BOSTON — Zdeno Chara was finally back on the ice tonight for a hockey game less than 48 hours after his controversial hit on Max Pacioretty in Montreal.
The hit left Pacioretty with a fractured vertebrae and concussion, and left Chara with a lot of explaining to do both for the play and the league’s decision not to suspend him. He has been contrite all the way through.
With the Buffalo Sabres serving as the opposition at TD Garden, it was back to business. Chara took little time getting back in the groove with a hit on Jason Pominville in the corner 1:44 into the game. Ultimately, the night will be remembered for a 4-3 Bruins overtime loss, but Chara looked like his old self with two assists, a plus-2 rating, three shots on net and two hits.
“I don’t see any reason to change my game or my style of play,” Chara said after the loss. “I’m going to continue to play physical and play hard. That’s my game and that’s going to be it [without] any change.”
It’s obviously been a trying time for Chara. Focusing on hockey can’t be easy when half a continent of people is calling for your head and there are even rumblings the authorities in Quebec might pursue criminal charges for an act that took place in the midst of a sporting event.
Earlier this evening, however, Pacioretty was released from the hospital and issued a statement. If Pacioretty’s words don’t call off the legal hounds, nothing will.
“I sincerely appreciate all of the support that I have received since my injury,” the statement said. “I was disappointed that the NHL did not suspend Zdeno Chara. However, I have no desire for him to prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game.
”I understand that this is not my decision. I have respect and admiration for the authorities in Quebec. I simply wanted to make my opinion clear.”
Considering Pacioretty’s accusatory tone of a day ago, when he insisted Chara intended to cause serious injury, the new statement should tamp down the venom level in the rhetoric between people on Montreal’s side, and even some third parties that have weighed in from other teams and media outlets.
Chara should be relieved.
“It’s a nice gesture. It’s something that for sure shouldn’t go that far,” Chara said when asked about Paciorett’ys statement. “It’s something that, like I said, it’s very unfortunate. I keep repeating that. You feel bad about it. You don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially in that case, upper-body and most likely neck and head.
“But we all feel bad about it. It doesn’t matter rivalry or not a rivalry, it’s something we all want to see the guy recover and obviously I’m going to try to reach out to him and have a talk with him either over the phone or try to see him in person. But I totally understand respect that now he probably needs time and space to be around his family. I’m sure when the time is right we’re probably going to talk and somehow connect.”
Support for Chara has been rare outside of Boston. So it was extra special that the hometown fans expressed their love for their captain. When he first jumped over the boards, he heard a roar. When he first touched the puck, he got a cheer. And his first hit inspired a “Chara” chant from the 17,565 on hand.
“For sure, it’s something I very much appreciate and I’m very thankful for that and it feels, for sure, great to be at home and to have that support from your own fans,” said Chara.
Those same 17,565 would probably stand between the Quebec police and Chara if they had to. But there should be no reason for an attempted capture of Chara, bail or anything relating to the law. Pacioretty has said his piece, Chara has done his penance (and promised more), and the NHL has made its ruling. To prolong this on-ice incident and have the authorities interfere would just be grandstanding and pandering to the over-the-top masses now.
There probably should’ve never been a threat of prosecution. Now there definitely shouldn’t be.