MONTREAL — For years, enemy fans have feared and loathed him. Zdeno Chara is no stranger to hearing boos. At the Bell Centre, they have a particular distaste for the Boston strongman.
But before puck drop of his 1,500th NHL game Tuesday night, Chara was feeling the love.
The 42-year-old defenseman, humbled by the impending achievement, took a moment to note the sacrifices of his parents, wife, and children, the help of his teammates, coaches, and training staff.
“There’s so many people,” he said, noting that text and video messages had come across his radar all day. “I’ve been very lucky. It’s a special night.”
Chara became the 21st player and sixth defenseman to suit up 1,500 times. Tuesday’s game left him 30 away from 1,000 as a Bruin.
“I love this game so much, on the ice and off the ice,” said Chara, the Black and Gold captain the last 14 seasons. “I just enjoy every day, being along with my teammates, going out there [to] perform.”
Third-year back liner Charlie McAvoy, who has had Chara as a partner for the bulk of his 131-game career, is grateful to learn from him.
“A special guy, a special player,” McAvoy said. “Sometimes I kind of forget. I have to remember how lucky I am to play with a guy like that.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. I’ll make sure to give him a big hug tonight.”
Patrice Bergeron, the only current Bruin who has worn the sweater longer than Chara, called him “the backbone” of the defense. The Bruins have finished outside the top 10 in goals against per game just once in the last 13 years (19th in 2015-16). Entering Tuesday, they were first.
Chara’s presence on the penalty kill was needed against an improved Montreal power play (30th last year, 15th so far this season), though it had an off-kilter night in Saturday’s 4-1 loss in Dallas (five shots on five chances).
“He’s redefined the position by the way he defends, but also put up offense, his shot,” Bergeron said. “He’s well respected around the league, but even more so in this organization, with the players, the city, and the fans. A true competitor. An amazing accomplishment.”
Like Bruce Cassidy, his successor in Boston, Montreal coach Claude Julien said Chara’s fanatical fitness drive and leadership left a lasting impression. He recalled how the big man, in every one of his Boston training camps (2007-16) set the tone by outpacing his teammates in the back-to-school conditioning test.
“He’s as committed as you’ll find,” said Julien, who knows a bit about longevity himself; Tuesday was his 1,200th game as a coach, making him the 19th to reach that mark.
“When he was in his early 30s, he was just a dominant, strong player who had an unbelievable shot,” Julien continued. “As he got older, he worked on the quickness of his feet. He’s smart that way. It’s allowed him to play to this day — not only play, but be an effective player.”
Those with long memories recall Chara riding then-Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into a stanchion at the Bell Centre on March 8, 2011, a play Montreal police later investigated for criminal activity. He was arguably Public Enemy No. 1 before that, perhaps earning that designation during his days with Ottawa.
In a video posted by the Bruins on social media, some of Chara’s fellow captains — Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, Calgary’s Mark Giordano, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Montreal’s Shea Weber, the Kings’ Anze Kopitar, Nashville’s Roman Josi, and retired Detroit legend Nicklas Lidstrom — praised him for his leadership and toughness. “You’re a role model for all of us in the game,” Stamkos said.
Chara was recognized with 8:08 left in the first period via Bell Centre public address. Shown on the video board, he received 60 percent cheers, 40 percent boos from the crowd. It became 90 percent cheers when he stood from his place on the Bruins’ bench, clapped, and mouthed “thank you.”
“Obviously, that felt really nice,” Chara said. “I really appreciate that. It was very classy. It’s something that I will definitely remember.”
Senyshyn suits up
The Bruins, on a six-game heater after a wild 6-4 win over Pittsburgh Monday, had a fresh face in the mix. Zach Senyshyn was recalled from Providence after the Bruins placed Par Lindholm (upper body) on injured reserve.
Senyshyn opened the night as the No. 3 right wing, next to center Charlie Coyle and left wing Anders Bjork, two fleet-footed rookies with a Clydesdale in the middle. Brett Ritchie lined up on the right side of the fourth line, with center Sean Kuraly and left wing Chris Wagner. Cameron Hughes was scratched.
Senyshyn looked like he belonged, skating 10:49, and while he was scoreless, he made a nice play to set up Coyle for the goal-that-wasn’t.
“I felt really good out there,” Senyshyn said. “I was able to play that complete game.”
Senyshyn, the third of Boston’s consecutive first-round picks in 2015 (Jakub Zboril 13th, Jake DeBrusk 14th), appeared in the final two games last season, scoring a goal in his debut in Minnesota April 4. Senyshyn has NHL wheels, but like Bjork, he must prove that his skill and processing power can keep pace.
Senyshyn had been “better recently” in Providence, Cassidy said, after a slow start. The 22-year-old had 2-1–3 in 12 AHL games at the time of his recall.
Good to go
McAvoy and Torey Krug, both of whom left the ice a bit bloody Monday, were ready to go Tuesday, with a few stitches. McAvoy, who crashed into the net, took a few on the back of his head. Krug, cut by a skate, was zipped on the side of his face . . . With the Bruins in Detroit Friday, the Chara tribute may have to wait until Sunday, when they’re back at TD Garden to host the Flyers . . . Cassidy had no update on David Backes (upper body), who missed his second game after Saturday’s collision with Ottawa’s Scott Sabourin . . . Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal’s second-year Finnish center, hit the injured reserve list with a groin injury. The Habs recalled Ryan Poehling, a 20-year-old first-rounder in 2017 (25th overall), and slotted him with fellow straight-ahead skaters Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen.
With a 2-3–5 line Monday, Brad Marchand became the sixth player since 1986-87, and first Bruin, to put up two 5-point nights in the first 14 games of the year. The other names: Mario Lemieux (four different seasons), Wayne Gretzky (twice), Pat LaFontaine, Ron Francis, and Thomas Vanek (the most recent name on the list, in 2012-13) . . . The Bruins entered the night 8-0-2 with points in each of their last 10 games . . . Coyle won 9 of 10 draws in 13:42.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports