The guy who almost always does the right thing was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a towering symbol of a season gone awry and another Stanley Cup run derailed by the archrival Montreal Canadiens.
All Zdeno Chara, Bruins captain and pillar of their penurious play, could do was look to the sky in disbelief after Daniel Briere’s attempted centering pass to Tomas Plekanec deflected off the defenseman’s left skate and past Tuukka Rask with 2 minutes and 53 seconds left in the third period to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead in Game 7 of their second-round series.
It was the goal that closed the casket on a team that was supposed to be playing into June, but instead lost, 3-1.
This back-and-forth sniping, water-bottle squirting, muscle-flexing, disrespect-spouting series with the Canadiens came to an end, as the Bruins were deep-sixed by their bitter Original Six blood rival.
Chara is the ballast for the Bruins, and when he is off-kilter, so are the Spoked-Bs. The Bruins never found their equilibrium in this series. The Canadiens were a bad matchup for the towering, lumbering Chara and thus a bad matchup for the Bruins.
You can talk about the Bruins being the better club, winning the Presidents’ Trophy, having more depth, grit, and grind. It doesn’t matter because they didn’t deserve to win this series, not with David Krejci finishing the playoffs as a Blank Czech, not with Chara putting pucks in his own net, not with Montreal goalie Carey Price outplaying Rask, not with a team that lacked fit and finish around the net.
The Big, Good, Bruins simply weren’t good enough in this series. They trailed by two goals in five of the seven games, including Game 7, and led for just a total of 58 minutes and 19 seconds. The Canadiens led for 222 minutes and 42 seconds.
The Bruins are a team that likes to dump and chase at times, but in this series they chased and were dumped.
“This time of year you have to play your best hockey of the year, and I don’t think we got to that point,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
The ending of this fractious feud was set to be written on Causeway Street in the ninth Game 7 all-time between these two frozen foils. But there was no drama because it was a comedy of errors for the Bruins.
Montreal’s first goal came when Matt Bartkowski and Daniel Paille let Dale Weise slip behind them for an easy strike just 2:18 into the action.
“That’s not the start that we were looking for,” said Chara. “I don’t know if we were just nervous. I don’t know. Everything seemed right before the game, everything seemed like we were ready. I don’t know if that one goal that we fell behind kind of put us in such a bad spot mentally. I don’t know what happened. It kind of seemed to set us back a little bit. For the second and third periods we were better, but for sure the first 20 was not what we were looking for.’’
It also wasn’t what the captain was looking for, as he drew two penalties for holding in the first period, helping to blunt any momentum the Bruins were attempting to build.
When Chara was on the ice in the first, he looked a little shaky, stumbling around uncharacteristically during one penalty kill shift. He was thrown off balance and so were the Black and Gold.
Trailing, 2-0, the Bruins had a prayer after they got a power-play tip-in from Jarome Iginla with 2:02 left in the second period.
But the ignominious and unlucky third goal from Briere blew out all the candles on Causeway Street.
“I was trying to prevent that cross-seam pass, which he was trying to do,” said Chara. “It hit my skate and just a bounce to a perfect spot, just a very unfortunate bounce.”
If it’s possible to be a stand-up guy while sitting down, Chara accomplished it. With his skates still on, he calmly and thoughtfully answered each inquiry.
A good captain goes down with the ship.
It’s clear that their best players didn’t play their best, particularly in the final two games, which the Bruins lost by a combined score of 7-1. That group includes Chara. Big Z has played in more seventh games — 11 — than any other active NHL player. However, he is just 4-7 in those games.
His inability/indecision to rub out Max Pacioretty in Game 6 on a goal that gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead at a critical juncture of the second period was one of the pivotal plays of the series.
Perhaps no one felt Dennis Seidenberg’s absence more than Chara, who was forced to act as mentor, minder, and fixer for the young blue line corps, without his playoff partner.
This was a great opportunity the Bruins let get away. We talk about the Tom Brady championship window, but Chara has one too. He is 37. How much longer can the Bruins rely on Big Z to be the tireless, difference-making defender that he is?
It’s an open question for arguably the best shut-down defenseman of his generation. It’s also why this defeat will linger.
“It’s going to be awhile, especially when you know you had a team that was so good and consistent throughout the whole season,” said Chara, who was a plus-four in the series. “You have a good enough team to win more than one series. It’s something that you’re going to be thinking about. I’ll be thinking about it for sure, quite a bit.”
He won’t be the only one in the Hub of Hockey Heartbreak.