BOSTON — Regardless of how hard he gets hit, you see Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara fall to the ice as often as he skips a day of workouts.
But with 28.8 seconds remaining in the second period tonight, there was the Bruins’ 6-foot-9 captain down in pain in the Boston zone grabbing for his left ankle and writhing in pain. Although he went to the dressing room under his own power, he was still gimpy. Replays showed that Carolina forward Jussi Jokinen had hacked Chara’s ankle with his stick lumberjack style. There was no penalty on the play.
“I’m going to let the league and the referees comment on that,” Chara said after the Bruins staved off elimination by beating the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-0, in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at TD Banknorth Garden.
While Chara didn’t want to say much about the play, head coach Claude Julien had plenty of comments about the Jokinen slash and the third-period sucker-punch Scott Walker threw at Aaron Ward, who possibly suffered a broken orbital bone.
“Again, it’s playoff hockey. The emotions run high. The slash obviously on Zdeno was a cheap shot. We all know that,” said the coach. “But I thought the Walker incident was certainly something, it’s something that (he) shouldn’t be proud of because obviously the other guy’s not ready to fight or willing to fight and right now I think we fear that he’s got a broken orbital bone. That’s what our doctors fear right now and it looks like that might be the case. Obviously, something like that is not something that you want to see, your player put in that position and he’s trying to be disciplined. Walker decided to do something a little different, come in and help his teammate, but hopefully the people that are in charge will do their job and decide what they want to do with it.”
Here’s a look at the Walker hit:
To their credit, the Bruins didn’t step over the line in their retaliation. However, Walker, assessed an instigator and a 10-minute misconduct with just 2:47 remaining in regulation, is now suspended one game pending review. And Carolina head coach Paul Maurice will be fined.
Instead of taking an eye-for-an-eye approach, the Bruins took a scoreboard approach. Chara returned to the bench just as the third period started and was on the ice for the team’s fourth goal of the night. He finished a plus-3 and threw a team-high five hits.
“It’s something that we all take some sacrifices and it’s nothing unusual,” said Chara, whose ankle showed no visible signs of the slash. “You see guys going back to the team and it’s pretty normal.”
While Chara’s teammates knew he was going to be back, the fans didn’t until he actually emerged. When he jumped over the boards for his first shift, he played the puck behind the Boston net and the crowd chanted, “Chara! Chara!” It’s an easy name to chant, but not one we’ve heard too often in the three seasons since he signed with the Black and Gold.
“It’s really overwhelming. It’s very much appreciated,” Chara said. “We all realize that the fans were a big part of our win tonight. They were very passionate and obviously we are very thankful for that. And it’s obviously great to have them involved in a game like that.”
Unbelievably, Jokinen wasn’t buying that Chara was hurt.
“I think you guys saw what happened,” he said. “It was a little tap and we was laying there for five minutes and then he’s out playing the next shift.”
Jokinen’s sense of time is obviously as off as his sense of a tap vs. a slash. And Maurice obviously has the same lack of sense about the gravity of the situation with Ward. When asked about the Walker incident, the Hurricanes bench boss only responded that “Scott probably has sore knuckles.”
So now the war of wills on the ice and the war of words off the rink are both in high gear heading toward Tuesday night’s Game 6 in Raleigh. When asked if he’d be all right for Game 6, Chara simply said, “Of course.”