BOSTON - Three days ago, Zdeno Chara was left bloodied as he lay on the ice at Enterprise Center. As he retreated to the dressing room after taking a puck to the face, nobody knew when he might return.
While he did make his way back to the bench for the third period, Boston's captain did not take another shift. But now, just three days later, Chara could be back in the lineup.
The 42-year-old - as well as fellow defenseman Matt Grzelcyk - took part in Thursday morning's pregame skate at TD Garden and is considered a game-time decision for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues.
"They're on the ice now," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said during his morning press conference. "That's a good sign. We've always said, once they get out there, they're that much closer…see how they feel at 7 or so tonight."
Video: Cassidy discusses lineup, Grzelcyk, Chara
Chara, as he did while he sat on the bench on Monday night, took the ice with a full shield on his helmet to protect what has been termed as a facial injury by the team. He is not, however, concerned about further injury.
"You don't think about that. You think about playing. You don't go into a game thinking you might get hurt," Chara said in a written response provided to the Professional Hockey Writer's Association. "At this time of the playoffs, everyone has injuries and there are challenges that you have to overcome to play. I'm no different than any player on either team."
Even if he can't play, the blue liner's presence on the ice and in the locker room provided the Bruins with quite a boost on Thursday morning.
"That's toughness, that's leadership," said John Moore. "Just his presence out there. He's such a great leader, such a great teammate. He's a big part of this team and his presence here is lift for everybody.
"You know that if there's even the slightest of chance he will - the guy's a legend for a reason. His toughness, his leadership, just being out there this morning, was on full display."
"He's an incredibly tough man," added Brad Marchand. "He's willing to play through anything. I mean, it just shows so much character in him with what he's been through and the fact that he's out there this morning. There's a reason why he's still playing the game, why he's going to be a Hall of Fame player; he's just willing to do anything, put his body through anything to win, and especially this time of year, when you see your captain doing that and playing through injuries like that, it's incredible to see."
Video: Grzelcyk and Marchand talk ahead of Game 5
Cassidy said that ultimately it would be the Bruins' team doctors that make the call on whether or not Chara is given the green light.
"He was never ruled out, even the other night in St. Louis. He was ruled out for that third period - we talked about that. After that, he was going to be day to day," said Cassidy. "First thing you worry about is a concussion, because then you're in the protocol, so we avoided that - or Zee avoided that - so that was good news, and then it's a matter of, well what's next?
"I guess yesterday we got a better idea, and then this morning he's here, obviously. He's on the ice skating, so now it's real. So, that was kind of the timeline if that helps."
Grzelcyk, meanwhile, is also a possibility to rejoin the lineup. The 25-year-old was leveled from behind by Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2, causing him to be placed in protocol and miss the last two games of the series.
"I'm not really sure, " Grzelcyk said when asked if he'd be returning for Game 5. "I guess coach said a game-time decision. If I'm in, obviously I'll be ready to play and excited to join the guys again and get back to work."
Regardless of how things shake out on the back end, Cassidy is still considering playing seven defensemen.
"Depends who's in there," said Cassidy. "There's different reasons that go into that…depending on which guys are in, how much experience there is, what roles need to be divided, so we could play seven."
If that is indeed the case, a forward would have to come out of the lineup, which would lead to some double shifting.
"[Marcus Johansson] doesn't kill, so we can move a right winger around; we can move a left winger around," said Cassidy. "[Danton] Heinen's played both sides, so we're comfortable with a guy getting a few extra minutes. It gets taxing obviously if you get into extended time. We can't worry about overtimes and this and that. We're just going to play the guys that deserve to get a little extra time if we go that route."
Video: Moore discusses the toughness of captain Chara