The Blackhawks had issued a challenge, announcing that they had figured out how to handle Zdeno Chara, the outsized Bruins defenseman who had handled everyone else through the early rounds of the playoffs.
And, ultimately, they did, a combination of injuries and strategy humbling the Bruins captain in nearly unthinkable fashion.
He looked all of his 36 years on the ice in the Stanley Cup Final. He looked like a man who had played too many minutes in too many games. He looked, too, like there might be something physically wrong, a fact confirmed by coach Claude Julien after the Bruins lost Game 6 in stunning fashion, 3-2, finally ending their Cup run.
“You have to give them credit for putting that strategy together, but at the same time Zdeno is one of those players that, unfortunately, wasn’t at 100 percent,” Julien said. “He battled through it, and that’s what I mean by being proud of those guys.”
Julien declined to elaborate on Chara’s injuries, as did Chara, who said, “I’m not talking about my physical status.”
Chara finished plus-7 for the postseason, but that statistic is misleading when it comes to the Final. In the six games against Chicago, Chara was minus-5, and minus-6 in the final three games — all Blackhawks wins.
He was on the ice for five of Chicago’s six goals in Game 4. He was on the ice for all three in Game 5. And in the deciding Game 6, Chara was on the ice for two of three, only off for the game-winner by Dave Bolland.
That meant 10 of the final 12 goals of the season happened with Chara on the ice.
It was Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks captain, who had said that Chicago was giving the Bruins captain too much respect, that the team shouldn’t be afraid of him. He added that the Blackhawks could use their speed more, to expose Chara.
And expose him they did, though that was tempered by the news that Chara — like many of the Bruins — was not completely healthy. That was aided by the reunion of Toews and Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks’ top line for Game 4, a combination that Chara could not always contain.
Asked if the Blackhawks were more physical with him, Chara said, “I think that it was the case for every team. I think it wasn’t just Chicago. I think that throughout the whole playoffs, no matter who you play it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be grinding and it’s not just Chicago. It was just the playoffs, I think that that’s the way it is. It’s physical and you have to expect that.”
The defenseman was on the ice for the gut-wrenching tying goal, with the Bruins just 76 seconds from forcing a Game 7, as Bryan Bickell slipped the puck through the legs of goalie Tuukka Rask.
Chara had played fewer minutes in the last four games, not reaching 30 in any of them. He played 25:29 in Game 6.
“It’s a team game, right?” Dennis Seidenberg said. “If you play a lot of minutes, goals happen eventually. I don’t know. For us, he played great hockey. And, again, if you play a lot of minutes, goals just happen eventually.”
Except they don’t usually, not when Chara is on the ice.
In the wake of the difficult, uncharacteristic series, Chara praised the Blackhawks for getting to the net, for creating traffic, for forcing the bounces that gave them the Cup. And he defended the Bruins’ team defense, himself included.
“If I would have to really talk about defense, I thought that throughout the whole playoffs, I think we did a really good job,” Chara said. “They did find some holes and, at times, I have to be honest, it’s not just a matter of being in the right position or covering guys, some bounces you need to have it your way. If it gets deflected and goes off skates and this and that, obviously that’s not an excuse, but you need to have some bounces.
“It seemed like we didn’t get those like we did before.”