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Bruins Stepping Up Without Their Captain

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BostonBruins.com - Entering Saturday night's game in Toronto, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had missed just 11 games due to injury since joining the Bruins prior to the 2006-07 season.

Chara had not been in the lineup for 20 out of possible 631 games overall in his time with Boston.

The remaining nine games came from other reasons, like coach's decision at the end of the regular season, or the two games the captain missed to carry his country's flag in the opening ceremony for the 2014 Olympics.

"It's a great test for us," defenseman Torey Krug said, prior to the matchup against the Leafs. "I think everyone in here is excited about the opportunity to come together and put together a complete team effort."

"Anytime you have a big part of your team go down, the rest of the team has to come together and step up and fill that void, so it's a good opportunity for guys that maybe don't play those minutes and we're excited about the challenge."

With Chara's diagnosis - out four to six weeks with a left knee injury (PCL tear) - he could end up missing at least a dozen games.

"Did we lose a good player? We did. Is he a big part of our team? Yes, he is. But, you know, I'd like to think we're better than that, than to feel sorry for ourselves or get discouraged," said Head Coach Claude Julien. "That's not the case in our dressing room."

Those missed games get magnified, though, when the Bruins are missing his 1,141 NHL games of experience, his 6-foot-9, 255-pound frame and his vocal presence on the ice and in the room.

"We're just expecting our guys to be at the top of their game in order to overcompensate for the loss of a pretty important player, it's as simple as that," said Julien.

"It is a team sport, right? So again, the loss of Zee shouldn't mean that we can't win hockey games, and I don't think one guy should be the guy to replace our captain here."

"This is about a team, it's about our team playing well and that's up to us to show that [Saturday] in Toronto, that we can play a good team game."

The first test for the Bruins in Toronto was a success, as they earned a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs.

Boston outbattled the Leafs all night, pressing for a 4-0 lead in the third period before Toronto could get on the board to break the shutout with 5:33 left in regulation. Trailing in the third, the Leafs peppered Tuukka Rask with 18 shots on goal, but the Bruins' defensive game didn't fall apart.

They kept the focus on supporting each other, and falling back on their structure.

"Well, you miss a big guy like him, you have to really get together and play as a unit out there, that's what our hockey club is all about," Rask said following the win. "And sometimes we get away from that and it ends up costing us, so now everybody kind of woke up, we're missing Zee we have to play as a unit and we did that and it paid off."

Chara's overpowering on-ice shadow is missed, especially with matchups, and in front of the net. But it just means that other players have to take on his roles.

Milan Lucic assumed his net-front position on the power play.

Dennis Seidenberg was the go-to defenseman, put out for nearly every defensive zone draw, normally a task assigned to 'Big Zee.' Seidenberg led all skaters with 25:59 in ice time, with 35 shifts and more than three minutes spent on the penalty kill.

Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug both skated 30 shifts, and logged 21:57 and 20:05 in ice time, respectively.

Dougie Hamilton played the confident game he showcased during last season's playoffs, adding three points in the win to go with his strong defensive game keeping Phil Kessel's line off the scoresheet. Both he and Seidenberg finished with a plus-2 rating.

Matt Bartkowski and Zach Trotman kept it simple, eating up 12 minutes apiece, including some shorthanded time, and ending the game with an even rating.

The Bruins won 60 percent of the draws (and went 62 percent in the defensive zone) and members of all four lines factored into the scoring. The penalty kill stayed perfect, and the power play potted the first goal of the game.

"There's a lot to be made [about Chara's absence], and rightfully so - he's an irreplaceable part, and we're also missing another key defensman in Kevan Miller [to a dislocated right shoulder]," said Gregory Campbell. "But I think when things like this happen, you have to really rely on the syste."

"And we're a good team. Zee's our captain and a huge leader and amazing player for us, but that's the hand the we're dealt right now and we have to play through it. Everybody sustains injuries along the way and this is just something we have to deal with."

Chara is irreplaceable, yes.

No one is that over-powering, or has as much of a presence as he does on and off the ice. What his absence did, though, was place a heavier emphasis on falling back on the structure that the Black and Gold have had in place for several years.

"We don't want [Chara's absence] to change the way we play the game," said Krug. "We respect our coaching staff's system they put in place, and it's for reasons like these that we do have that system."

"I think that's the makeup of this team, to play as a team," said Seidenberg, the most veteran player now on the Bruins' blueline. "To be good because we support each other, we play well as a team. It can't just be one guy picking up the slack of Zee being gone. It has to be everybody."

The Bruins wished they could have found that consistent play, sticking to what they do best, to start the season, but losing a key figure has pushed it to the forefront.

One win is one win, though. The real test will be sustaining Saturday night's effort.

"I think it's just focus," said Hamilton. "Focus on the D zone, and our offense comes from good defense so we just have to remember that and not cheat and things like that."

"We just have to keep focusing on that, focus on our own end first, and go from there."

"Well, happens to us all the time - we talk about it, we talk about it every time, every game - keep doing the same things, what give us success and sometimes we just don't it," said Rask.

"And you know, maybe now we really pay attention to that because Zee's out of the lineup and maybe that keeps our train going the right way."

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