CHICAGO — Terse, stoic, not in the mood for any kind of talk — be it small, medium, or large — Bruins captain Zdeno Chara made it clear after Saturday night’s 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks he had little interest in self-examination.
“I’m not here to talk about myself,’’ said Big Z.
And that was about it. End of conversation.
The 2013 Stanley Cup Final has turned torturous for the Trencin Tower of Power. He was on the ice for five of Chicago’s six goals Wednesday night in Boston. He was on the ice for all three here in Game 6, including a pair by the clever, opportunistic Patrick Kane, and the empty-net dagger by Dave Bolland with 14 seconds left.
The Bruins are in a predicament, but that’s not solely because of their 6-foot-9-inch defensive zone monster. Hardly. Chara has not played well the last two games, but that’s a three-part issue: his own play, that of his teammates, and that of a rejuvenated, speedier Chicago attack that picked up its pace and pluck once Kane and Jonathan Toews were reunited on the same line for the start of Game 4.
The Hawks have played to their strength — their speed — and that has caused Chara to be uncharacteristically flat-footed a few times in the last two games. On Kane’s second goal Saturday night, Chara was near the Bruins’ goal line, fishing with his stick as Bryan Bickell dished out the pass that Kane expertly sent to the top shelf with a quick backhand lift.
A confident Chara would have reached Bickell in time, eliminated him on the spot, and instead of a pass to Kane, the play would have been headed out of Boston’s end. Chara knows that. We’ve seen it a million times in his years in Black and Gold. But we’ve also seen that if he struggles at all, it’s when small, skilled forwards zip around in Boston’s end and create options or skate into options.
Kane’s second goal was the latter version. His first strike came on somewhat of a fluke, after Johnny Oduya’s slapper from above the left circle shattered Dennis Seidenberg’s stick, the puck bouncing and hopping near the left post before Kane provided his uncanny touch.
So, if you’re looking to pin a tail and fashion Chara as a donkey, then all you really have for questionable work over the course of his 24:22 in ice time is the lost opportunity on Bickell’s feed. A more alert Chara makes that play. No question.
The bigger issue for the Bruins in Game 5 was really their own play at the other end of the ice.
They were behind by the two Kane goals before they finally started to put meaningful pressure on goalie Corey Crawford, he of the highly suspect glove hand in Game 4, when he allowed five goals. It’s hard to beat a glove hand without putting shots near it. Through two periods, the Bruins had but 16 shots, not many of them presenting Crawford with much degree of difficult.
“I don’t have that answer,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, asked why his club’s play finally improved after the 40-minute mark. “We just played better in the third. We started playing versus maybe sitting back too much and we weren’t as good as we could have been in the first two.’’
No maybe about it. And oddly, Boston’s play improved without their best forward, Patrice Bergeron, in the lineup. He left the building via ambulance after playing little in the second period, the nature of his injury not revealed by the club. But with Bergeron hors de combat, their attack improved, if for only due to a sense of desperation.
Had they shown such desperation off the hop, forced play into the Chicago’s end and forced Crawford to defend quality chances, they might have headed home with a 3-2 series lead instead of a 3-2 series deficit. It’s a familiar theme for the Bruins. They often don’t find their best game until they face the worst circumstances, and now they face the worst circumstance of all — the Stanley Cup sitting in the house on Causeway Street Monday night with the Hawks prepared to waltz it around the Garden.
“Well, it’s pretty obvious: it’s do or die,’’ said Julien. “We’ve been there before, and we’ve done well in that situation. So we’ve got to, again, win the next game. Right now our goal is to create a Game 7.’’
Chara and his regular shutdown partner, Seidenberg, were split by the end of the night. Maybe Julien keeps them separated Monday night. Or maybe he brings them back together to feed off the twin energies of desperation and a hometown crowd. That could depend on whether Toews, the Blackhawks captain, rattled by a second-period belt by Johnny Boychuk, is back with Kane. It also could depend on whether Bergeron, the Bruins’ top two-way pivot, is back in the lineup.
The Blackhawks, even with Toews’s availability in question, are a very confident bunch right now. Prior to Game 5, they spoke boldly about pressing Chara, not being afraid to go after him, be it with hits or with pucks. They’ll head to Boston with the mental edge gained from knowing he has been on the ice for eight of their last nine goals.
But Chicago’s here now, poised to win a second Cup in four seasons, not because it has picked apart the Boston captain the last two games. The Blackhawks have picked apart the Bruins in all three zones, leveraging their speed and touch into both a statistical and psychological advantage.
Which is why Chara had little to say after Game 5. Captains speak for their teams, and for two games the team in Black and Gold has left him with little to say.