Bruins

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Zdeno Chara is set to reach a milestone when he takes the ice Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. 

The B's captain will be skating in his 1,500th NHL game, something that's only been accomplished by five other defensemen in NHL history. And while some of his younger teammates such as Charlie McAvoy, 21, only have a few seasons under their belt, they understand what an accomplishment it is to reach the 1,500-game mark.

"What an unbelievable accomplishment," McAvoy said, according to BostonBruins.com's Eric Russo. "I couldn't be happier for him. I will make sure to give him a big hug tonight. What an accomplishment. You really can't overstate it. He puts himself into some special, special company."

B's assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, a teammate of Chara's since the 6-foot-9 defenseman signed with Boston in 2006, knows what the 42-year-old brings to the table. 

"The backbone of our defense for the last I don't know how many years," Bergeron said. "He's redefined the position by the way that he defends but also put up offense, his shot…he's well respected around the league, but even more so in this organization by the players and also the city, the fans, and everyone. True competitor and an amazing accomplishment."

While Bergeron stressed that Chara's leadership is something that sets him apart, former B's captain (1983-85) Terry O'Reilly echoed that when discussing the big man's career. 

"He's been probably one of the best captains in the history of the Boston Bruins," O'Reilly said, according to NHL.com's Dave Stubbs. "He's played any kind of hockey you want to play. He's been used since he arrived here to shut down the best offensive players in the NHL. He's taken it upon himself to see that none of his teammates are abused, but he does it with almost a Don Quixote attitude. He doesn't go after anybody. But if they come at him and hit him hard, he plays that kind of game."

Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, who captained the Bruins from 1988-2000, put Chara on a pedestal when discussing his astounding career. 

"I've always said your best players should be your best people," Bourque said. "Chara is a gift. In Boston we have him and [New England Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady, doing remarkable things in their 40s. The longevity and the success they've both had is incredible."

As Chara continues to age, he's been able to adjust his game. Another Bruins legend, Rick Middleton, is very surprised with Chara's adaptation to the fast-paced style that young forwards have brought to the NHL. 

"Today, when someone chips the puck in around Zee, he's got to turn and figure out the angle because he may not be as quick as that forward," Middleton said. "He's got to adjust his game to the speed. His instincts take over. It's been amazing to me that he's not been exposed that way. [Hall of Fame defenseman] Brad Park was the same. When he had bad knees and lost a lot of his speed, he adjusted by learning the angles better, maybe when to turn a little earlier or not go as deep in the zone. Zee has done that."

But while Chara has had to conform his game, Wayne Cashman thinks the big man can play past the 2019-20 season. 

"You hear stories about him being in the gym every day … he's conditioned to play the game and he's adjusted to the game," Cashman said. "He's playing slightly fewer minutes now, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't play two or three more years. You can see that he's very dedicated and he's adjusted [to new rules] extremely well. You can see how he positions himself on the ice."

Chara's gym routine is something that's kept him well-conditioned for years, and Johnny Bucyk emphasized that when discussing Chara's longevity. 

"Zdeno works out every day even when he's injured," Bucyk said "He'll battle for his teammates. If somebody goes after a player for no reason at all, he'll step right in. His biggest problem, if you want to call it that, is that he's so strong, he doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's very dedicated. I appreciate watching him. He's had a great career and it's not over yet."

While Chara's career isn't over yet, he'll have a huge decision to make following the end of the season -- retire, or continue playing into his age 43 season. 

The Black & Gold's captain isn't the only one reaching a milestone on Tuesday night. Former Bruins, and current Canadiens head coach Claude Julien will be coaching his 1,200th NHL game. In 10 seasons in Boston, he led the B's to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and became the franchise's all-time leader in coaching victories with 419. 

There will be no shortage of history made Tuesday. The B's and Habs will faceoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

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Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

BOSTON – The good news for the Bruins is that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

The relatively bad news for the Bruins is also that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

Clearly, the Bruins would rather be up 15 points than behind 15 points, but with every situation there comes challenges.

It certainly seems as if some disarming comfort and an old-fashioned lack of urgency have crept into the B’s game as they again stumbled through the first 40 minutes Thursday night before a patented third-period comeback earned them a point in an eventual overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

The game against Chicago was particularly damning because it uncovered a real lack of focus in the overall game. The Bruins allowed a pair of special teams goals in the final two minutes of the first period and were caught napping again 17 seconds into the third to dig a 3-0 hole.

One can dissect the individual problems, whether it was a costly turnover from Charlie McAvoy on the power play that led to Chicago’s shorthanded goal, or the ensuing penalty from David Pastrnak that allowed the Blackhawks to double up with a PP goal 37 seconds later. Or Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug flat out getting caught flat-footed on Alex DeBrincat’s speed rush in the opening shift of the third that finally seemed to act like smelling salts to the Black and Gold.

It says something about the character and the overall talent of the team that they can continuously overcome deficits in the third period. There’s no denying they are the best team in the NHL in the final 20 minutes of the game.

They are outscoring opponents by a 2-1 margin (42-21) in the third period and have a whopping plus-21 goal differential when it comes to winning time.

But the lack of urgency out of the gate game after game of late sure looks like complacency and certainly looks like a team that knows they are far out ahead in the standings.

“Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.

"But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need [the urgency]."

The danger, of course, is that the Bruins turn into this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they race off to such a commanding lead that they never truly face character-building adversity in the regular season. The B’s have enough experience and talent to overcome that once they are in a playoff series, which would make them demonstrably different than a Lightning team that folded like a cheap chair in four games against Columbus last spring.

But there is still very much a danger now that the Bruins can float through the rest of this regular season where they only need to win half (27) of their remaining 53 games to still get to 100 points based on their bounding start. Essentially the Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still breeze right into the playoffs, and win the division as well.

It's difficult to stay sharp under those circumstances and it will be equally difficult to match the intensity in the postseason facing a team that will have been scratching and clawing in order to get there. Torey Krug maintained he didn’t know what kind of lead the Bruins had in the Atlantic Division standings, and that’s probably the best thing for the Bruins to do right now.

“I would say normally yes, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in that position right now,” said Krug, when asked if the Bruins need to guard against complacency. “I don’t why that is. It’s so early in the season and we’re chasing perfection, and there’s a high standard here. So maybe that’s where it comes from,  but it doesn’t feel like we’re that far ahead [of everybody else].

“We’re missing a lot of guys too, so you always feel like going into these games that you need to bring your ‘A’ game because of who we’re missing. As a veteran guy, you feel like you need to take more onto your shoulders. I’m not even sure if guys know [their lead in the Atlantic] and it’s probably a good idea to just stay in the moment.”

Clearly, Krug walks it the way he talks as it was the puck-moving D-man that notched the tying goal Thursday in the final minutes to cap off the three-goal comeback in the third period.

The one silver lining that could stoke the B’s hunger and keep them at least partially invested in the game-to-game gauntlet the next five months: The top seed in the Eastern Conference is still wide open in competition with the Capitals.

Home-ice advantage all through the playoffs is certainly something to play for and could be a difference in a conference final showdown with Washington, and that should be a carrot directly in front of the Bruins that the coaching staff can sell them on.

But at no point does it seem as if the Bruins are going to have to fight for their lives for the rest of the season and they are already close to finishing the season series with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, rivals that are chasing them in the standings.

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will continue to be without Patrice Bergeron this weekend, but the B’s top center is making progress with his lower-body injury.

Bergeron, 34, took a positive step by participating in practice with his teammates for the first time since being injured on Friday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, though he was wearing a no-contact sweater and didn’t really mix in with his normal linemates for drills. Bruce Cassidy confirmed following practice that Bergeron won’t play Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, but remained hopeful he may return early next week barring any setbacks.

“[He’s wearing] a red sweater; that’s good. He participated in some line rushes, but it wasn’t a heavy contact practice,” said Cassidy. “He won’t play [against Colorado], but once you have the red sweater on you’re that much closer. Monday [against Ottawa] now becomes more of a target date for us if there are no setbacks.”

It will mark the seventh straight game that Bergeron has missed with his lower-body injury and the ninth game of the past 11 games that he’s missed due to the nagging injury. The amazing thing: The Bruins have gone 6-0-2 thus far without Bergeron and have done a pretty good job of getting by having David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others fill into his many different roles on the ice. 

Brett Ritchie skated in line drills and appears close to a return, but it remains to be seen which forward he might replace in the lineup. 

Here are the projected line combos and defense pairings based on practice Friday ahead of the big non-conference tilt Saturday against eth talented, explosive Avs:

Marchand-Coyle-Heinen

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

Bjork-Lindholm-Ritchie

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Moore-Grzelcyk

 

Rask

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