CHICAGO – Zdeno Chara doesn’t blend in with any crowd. At six-foot-nine, the Boston Bruins captain is noticeable whenever he’s on the ice.
When he was out there for five Chicago Blackhawks goals in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, suddenly he was the centre of attention. Jonathan Toews wondered if he and his teammates exposed Chara or in some way figured him out.
“A lot of people have tried to figure out Zdeno, and he’s the type of player he is,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “He’s one of the best defencemen in the league, so I don’t think there’s too many flaws in his game.”
There aren’t. Naturally left-winger Patrick Sharp was quick to say that the Blackhawks are “definitely not sitting in here thinking we’ve got him figured out. That’s ridiculous.”
“That’s an ongoing battle, ongoing challenge,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “Big minutes, big man, positionally strong and aware. I just think that whether you’re going away from him or at him, you’ve got to do some things to play in your favour.”
Chicago has tried, just as every other opponent has, to solve a player who’s in the Norris Trophy discussion every year. Go right at him? Avoid him? The Blackhawks’ goal has been to put the puck in his corner and try to hit him as much as possible.
“He logs a lot of minutes. To hit him, just to finish your check – not a huge hit – you just need to wear him down and just know that we’re coming on him,” Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell said. “Forcing him, maybe we’ll get some turnovers or just wear him down, but we just need to get our hits in when we can.”
The Blackhawks have plenty of chances to take the body on Chara. Through 20 playoff games, he has played 600 minutes, almost 50 more than the closest player, Chicago’s Duncan Keith.
But Bruins teammates aren’t convinced the heavy work load takes a toll on Chara.
“I’ve been with him for six years now and he’s not a guy I see who gets worn down,” left-winger Milan Lucic said. “He’s our captain, and he takes a lot of pride in doing what he does. Of all the guys that I’ve played with, I don’t think there’s a guy that takes more pride in himself and how he approaches the game on and off the ice and takes care of himself.”
How Chara is handling the adversity of being on the ice for five goals-against is a bit of an unknown. Sometimes jovial, he hasn’t been particularly candid in interviews during the series and would prefer to talk about the team than himself.
Bruins players are seeing the same, reliable Chara.
“When he comes to the rink, he’s all business,” rookie defenceman Torrey Krug said. “He knows we have a job to do, so he’s looking forward to just getting it done.”
Chara isn’t a dynamic offensive force, but he controls the play from the back end arguably better than anyone in the NHL. Brandon Saad and others in the Chicago locker-room surmised they gave Chara too much respect at the start of the series and finally had some success against him by paying less the attention to him.
“You don’t want to worry too much about him,” right-winger Patrick Kane said. “You think about figuring him out or trying to play against him and it only goes to your disadvantage because you’re thinking too much.”
Still, Chara has to be a focal point given just how much he plays and contributes in all situations. And even though he might not relish the media attention, teammates think he thrives when opponents are worried about him.
“It doesn’t matter what they do,” defence partner Dennis Seidenberg said. “I think Z likes those situations where he’s under pressure, where the guys go at him, playing physically.”