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Chara Set to Make History in Montreal

Bruins captain will become 21st player - and sixth defenseman - to play in 1,500 career games

by Eric Russo @erusso22 /

MONTREAL - When Zdeno Chara made his National Hockey League debut for the New York Islanders on Nov. 19, 1997, Charlie McAvoy was still a month from being born.

Fast forward nearly 22 years later and the duo will be paired together as the Bruins' No. 1 defense tandem on Tuesday night against the rival Montreal Canadiens.

The unlikelihood of their pairing is why McAvoy - now in his third full NHL season - tries to remind himself from time to time just how fortunate he is to be playing alongside one of the league's all-time best blue liners so early in his career.

"He's just a special guy and a special player," said McAvoy, who has played with Chara nearly every game since his debut during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. "It's something where I kind of forget and have to remember how lucky and fortunate I am to play with a guy like that who has done so many things throughout his career."

Another one of those accomplishments will come on Tuesday at Bell Centre as Chara suits up for his 1,500th career game, which will make him just the 21st player - and sixth defenseman - in NHL history to accomplish that feat.

"What an unbelievable accomplishment," said McAvoy, who has just 131 games under his belt. "I couldn't be happier for him. I will make sure to give him a big hug tonight. What an accomplishment. You really can't overstate it. He puts himself into some special, special company."

Video: McAvoy talks Chara's 1500th game

Indeed he has. The 42-year-old blue liner - Boston's captain since his arrival in 2006-07 - will join Hockey Hall of Famers Chris Chelios, Scott Stevens, Larry Murphy, Nicklas Lidstrom, and former Bruins captain Ray Bourque as the only defensemen to reach the 1,500-game plateau. Chara also joins San Jose forwards Patrick Marleau (1,668) and Joe Thornton (1,581) as the only other active players to hit the mark.

"It's a lot of games," said Chara, who also played 231 games with the Islanders and 299 with Ottawa. "It's very humbling. It's something that I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life. Obviously very proud of it too…I have so many people that I should be thanking - obviously starting with my parents. They did such a great job of raising me and so much sacrifice for me to be able to play hockey.

"My family, my wife, my children - there are so many people. I've been very lucky. Very grateful that I've been able to be in the right place at the right time and get to know some very special people along the way.

"All of my teammates, coaches…they've been tremendously helpful, and I wouldn't be playing the game without them. It's a special, special night."

Video: Chara talks 1500th NHL game

Patrice Bergeron has been alongside Chara longer than any other player, with the duo having led the Black & Gold together for the past 14 seasons, a tenure that has included three appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and, of course, the Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

"The backbone of our defense for the last I don't know how many years," said Bergeron, who has played 1,042 career games. "He's redefined the position by the way that he defends but also put up offense, his shot…he's well respected around the league, but even more so in this organization by the players and also the city, the fans, and everyone. True competitor and an amazing accomplishment."

Despite all of Chara's on-ice accomplishments, which have ranged from a Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 2009 - and seven other top-five finishes - six All-Star Game appearances, three First-Team All-Star and four Second-Team All-Star nods, and the league's hardest-ever recorded shot (108.8 MPH), Bergeron believes Chara is even more respected for the way he carries himself.

"The way that he competes and battles and wants to be at his best all the time," said Bergeron. "Obviously, he's very tough, but it's more than that. It's the way that he handles himself on and off the ice and the way that he leads, but also just the presence that he has on the ice. I think he's got that respect because he does everything right."

Video: Bergeron talks Chara milestone

That respect was, perhaps, never more evident than before Game 5 of last June's Stanley Cup Final, when Chara received a lengthy - and deafening - standing ovation from the TD Garden crowd during pregame introductions as he returned to the ice just two days after suffering a broken jaw.

It was an unparalleled display of determination and commitment, two traits that the Slovakia native - the tallest player in NHL history at 6-foot-9 - has become known for, highlighted by his rigid offseason workout routines.

"It's a testament to him and how he's been able to adapt as the league's kind of changed and the style of play has changed," said McAvoy. "He's just always done the right thing, taking care of himself and obviously working hard every summer to come back and be better than the year before. He's still playing some really, really good hockey. He makes my life easy every night."

And it doesn't appear that Chara - who is 31 games shy of 1,000 with the Bruins - will be stopping anytime soon.

"I'm enjoying playing. I love this game," said Chara, who has four points (goal, three assists) in his last four games and at plus-11 ranks third in the NHL this season. "This game has given me so much. On the ice, obviously, and off the ice. I just enjoy every day, being along with my teammates and going out there and performing. I just love competing and have an extreme passion for the sport."

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