Time to get Chara some rest ahead of playoffs

USA TODAY Sports photo

Time to get Chara some rest ahead of playoffs

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at the United Center:

1) It is quickly becoming time for Zdeno Chara to get a rest ahead of the playoffs.

The postseason is officially less than a month away and Chara has enjoyed a very strong season buoyed by the brilliant Charlie McAvoy as his defensive partner most of the season. Still, lately Chara has shown his soon-to-be 41 years old age and it’s clear that the grueling end of the season schedule for the Bruins is negatively impacting him at its tougher moments. Chara didn’t have a single hit or blocked shot in a bad game against the Red Wings last week and he made a key mental error late in the third period of the loss to the Hawks that pretty much doomed the Bruins. 

Chara’s high-sticking penalty in the final minutes with the score tied at 1 was certainly something that could happen to anybody. Chicago scored the go-ahead goal on an ensuing power play strike from Patrick Kane and it’s no surprise it happened with Chara, their best penalty-killer, in the box. But the real dagger for the Bruins arrived once the penalty expired with Chicago still holding the puck deep in the Boston zone. Chara opted to turn his back to the play and skate across the ice to the Bruins bench for the quick change and the puck arrived right where Chara would have been for a Brent Seabrook strike from the right point. Surely, it was a tough, split-second call late in the second of back-to-back games against the Blackhawks and it wasn’t where the game was won or lost. But it’s those kinds of plays that will dictate, at least in part, how far the Bruins get in the playoffs. 

They need a rested, full-power Chara making all the right mental and physical plays late in those tight playoff games. What they can’t have is the Chara who flung a puck over the boards for a crucial delay of game penalty late in a playoff game as happened last season against Ottawa, a clear sign of fatigue impacting the Bruins captain at a crucial point. The best way to combat that is to get Chara some rest. Make him a healthy scratch him for a game or two with 16 remaining in the regular season and try to get him at least a few games under 20 minutes of ice time with wins and losses not quite a life-or-death thing for the Bruins right now.

2) The Bruins finally learned what their breaking point was on Sunday.

When you remove Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes and Brad Marchand from your lineup, then it’s too much for the Bruins to find that magical winning formula. It was a true “You can’t win them all” kind of loss after six consecutive wins on home ice for the Black and Gold. 

Marchand missed Sunday’s game with an upper-body injury, but you’ve got to also wonder if there was some level of protecting No. 63 late in the season with the Blackhawks almost certainly set to target him in the game. It’s also not the worst time for the Bruins to start resting their key players, as outlined above with Zdeno Chara, so resting a red-hot Marchand isn’t a bad thing. Backes will be back for the Tuesday night game against the Carolina Hurricanes, so the Bruins are beginning to get their forward group back together with both Bergeron and McAvoy not expected to play in the foreseeable future. The good news is they should probably be the only guys missing from the lineup when the Bruins play a couple of key games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning at the end of the week.

3) The Bruins need to start cleaning things up from a discipline perspective.

The Bruins have allowed four power plays or more to opponents in six of their past eight games and not-so-coincidentally, have put a lot of pressure on their penalty kill over that time. It happened again on Sunday with the Blackhawks getting five power plays to Boston’s one. The Bruins allowed a pair of power-play goals along with a third Chicago score that happened right after the PP time expired. The Bruins have allowed four power-play goals in their past four games, and can’t continue to play with fire when it comes to taking penalties, letting their discipline go and allowing special teams to become a bigger factor in games than it needs to be. It evened out in the case of the back-to-backs against the Blackhawks over the weekend as a high-sticking call buried Chicago on Saturday and did the same to the Bruins on Sunday. In the end, the B’s will come out on the losing end if they keep taking an overabundance of penalties this late in the season.


*This season, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews haven’t had too many glorious moments that serve as throwbacks to the Stanley Cup years, but Sunday was one of those games as Kane nailed the game-winner in the third period. Toews had three assists and was a dominant 16-for-21 in the face-off circle without Patrice Bergeron to keep him in check.

*Anton Khudobin was excellent for the Bruins and kept them in the game with a number of stops through the first 50-plus minutes. He had the Bruins poised to at least get a point in overtime as the third period wound down. Then, the Chara high-sticking play happened and the Blackhawks essentially got two more power-play goals after getting on the board early with a PP strike as well. Khudobin finished with 36 saves and had to face some very high-quality chances in another uneven game from the B’s.

*Jake DeBrusk finished with another strong game. He assisted on Chara’s third-period goal, finished with six shot attempts and threw a couple of hits as well in a season-high 19:48 of ice time as the Bruins rookie elevates his game late in the season.


*Chara did score Boston’s only goal on a big wrist shot from the high slot, but he also committed a late-game, high-sticking penalty that doomed the Bruins to a regulation loss. Chara also compounded that error by not getting into the fray as he exited the penalty box when the Blackhawks had the puck deep in Boston’s zone. Chicago scored right from the area of the ice that was opened up as Chara skated to the bench with his back turned.

*No shots on net and a hooking call on Danton Heinen, who managed to play just 11:20 of ice time and continues to be much less of a factor in all zones than he was earlier in the season. Heinen has one point in his past 14 games and hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 6.

*The Bruins penalty kill has been up and down the past month and it was a bad day for them on Sunday. They allowed a pair of power-play goals, and another one right after a PP expired that essentially killed any chances of a late third-period comeback. Given their recent spate of penalties taken, the Bruins PK needs to be better. That’s a challenge with no Bergeron around.    



Chris Wagner injury: Bruins winger exits vs. Stars with upper body issue

Chris Wagner injury: Bruins winger exits vs. Stars with upper body issue

BOSTON -- The Bruins lost one of their fourth line warriors in Thursday night’s win over the Dallas Stars, but it's unclear exactly how long Chris Wagner will be out after leaving the game with an upper-body injury.

Wagner exited in the second period of the Bruins' 4-3 win over the Stars after taking a roughing penalty for tackling Mattias Janmark, who went after Bruins forward David Krejci.

Janmark had bumped Krejci at the Dallas net after the B’s center had just exited the penalty box for a fight with Joe Pavelski, and Wagner quickly came to his aid by grabbing Janmark in a hug and throwing him down to the ice. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Wagner tallied four hits and a couple of shot attempts in 7:52 of ice time before his exit.

“Upper body. He didn’t come back, obviously,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Wagner, who had goals in two of the last three games and seven shots on net during an active stretch. "We’ll have a better idea [on Friday] on how he feels when he comes in.”

The real shame of it all is that Wagner had been playing some of his best hockey of the season over the last month, jelling with Par Lindholm and Sean Kuraly into the kind of effective, energetic fourth line that was giving the B’s consistent minutes.

The good news is that Wagner was walking around the Bruins dressing room following the win and appeared to be OK, so the expectation is that he won’t be out very long due to injury. 

If Wagner can’t play this weekend against the New York Islanders, then the expectation is that pot-stirring forward Anton Blidh would draw back into the lineup for the Black and Gold after sitting out the last couple of games.

Stars-Bruins Talking Points: Nick Ritchie as advertised in Bruins victory over Stars

Stars-Bruins Talking Points: Nick Ritchie as advertised in Bruins victory over Stars

GOLD STAR: Nick Ritchie showed his physicality on Tuesday night and showed off the skill that made him a top-10 pick in the draft in Thursday night’s win over the Stars.

Ritchie scored a second period goal on his first shot as a member of the Bruins after collecting a loose puck in the high slot and firing it through traffic on its way past Ben Bishop. Then, Ritchie teamed with David Pastrnak on a give-and-go play where he fed No. 88 at the post for a tap-in goal that showed off the big winger’s smooth hands for a power forward-type player.

Ritchie finished with two shot attempts, three hits and a pair of blocked shots to go along with a plus-1 rating in 12:59 of ice time, and continues to show the ability to win battles along the boards and serve as a big body in front of the net. He looks as advertised a couple of games into his Bruins career.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

BLACK EYE: Alex Radulov didn’t even register a blip on the radar screen for the Stars as he finished with zero shots on net while on ice for a pair of goals against in 13:49 of ice time.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn at least both picked up assists in the loss for Dallas while showing a little offensive production, but Radulov was a passenger while doing next-to-nothing in defeat. Radulov is having a so-so season with the Stars while sitting at 15 goals and 33 points, but it was far from his “A” game against the Bruins on Thursday night.

Then there’s the literal black eye that Joe Pavelski probably received after getting hammered by a flurry of right-handed punches from David Krejci before the referees were able to break things up.

TURNING POINT: It was very clearly the fight between Krejci and Pavelski in the second period where Krejci had decided enough was enough with the Stars forward. Krejci got tangled up with Pavelski in front of the net and the gloves came flying off both players before the Bruins center landed a number of right-handed punches on him.

The Bruins seemed to play with more intensity and energy following the fisticuffs from Krejci and scored a pair of goals to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on the evening. For a player that was criticized for not playing hard enough following Tuesday night’s loss, Krejci had a big response this time around in his first fight since dropping the gloves with Benoit Pouliot during the 2010-11 season.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak continues to push the envelope offensively and that’s what he did in scoring his 46th goal of the season on Thursday night. Pastrnak sped the puck up the ice all by himself, dished quickly to Nick Ritchie and then cut to the net before the power forward dished it back to him for the tap-in goal at the post.

Pastrnak finished with a goal, two points and a plus-2 rating in 17:16 of ice time while registering four shots on net and eight shot attempts overall. More importantly, Pastrnak had zero giveaways in the game and managed the puck while making his usual array of dazzling plays in the offensive zone.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of shots on net in a Bruins uniform that it took for both Ritchie brothers to score goals, and with both of those goals coming against the Stars.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We responded. They were aware that it wasn’t our best. We needed to be better and we were tonight.” –Bruce Cassidy, on the B’s bouncing back after back-to-back losses to Vancouver and Calgary.