WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The sight of Zdeno Chara falling late in the second period Saturday night in Columbus after a collision with Blue Jackets forward Antoine Vermette personified the direction the Boston Bruins' chances of defending their Stanley Cup crown could take if they had to play without their captain for an extended period of time.
That Chara, who had missed just 13 games since joining the Bruins in 2006-07 -- and only a handful of those due to injury -- didn't return for the third period of the Bruins' victory only intensified the feeling of dread many around Boston felt about the Bruins' prospects without him.
Well, it's safe to turn those disconsolate feelings into upbeat ones, as it appears Chara avoided serious injury and is just day-to-day, as the team announced Sunday. Chara strutted into the Bruins' dressing room Monday at the team's Ristuccia Arena practice facility with a smile on his face after most of his teammates were through with their media duties.
He didn't wear anything on his left knee, nor did it show any signs of injury, and he stood for his questioning. As worried as all of New England has been about Chara, he was equally unsure how things would play out. But he felt better Sunday when the team took the day off, and better Monday as well, although he wasn't able to join his teammates on the ice.
"It's normal feelings. Every time you feel pain you kind of worry a little bit that it might be more serious or not," Chara said. "But then after everything calms down, you know you just wait because during a game obviously there's a lot of emotions involved and adrenaline and all that stuff. And once you calm down, you really know when you sleep on it and the next day. That's the biggest thing, and so far it's been really good."
Replays showed Chara's left knee turned the wrong way after the collision with Vermette. Chara didn't return to the game, which Boston went on to win 5-3. As a 34-year-old veteran, Chara knows when he's pushed his body too far, so he acquiesced to the medical staff's orders.
The team's leader in ice time per game at 24 minutes, 48 seconds, Chara noted he still worked out Monday and said he "most likely" won't be available for Tuesday night's home game against Los Angeles. After that, though, he's day-to-day depending on how he feels and what the doctors say he should do.
Chara's place in the lineup will probably be filled by seventh defenseman Steven Kampfer, who hasn't played in the NHL since Dec. 17. Kampfer skated in two conditioning games with the Providence (AHL) farm club earlier this month.
Despite the absence of their 6-foot-9 former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman who shares the team lead for power-play points (8) with Tyler Seguin, the Bruins to a man insist that they're not going to change anything about how they play. In fact, defenseman Andrew Ference anticipates there will be a bigger difference on the opposite bench than on Boston's.
"I think some of the other forwards on other teams will probably be in better moods. But that's probably the biggest change," Ference said. "I mean, really, he's a big presence and guys don't like playing against him. He's obviously a huge matchup against other team's top lines. That's something that, there's a quite a few of us that have played against top lines, top-two lines in the League, so it's not like anybody's getting outside of their comfort zone. But he's obviously made a few guys pretty happy for the next week or so."
Ference figures to see an increase in ice time, as he might also replace Chara on the point on one of Boston's power-play units. In Columbus, Ference exceeded 20 minutes (22:03) for just the second time since October 20. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid should also see their ice time increase, while Dennis Seidenberg, who averages 24:12 per game, should see more ice time against the best opponents.
"Collectively, you just keep doing what you do well. Whether it's one of our top forwards going down or him, it's not about somebody trying to come in and do what he does and what not," Ference said. "Everybody's good in their own rights, and plays the game the right way, so it's just a matter of a couple more guys are going to have a little bit more ice time, but you're not changing your game or doing anything outside of what their strengths were before."
While there's no telling how much success the Bruins will be able to enjoy for however long Chara is out, the one thing coach Claude Julien guarantees is his team won't be using Chara's absence as an excuse.
"When you lose a key player, it's a big void," Julien said. "But other teams, including ourselves, have dealt with that in the past. There's nothing more you can do about it. To say, ‘Well, he leaves a big void,' doesn't mean we can't fill it. And that's the way we feel right now, that we've got enough guys that can come in and do the job. We don't feel it's going to be a factor. We're certainly not going to come out at the end of a game and say, ‘We didn't win this because Zdeno wasn't in the lineup.' Our group is a good enough group that we can still overcome those kind of injuries."