Zdeno Chara played a season-high 38 minutes 2 seconds in the 3-2 Game 1 overtime win over the Rangers. Three nights before, Chara logged 35:46 against Toronto in Game 7, coming off a 28:26 workload less than 24 hours earlier.
Chara’s engine shows no signs of misfiring.
“I don’t know if he plugs himself in at night,” cracked Dougie Hamilton, 17 years Chara’s junior. “It’s pretty incredible to be able to do that. It’s a huge credit to him. To be able to watch that, everyone is amazed at it. It makes it easier on our whole team.”
Chara and his teammates enjoyed a day off Friday. They will regroup for practice on Saturday morning at TD Garden. Other 36-year-olds might even take the practice off. Chara has no intentions of taking a rest.
“He might not even have slept and rode through the whole night for all we know,” said Matt Bartkowski of Chara, a cycling enthusiast.
The professional cyclists Chara follows — Slovakian sprinter Peter Sagan is an acquaintance — often speak of suffering on the bike. They jack up their heart rates to enter the pain cave as they climb the Alps or sprint down the Champs-Elysees.
Chara’s on-ice approach is more controlled. More than ever, Chara relies on positioning and stickwork to break up plays. Chara submitted a perfect example prior to Brad Marchand’s goal in overtime.
The Rangers were coming with speed. Derick Brassard rushed the puck down the right side. Ryan McDonagh was driving to the net. Rick Nash was streaking down the left wing.
Chara and Hamilton had to gap up to stay tight on the advancing Rangers. Had Chara sagged back to neutralize Brassard’s speed, the puck-carrying center would have taken the passing lane and connected with Nash backdoor.
But because Chara was keeping a tight gap, he was in the right spot to flick out his stick and swat away Brassard’s cross-ice pass to Nash. Because Brassard, McDonagh, and Nash were tearing down the ice, they were caught deep in the Bruins’ zone when the turnover took place.
It was a signature example of the Bruins’ defense-creates-offense approach. Naturally, their captain triggered the sequence.
“It’s just instinct at that point,” Bartkowski said. “It’s a lot of our system and knowing where you need to be. Just good instincts and he’s got a great stick.”
The Bruins would prefer to reduce Chara’s ice time in Game 2 on Sunday. Chara is playing at a pace that will be difficult to sustain despite his fitness level.
“He’s in great shape,” coach Claude Julien said. “He’s got a couple days here to recover, so I don’t see that being an issue. Right now, we don’t have a choice. You deal with it the best way you can.”
But in a way, Chara thrives in big-minute situations. Chara knows that with more shifts, he must sharpen his focus even tighter. Chara understands that his job is to play shutdown defense. The youngsters will take care of the offense. In Game 1, both those things took place.
Returns a possibility
Julien did not eliminate Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, or Wade Redden from playing on Sunday. None of the three played in Game 1.
“A little early to say,” Julien said. “It is two days. And two days in the playoffs makes a big difference as far as getting guys back. There is a possibility. That much I can say. Whether it will or not, too early to say right now.”
Seidenberg participated in an off-ice workout Friday. Seidenberg walked through the dressing room without limitations.
Neither Ference nor Redden appeared in the room.
Torey Krug will most likely be the first man out if any of the veterans return. Krug, however, didn’t look out of place in his NHL playoff debut Thursday, playing 16:41. Krug scored the tying power-play goal in the third.
“I didn’t see a guy that was nervous at all,” Julien said. “If anything, I saw a guy that was extremely confident at making the executions he needed to make.”
Advantage is theirs
The Bruins went 3 for 3 on the penalty kill in Game 1. The Rangers had just three shots. The Bruins won all three defensive-zone faceoffs to open each New York power play, which prevented the Rangers from setting up their formation. “Our penalty kill was good all year,” Julien said. “At the beginning of the playoffs, maybe so-so. So it was nice to see them perform the way they did.” . . . Game 1 proved that line-matching is not a priority for the Rangers. Coach John Tortorella rolled four lines and didn’t jumble his up-front personnel. In contrast, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle did everything possible to get his top scorer, Phil Kessel, away from Chara.