When Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara makes his return to T.D. Garden - his home for the previous 14 seasons - for the first time, he won't get the fan reception he deserves.
"With Z, I was thinking about it earlier, it would've been so amazing if we could've kind of relived some of those moments with the fans," said Brandon Carlo, Chara's blueline mate for the last four seasons. "It would've been just as loud as Game 5 that year when Z returned after his jaw injury."
Loud was an understatement for the kind of fanfare Chara received after taking a puck to the face in Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Chara needed plates, wires, and screws to hold his jaw together so he could return to play in Game 5 looking for his second title with the Bruins.
Chara's engagement in the community, evident when he would always walk around Boston and interact with fans, made him an integral figure in the Boston sports lexicon during the city's golden era of professional sports.
"He became part of the fabric with what we want in this organization and from this city," Carlo said.
"It was an unbelievable response for Z to be in the lineup backing it up a little bit coming in the morning and I just assumed he wouldn't be able to play. He was ready to go," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Not surprised, but I know the Bruins fans appreciated the blue collar effort. They love skill and they love toughness and a blend of both, but they appreciate effort. Z always gave you 100% and that had a lot to do with it."
Boston ultimately ended up losing to St. Louis in Game 7 at home, but not due to a lack of effort, a staple of what Chara was so instrumental in bringing when he signed with the team in 2006 after starting his career with the Ottawa Senators.
"I think they also appreciate when he came here, put a C on his sweater, he had a goal in mind with how the Bruins were going to play moving forward and he achieved that," Cassidy said. "He made them hard to play against defensive minded Stanley Cup champions. He was a big part of that."
A big reason why Chara always showed up ready to play, patched up or not, was his famous lifting sessions in which he would spend several hours working out at a time.
"Guys were joking around, it's almost like he's trying to touch every piece of equipment that's in the gym every time," Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said. "He's in there and working at all times and doing extra. It's pretty impressive from a guy that's accomplished so much, but I think that's why. He still has that drive and that competitiveness and wants to get better."
The 43-year-old's drive to continue competing at a high level, and with a bigger role than he was offered in the offseason with Boston, has helped Washington sure up its own defense with experience and championship pedigree.
Though Chara won't get the chance to experience his return to Boston with fans, his former teammates are still excited to play against him.
"It would've been very special for him to have that, but still gonna be great to see him back in Boston," Carlo said. "He's been doing great this year and we definitely miss him, but happy he's succeeding."