MONTREAL — Late this morning I joked that Bruins captain Zdeno Chara’s decision not to speak to the media after his team’s morning skate at the Bell Centre meant he was going to do his talking with his play — if he played.
Well, not only did the All-Star defenseman return to action for tonight’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Montreal, he contributed an assist and three hits in a team-high 26:20 of ice time during the Bruins’ vital 4-2 win.
The Canadiens now lead the series 2-1 heading to Thursday’s Game 4. Chara had missed Saturday’s Game 2 because of dehydration that had forced him into the hospital last Friday.
“Obviously I wanted to play even the game before that. But obviously I knew it wouldn’t be a smart decision for the team,” said Chara. “So, for sure, I was really anxious to be in the lineup.”
The Bruins were anxious to have him back, too. And it showed. The Bruins’ defense corps — realigned in pairs by head coach Claude Julien — was more confident and smart with the puck. Chara played with Dennis Seidenberg, while Tomas Kaberle and Adam McQuaid formed a second pair, and Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk were the third pair.
They also played a better positional game in their own end. Fourteen of Boston’s team series-high 22 blocked shots came from blueliners, led by Andrew Ference with four.
If anyone ever wants to argue the value of Zdeno Chara, show them tape of tonight’s game and Game 2 and if they still don’t get it, don’t ever let them watch hockey again.
“I thought Johnny Boychuk played obviously his best game in the playoffs. And Andrew Ference has been solid for us,” said Julien. “So I think if anything, I really thought our Ds were much better than the first two games tonight. They were taking the ice that was given to them rather than just standing still like we thought we did with our offensive game from our back end [the first two games]. So it was better tonight.”
Chara described his condition tonight as “pretty good.” He wouldn’t expand upon the situation he faced that caused his dehydration, although it has widely been attributed to a virus. He said the day off Sunday and even a few hours today helped him recuperate for tonight.
As desperate as the Bruins were to get Chara back in uniform, Julien said the team didn’t make the final determination on his availability until after the warm-up. When he took the ice, Chara was greeted with the expected hostility everyone knew was coming in the first Bruins’ game since the March 8 hit on Max Pacioretty.
If the booing was more aggressive when he touched the puck early in the game, it lost its enthusiasm as the Bruins built their lead. Some derogatory chants using Chara’s name also cascaded across the arena, but they seemed to have little impact on the player that takes the most heat from the fans everywhere the Bruins play.
Julien said he saw no need to have any type of a chat about anything but health and the game plan with Chara prior to this game.
“He’s been in the league for such a long time. And he knew what was going to happen tonight,” said the coach. “He’s been booed in a lot of arenas that he plays in. To me that’s the sign of a lot of respect for a great player. When he draws that much attention, it’s because he’s got a certain impact. And he does have a big impact on our hockey club.”
Chara contribute to Boston’s solid first period, which included three penalty kills and two goals for. Without their captain, who knows what the Bruins might’ve done and how much longer they would’ve had in their season?
“Any time you’re on the road, the first 20 is so important,” he said. “Obviously shift after shift you have to really focus on your game. I thought we did a really good job.”