ST LOUIS – Let’s not mince any words here.
The Bruins are in big trouble if the worst fears are realized and Zdeno Chara is out for the rest of the Stanley Cup Final with a broken jaw, which Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reports the B's defenseman has suffered.
All signs pointed to that kind of injury as the Game 4 loss rolled on for the Black and Gold at the Enterprise Center and Chara sat stoically on the bench with a face shield guarding his mouth after taking a deflected puck there in the second period. Chara is one of the toughest people on the planet and him not being on the ice for the third period of with the score tied and the B’s with a chance to take a 3-1 lead in the series?
That means something is very rotten in Denmark as far as his health is concerned, and that was backed up by Brandon Carlo’s comments about the 6-foot-9 captain essentially not able to speak on the B’s bench.
"Obviously his mouth has some blood and I don't know what's going on in there, but he can barely talk and he's out there supporting us," Carlo said after the game.
Bruce Cassidy has mentioned that the Bruins may roll out seven defensemen if Chara and Matt Grzelcyk are both missing for Game 5 on Thursday night at TD Garden. That’s certainly a plan more out of necessity than preference. Rookie Urho Vaakanainen has the talent to handle the big minutes and is more of a defensive-minded D-man while also being able to skate swiftly, but he was also knocked out of his last NHL action with a concussion. That doesn’t bode especially well against the bloodthirsty Blues, who've been finishing all their checks and looking for knockout hits in a series that’s been full of physicality. That’s the reason why a more reliable veteran such as Steve Kampfer might also draw in just in case Vaakanainen isn’t going to be able to handle the pressure cooker environment in a Game 5 where both teams are going to be hellbent on earning the series advantage.
It also wouldn’t be bad to have the extra D-men bodies after the Bruins have already played two out of four games while missing one of their defensemen for the bulk of the game. That’s evolved into some Bruins D-men logging big minutes and pretty clear signs of fatigue by the end of the game and that’s going to be amplified when trying to replace Chara’s 20-plus minutes of rugged ice time.
The bottom line if the Bruins are without Chara: They are going to take a big hit. Certainly, they may be faster and more mobile and against the Blues that might turn out to be an advantage. Still, they’re also going to weaken a red-hot penalty kill, make it easier for dangerous offensive players Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn to operate in the offensive zone and will miss their biggest, baddest sheriff against a team that’s been smacking them in the mouth for four games and counting.
Some people look forward to the end of the Chara era with the Bruins because he has slowed down a bit at 42 but the very real fear that he's out for the rest of the Cup Final is going to be a case of “be careful what you ask for” if Big Zee is done for the rest of the postseason.
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