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Bruins Optimistic Zdeno Chara Could Return Against Chicago

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - When the Bruins went on their road trip, there was a question Head Coach Claude Julien kept being asked by the opposing coaches.

It involved a 6-foot-9 defenseman.

"Well," Julien began with a smile. "When you go out West and everybody's asking you if he's on the trip, it tells you a lot about the teams out West and what they think of him."

Zdeno Chara has missed the Bruins' past 19 games with the knee injury he suffered on October 23. He could be returning to game action this Thursday, when the Bruins host the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

"I think it's like that across the League. There were a lot of teams happy to plays us with him out of our lineup, no doubt, and there's going to be a lot of teams sad to see him back in our lineup," Julien said following the team's practice on Tuesday at TD Garden, in which Chara joined them for the first time since his injury.

"So we're excited to have him back soon, and hopefully that happens Thursday."

Julien is optimistic about Chara's return, though he hasn't received word yet from the trainers that he'll be cleared to play.

"I'm just suspecting," said Julien. "I know Zee's really excited about wanting to play Thursday. I suspect that if he's excited, that there's probably going to be - hopefully - the medical staff clearing him to play, so I haven't been told that yet, but we're hoping that's the case."

"I'm excited to be back with the team and be able to skate - it's something that I worked really hard for, and obviously the Bruins' organization, doctors, medical staff, training staff, everybody did a great job to put me where I am," Chara said following Tuesday's practice, speaking with reporters for just the second time since the injury.

"Just very exciting to be back with the team and practicing. Right now, I'm taking every day as something that I want to give it 100 percent and that's how it stands right now."

Chara has another day of practice, along with Thursday's pregame skate and warmups, before the puck drops against the Blackhawks.

"It's something that you have to go by feel and by the way you perform, and like I said, I had a good day [on Tuedsday]," said Chara. "My goal is to work hard every day - 100 percent effort - and when Thursday comes, then we'll see."

It's no secret that the Captain keeps himself in fantastic physical shape. He even surpassed all of his physical testing results this past September.

Missing 19 of the Bruins' 28 games this season may have other players a little behind. That doesn't appear to be the case for Chara.

"He's in good shape, he looked good, and you can see he's excited to get back," said Julien. "So that's your captain we're talking about here, so it's nothing that's surprising. It's something that he's always been that way and he's one of those guys that sits up there and hates watching his team play, so he's excited to have the opportunity to come back and he's worked really, really hard - you can tell."

"For a guy that hasn't played in a few months, he's out there and he looked pretty sharp."

"Everybody knows how hard he works off the ice, he's a maniac in the gym and he works that much harder to get back and be even better than he was before," said Dennis Seidenberg, who has been the leader of the back end in the captain's absence. "So I don't think anybody expects him to be out of shape when he gets back."

Chara looked strong and physical on the ice, at one point battling heavily with Loui Eriksson on a 2-on-2, so much that he gave the forward a stick tap afterwards.

"It's good to have a few days of practices with the team and doing the game-situation drills, a lot of battles, a lot of competing for every puck and that's what you're going to have in games," said Chara. "Nobody's going to replace the game just by practicing so I think the best way to get into the games is just to play them."

He had only dealt with sustained time out of the lineup once, in Ottawa. In Boston, Chara had missed just 11 games due to injury prior to this season.

"The rehab has been a long road, but I think that we took every possible step on the way, making sure we don't want to have any setbacks," he said. "So right now, it's one of those things that we just have to maintain."

The Bruins who spoke with reporters on Tuesday after practice were excited, but cautious about their captain's return. They can't look for Chara to solve any issues they've been working through in their game throughout the past month and a half; they need to continue to stress team efforts like they put worth in Arizona.

"Well, it's not over yet, right? I don't know when he's coming back, but there's been good games and there's been bad games," said Seidenberg, assessing the team's response with Chara out of the lineup. "But overall, we definitely felt him not being on the ice. We were missing our leader that's been leading the team for the past nine years so you definitely noticed it, but whenever he comes back, we're all going to be happy and ready to go."

The Bruins have gone 11-7-1 in Big Zee's absence.

"When you get hurt, it's just very frustrating, but I give a lot of credit to the team and all of the guys for fighting for every game and every point," said Chara. "It's been very encouraging. It's not easy when you have that many guys missing from the lineup, and you see how hard your teammates are battling and sacrificing, doing whatever they can to win games."

"So I think the coaching staff did a great job, trying to handle the situation as they did, and you know, like I said, it's something that was very encouraging and motivating for me."

While Chara could return on Thursday, the Bruins haven't gotten over the injury bug yet. David Krejci practice on Tuesday, but is questionable for Thursday's game. Adam McQuaid remains out with a broken thumb.

"It's been a battle without them, you know, and I think we've done a decent job, facing adversity and battling through it," said Tuukka Rask. "But we also know that [those] guys are not going to make a huge difference on a bigger scale. They're obviously a big piece of our team, but we can't just start relying on them when they come back. We have to work as a team and keep doing things right."

That involves the Bruins building off of a solid game in Arizona, and starting to work their way back up the standings from their current second Wild Card spot in the East.

"I think, as disappointing as it is, because we're normally a team that's at the top of the standings, there's a lot of teams in our position that probably would have been a lot worse," said Julien. "So I'm happy that we're still in a playoff position, and now let's work on trying to climb up there in the standings, that's our goal. But it will certainly help if we can get a healthier team, there's no lying about that."

As opposing coaches know well, Chara's presence will give a lift to the Bruins, at both ends of the ice, and in the room.

"You just wish that you could help in those games and it's something that we can't take back, those games that we lost," said Chara.

"We have almost half of the season right around the corner, so you have to realize where you are and where you want to be, so we have to be looking at that, and get better."

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