BOSTON – It was a day of both uncharacteristic and typical actions by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara today.
First for the unusual: he recorded a hat trick – his first in the NHL after eight career two-goal games.
If that wasn’t enough, the usually stoic giant staged a post-goal celebration at center ice after his third score that included a giant grin even Nathan Horton would be jealous of.
“[Fellow Slovak Peter Bondra] did it [years ago] and I remember that,” said Chara after the Bruins’ 7-0 rout of Carolina at TD Garden. “I kind of remembered that if I ever get a hat trick, I’ll want to do the same so I thought it was pretty cool. It just came up, so I was just happy.
Aside from a three-goal game and the world’s highest ever hat trick salute, the afternoon was just another day at the office for the former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. It was the type of day that proves there’s a giant leader wearing that tarp-sized No. 33 sweater.
It all started with a slashing penalty Chara took against Tuomo Ruutu in the Boston end. Sure, the penalty canceled out Milan Lucic’s goal and cost the Bruins a 2-0 lead for the time being. But Chara deemed it necessary to send an early message to Ruutu that taking liberties with rookie Steven Kampfer, who was playing with a full face shield to protect the broken nose he suffered Saturday against Pittsburgh.
Kampfer said Ruutu had hit him so late and high “he almost rebroke my nose” with an elbow. No one elbows a teammate, especially a diminutive rookie, and gets away with it when Chara’s on the ice.
Chara’s actions against the Hurricanes and all through his years with the Bruins obviously have resonated with the rest of the team. Fast forward to the third period when Troy Bodie tried to engage Mark Stuart in a little fisticuff. Stuart, just back from his second hand injury in as many years, can certainly fight his own battles. But Adam McQuaid knew that it wasn’t worth the risk in a 7-0 game for the veteran blueliner to drop his gloves, so the rookie took care of business.
These players in black and gold stick up for one another. Whether it’s Chara and McQuaid today, Andrew Ference twice instigating an altercation after a predatory hit on a teammate earlier this season or Shawn Thornton this week making Jody Shelley scrap as payback for the cheap shot the Philadelphia forward took at McQuaid a month ago, they have each other’s backs. It all starts at the top with the captain.
Chara had more to do today than just be a goal-scorer and policeman. As with every other game the Bruins play against the Hurricanes, the captain had to keep close tabs on Carolina All-Star center Eric Staal, winger Erik Cole and their rotating corps of left wingers. In the final tally, that duo mustered six shots on net and no points.
Had Chara only produced the shutdown job on Staal and the Bruins had won, the Boston defenseman would’ve been satisfied. He’s out there 82 times a regular season making sure he does his job to the totality of his potential with the hardest work ethic around. Every once in a while, like today, he has to step out of his cast role and take on some extra responsibility – be it firing shots past the opposing goaltender, slashing a not-so-tough winger who’s trying to exploit a rookie or providing YouTube with a new Bruins goal celebration to supplant the Miro Satan dance from last spring.
“We’re going to have to fine him for that celebration,” said Bruins tough guy and one-liner king Shawn Thornton.
If there was a fine, Chara could obviously afford it with his salary at the $7 million mark. But Boston’s not going to do anything to change its captain.
If he needs to blow off some steam by bludgeoning an opposing player like he did to David Koci in a fight a couple years ago or grinning and gesturing to the Garden faithful in an old-fashioned fit of joy, the Bruins will let him do it because they know that in the end everything he does is for their benefit.