BOSTON — It took just 51 seconds into tonight’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between Boston and Montreal for Canadiens tough guy Georges Laraque — he of the disparaging comments about the Boston Bruins’ toughest players in a pre-series interview — to get on the ice with Bruins winger Shawn Thornton and begin a mini trash-talking session.
It took just a little more than 13 minutes for “Big Georges” to get in Bruins captain Zdeno Chara’s face after a whistle. After all, it was Chara that Laraque said in his radio appearance he really wanted to fight, not Thornton. Well, neither Bruins bone-crusher, nor fellow hard-hitter Milan Lucic, took Laraque’s bait throughout the evening at TD Banknorth Garden.
And that, my friends, was where this game was won. Sure the Bruins needed Chara’s laser-like slap shot from the point to break a 2-2 tie with 8:45 to play in the third. (Just an aside, did that thing break the sound barrier or what? If Chara had someone passing him the puck in the hardest-shot competition, there’s no telling what his NHL record would be.)
But what the Bruins really needed from Chara was to put the ‘C’ on his chest to good work. Had he lost his temper, there’s not telling what would have happened. It could’ve been a rerun of last Thursday’s second period, when there were so many Bruins in the penalty box Thornton had to go to the dressing room. Instead, “Big Zee” turned the other cheek.
“I’m just focusing on my play and what I have to do,” Chara said after the game. “It’s pretty normal and obvious. That’s the way it is. I’m just trying to stay focused and play my game.”
Sometimes it’s hard to gauge whether a player is a good captain. Chara definitely doesn’t fall in the category, of charismatic leaders. He’s not always going to face the music like Ray Bourque, who set the standard here in the Hub for so many years. He’s not going to always answer every question or come up with a cute quip in a postgame media scrum. And that’s not really near the top of the job description for a captain. What the Bruins need him to do is set an example for them to follow. When it’s go time, it’s go time. When it’s time to scale it back a notch, he’ll show them the way.
We can look at a stats sheet and see Chara’s impressive plus/minus, his career-high goal total, his eye-popping height and his weight. Now we can say that there’s empirical evidence that Chara, who numerous times during the regular season stood up for smaller, lighter teammates when he had to but this time decided to take the Gandhi-like path of passive resistance, is a leader among men.
“(I liked) the fact that he was disciplined and didn’t get sucked into penalties, which could have been easy for him to do,” said head coach Claude Julien. “I liked the way he led our team tonight, and it was quite appropriate that he scored the winner.”
Chara’s accomplished a lot in his NHL career, with All-Star appearances and playoff berths and high point totals. But he’s one of those star players still seeking a first championship. By not letting Laraque or any of the Canadiens goad him into any foolishness, he sent a message to all his teammates that it wouldn’t be all right to put the individual before the team. And that’s the type of philosophy that title-winning teams thrive on.