ST. LOUIS — Moving his mouth just enough to get the words out, Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara insisted Saturday afternoon he is playing with “no limitations.”
“I’m still able to play,” Chara told reporters at Enterprise Center.
Five days after taking a puck to the face — one that left him on the ice dripping blood — Chara wouldn’t let on if he feels any pain as a result of the facial injury suffered in the second period of Game 4. Nor would he say if his play has been impacted. He acknowledged there was a “quick turnaround” between Games 4 and 5 but noted he “felt fine” returning as early as he did.
Chara declined to say whether his jaw is actually broken, despite multiple reports indicating that prognosis is likely the case.
The 42-year-old veteran fully participated in practice Saturday, once again wearing the modified helmet that he sported in Game 5. Everything seemed to be status quo, as he skated in his usual spot on the penalty kill and chatted with fellow defensemen Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy.
All signs point to him being active for Game 6 Sunday night.
“He’s our leader,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “He’s the toughest guy out there. He doesn’t take any games off unless it’s impossible to play. It’s an emotional lift for all of us. He’s the backbone of the defense, so it’s a great help for us to have him back there.”
With the wound clearly visible under the right corner of his bottom lip, Chara managed to muster the answers to four questions Saturday — an improvement from four days ago when he elected to provide written responses to a pool reporter.
Even if he won’t admit it, however, it’s clear he’s battling some level of discomfort.
His lips never parted beyond a small crevice, but a look into the inside of his mouth would likely reveal an assortment of wiring and elastic bands. Chara, who is known for taking his nutrition very seriously, declined to say whether he is able to eat food properly.
“I’m always trying to eat as much as I can,” he said.
The longest of his responses lasted approximately 45 seconds, as he spoke about the atmosphere in the locker room ahead of the Bruins’ do-or-die Game 6.
“Before every game we have meetings,” he said. “We talk about what we want to do and how we want to play. It’s obviously a big game, but I think it’s going to be a shared responsibility among players, coaching staff, and all of us to do a share of talking and making sure we are where we need to be and in the right mind-set before the game.”
Grzelcyk not cleared
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk remains in concussion protocol, coach Bruce Cassidy relayed Saturday afternoon.
“He has not been medically cleared,” Cassidy said.
Grzelcyk, who has not returned to action since exiting Game 2 with a head injury, skated in a red non-contact sweater during practice.
Forward Chris Wagner also took the ice, logging some individual work and skating with the Black Aces. Wagner has not played since blocking a shot with his arm in Game 3 of the conference semifinals against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Cassidy said Wagner is “doubtful” for Game 6 but did not rule out a return should the Bruins force a Game 7.
“I guess I could wake up [Sunday] morning and they could tell me that he’s got a chance, but I have not got that news yet,” Cassidy said. “I doubt he’d play [in Game 6]. Game 7, with the three extra days, could be a possibility.”
Blues rookie center Robert Thomas returned to practice for the first time since being on the receiving end of Krug’s helmet-less hit in Game 1.
“He’s been working hard to get back in the lineup,” said Thomas’s linemate Pat Maroon. “We’ll see [Sunday] if he plays. It’s always good to see the kid out there skating around. He’s been just itching to get back out there with the guys.”
Coach Craig Berube did not have any definitive remarks about Thomas’s status for Game 6. Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen did not practice due to maintenance but are expected to be available.
The Blues have deployed a variety of lineups — some forced by injuries and suspensions, others by choice. They’ll have to do it again Sunday, as forward Ivan Barbashev will be serving a one-game suspension for an illegal check to the head on Marcusd Johansson.
“With any good team, whoever has stepped in has filled the void,” center Brayden Schenn said. “I think you need that moving forward. That’s what good teams do.”