with a concussion. The Russian netminder made 37 saves and at times looked energetic and ready to battle between the pipes but at other times couldn’t make the clean save that the Bruins needed in order to get a whistle and calm things down. In OT, Khudobin couldn’t make a clean glove save on a Rasmus Ristolainen tester from the high slot that would have allowed the Bruins to get some tired players off the ice in the 3-on-3 OT.

Instead, Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were out on the ice for 2 minutes, 15 seconds and eventually got beaten on O’Reilly’s play that took the puck straight to the Boston net. Cassidy called it an “erratic” night for Khudobin when they needed calmer, more poised play from their goaltender and that was clearly a reflection of the Black and Gold missing Rask.

“[Khudobin] was erratic. He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. [He] certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him,” said Cassidy. “But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out [on plays] that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.

“[There were instances] in the third period, plus overtime, where we needed to calm the game down. Whether it’s a face-off, even right before the overtime goal, we had opportunities to get possession out of that pile. They came out with it. And that’s what I said. They were hungrier than us. Late, they won more pucks. If we win that puck out of that pile, we might not be talking about losing. Maybe we get out of trouble and it goes our way. We’ll never know.”

Maybe things would have gone the Bruins way if they had more of their walking wounded back and contributing. Instead, it feels as if the B’s are being tested with new, damaging injuries with each passing day. A number of those had a direct impact on a brutal loss to the Sabres on Saturday night. One has to wonder if there are more of those coming until the Bruins can start stabilizing their medical situation.