By Joe Haggerty
MONTREAL – Zdeno Chara was battling a pretty nasty head cold heading into Saturday night’s game against the hated Habs.
His voice was hoarse and he appeared fatigued following the optional morning skate, but Chara still managed to suck it up and absorb 28 minutes in the overtime defeat.
The 6-foot-9 inch Chara assisted on Boston’s second goal with his big howitzer shot from the right point, but it came for naught in a stunning, stupefying 3-2 overtime loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Give Big Zee credit for all these things.
Chara was also out on the ice for all three of Montreal’s goals in the final few minutes of the third period and the overtime session, and he clearly had some explaining to do.
Chara’s icing attempt at an empty-net goal with Carey Price yanked from the Montreal net turned out be a big play in the game: it forced a face-off in Boston’s defensive zone with their fourth line on the ice when it missed wide of the net by a mere four inches.
That sequence of events perfectly set up Brian Gionta’s game-tying goal second later after a James Wisniewski point shot bounced off both Tim Thomas’ skate and Gionta’s skate before skidding by the stunned B’s goaltender.
Chara was his usual solid Slovakian presence throughout the game, and the B’s Captain went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs after the game was over.
Montreal rookie Max Pacioretty snapped off the game-winning goal 3:43 into the OT with a top-shelf wrist shot from the high slot area that clinched victory for the Canadiens, and then he made the impetuous snap judgement of shoving Chara out of the way as he made a path toward a celebratory leap into the glass above the boards.
Chara, of course, didn’t take kindly to this and ended up getting into heated, nasty shoving matches with Pacioretty, Hal Gill and Scott Gomez as his Bruins teammates filtered off the ice in defeat. The rookie Steve Kampfer stuck around and wrestled with Gomez in the aftermath of the Canadiens’ overtime goal. Strange that not one Bruins player skated back over to Chara’s aid besides Kampfer when he was surrounded by Canadiens players.
The scene ended with a pair of refs attempted to tackle Chara as Gill was pushing the big Captain down toward the ice like a scene out of Animal Planet with a wild giraffe being taken down by a group of smaller lions.
The outburst was similar to another act of Chara street justice doled out to Paul Gaustad after the B’s dropped a game in Buffalo roughly a month ago, and it continued a troubling pattern for one of the NHL’s biggest intimidators: the big defenseman opts to come out with the extra nasty snarl and filter it into punishing opponents while the game is no longer in question.
It would be better to see that ruthless, punishing Chara in front of the Boston net when the Canadiens are swarming in overtime instead of after things have been decided.
The 32-year-old defensemen was requested both large contingents of media from both Boston and Montreal following the game, and there was plenty to talk about. There was also the chance for the big blueliner to step up and show true leadership by answering questions that some of his other teammates clearly didn’t want to.
Chara's decision to go silent certainly sticks out among the others this season given the circumstances and the opponent, and shows a troubling pattern that this team can’t finish off opponents when it matters most. When it's arguably the worst loss of the season, the team leaders need to step up and be counted.
If you’re the captain of the Bruins you simply can’t squander a lead in the final three minutes of a game against the Canadiens in Montreal, and then stride right on by the questions and cameras before stopping for autographs by the team bus. Instead Tim Thomas was left to answer all of the questions after playing mostly brilliant hockey between the pipes for 60 plus minutes, and then being hung out to dry by a prevent defense that allowed him to see a whopping 23 shots in the third period and overtime.
It was similar to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals two years ago when Chara made a poor choice on rimming a puck in his own zone, and it resulted in the game-winning goal for the Hurricanes in a momentum-changing loss. Chara never entered the dressing room in the moments after the game in Carolina, and wasn’t a presence in the B’s losing dressing room during that time of turmoil.
To put in other sports perspectives: one would never see Jason Varitek, Tom Brady or Paul Pierce shirk their captain duties when it comes to the other three major sports in Boston. There is always accountability and that's what makes them 'C' material.
Perhaps the biggest sin is also one of the cardinal rules of leadership in a sports locker room: a Captain or true team leader should always be a bastion of strength and “True North” direction willing to weather all manner of challenging questions when things are hitting the dumpster.
Simply put: the Captain needs to show up and be accountable when times are toughest.
Chara gets some benefit of the doubt because he’s spoken after nearly every loss this season and has improved dramatically in the accountability department over the last two seasons when it comes to answering the bell. But it’s not every day the B’s fritter away a two goal advantage with less than three minutes to play in regulation – and it’s not every day that a crushing, spine-shattering defeat was at the hands of your arch-rivals for the last nine decades of NHL hockey.
To put it succinctly, things were pretty tough in that Montreal visitor’s dressing room.
Yes, the Bruins are still in first place in the Northeast Division by virtue of their two games in hand over the Canadiens – and remain in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
But there's no escaping the bottom line: the B’s also played scared hockey for the final 20 plus minutes of a winnable hockey game armed with a two-goal lead.
Things really got hairy once a potential Mathieu Darche goal was disallowed due to a high-stick that grazed the puck en route to the empty net, and it was a slow, pathetic descent into blowing a hockey game from that point. Scott Gomez was credited with a goal that appeared to tick off the sticks of both Andrew Ference and Mathieu Darche before it skimmed through Tim Thomas’ pads, and Brian Gionta nailed the tying strike when the puck ricocheted off the skates of both Thomas and Gionta before settling in the back of the net.
That set up Max Pacioretty’s game-winner in overtime from the high slot, and the tempers flaring after things were decided.
While Chara stood silent after the game while letting his actions speak alone, Patrice Bergeron stood and spoke as the only voice inside the Bruins dressing room seemingly understanding what had just happened.
“It was a couple of turnovers in the third and we started scrambling and panicking a little bit for no reason,” said Bergeron. “It was definitely not the way we wanted to end the game, and it was a tough way to lose like that against Montreal when we’re battling with them for the third spot [in the Eastern Conference].
“Even before the [first goal] they had the momentum and we couldn’t get it back from them. We got back on our heels and started to panic a little bit after a couple of shifts, and we should have realized that it was 2-0. We should have never been in overtime to start off with.”
Bergeron’s comments were simple, truthful, insightful and honest in a way that sent a message loud and clearly the third period wasn’t good enough – and can’t happen again. They were the stern, unflinching words of a team leader stepping forward in a time of team distress for Bergeron, and the actual Captain would have done well to take notes for next time.
Joe Haggerty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs