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If Defense Corps Shorthanded, B's Will Have to Adapt

Should Chara, Grzelcyk be sidelined for Game 5, Boston may play seven defensemen

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

CLAYTON, Mo. - All season long, the Bruins have persevered through injuries to some of their most important players. Each time, they responded, overcoming those losses to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

And now that they're here, they may have to do it once again.

Already down Matt Grzelcyk (protocol) for the last two games, Boston could be without their captain moving forward. Zdeno Chara was left bloodied after he took a deflected puck to the face early in the second period of the B's Game 4 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Monday night and did not return to play.

Speaking with reporters at the team's hotel on Tuesday morning before returning to Boston, coach Bruce Cassidy did not have a further update on the status of his No. 1 defenseman.

"Nothing new," said Cassidy. "Obviously he's got to get back to Boston and get looked at a little closer and we'll go from there."

The Bruins played without Chara for roughly a month across November and December when the blue liner was sidelined by a knee injury. It was just one of a number of injuries to crucial players - including Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, and David Pastrnak - that the Bruins had to overcome throughout the regular season.

"It kind of brings you close together at times where you need to rely on each other a bit more," said Brad Marchand. "The amount that we've had to do that throughout the last couple years, we've really grown to be able to come together in those situations. I don't know how things are playing out for next game. But the next couple days, things will kind of unwind and we'll see how it's gonna play out.

"This time of year, there's no excuses. You can't look at that…you've got to come together and do whatever you can to make it work. They're not gonna stop trying, they're still gonna push. We have to do the same."

Nevertheless, Chara will certainly be missed if he is unavailable for Game 5 - or beyond. The 42-year-old remains Boston's top penalty killer, and his size and physicality have, no doubt, helped neutralize some of the Blues' high-end offensive talent through four games.

"We know we can win with guys out of the lineup, it's just the magnitude of the time of the year," said Cassidy. "This matchup is not good with Zee out, let's face it. They're a big, heavy team so you lose that element…Zee's great on the penalty kill. They've been ineffective and a lot of that has to do with the goaltender and Zee. He's a shutdown defender, he forces guys to really go outside and not get inside."

"Now you're talking about your captain and one of your leaders, so you lose the intangibles as well."

Video: BOS@STL, Gm4: Chara leaves game after blocked shot

Those intangibles were on full display during the third period on Monday night. After being advised not to return to play by team doctors, Chara - donning a full shield on his helmet - returned to the bench in support of his teammates, despite being "very uncomfortable" as Cassidy put it following the game.

"He's an absolute warrior," said Marchand. "I think if it wasn't for the doctor, he would have played in that game. He's that kind of guy. You're gonna have to kill him to keep him off. He's an absolute leader and those things you just gain respect for him every single day with what he's willing to go through to lead this team. Incredible person."

Should Chara - and Grzelcyk - be out of the lineup for Game 5, Cassidy acknowledged the possibility of playing seven defensemen, which would give him some situational options, given that one of the replacements (Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon, or Jakub Zboril) could be making his postseason debut.

"The back end could have a domino effect," said Cassidy, who has also mentioned Steven Kampfer as an option to return to the lineup. "If we're out two D, Grizz and Zee, you might have to play seven defensemen. You're putting guys in there that haven't played a ton, so maybe we've got to look at how this best works out for us, use a guy situationally to take Zee's PK minutes if need be, another guy could match up. We could be reaching into an area where a young kid has played in the playoffs, so we have to be careful there."

While things seem a bit dire on the back end, the Bruins are still relishing their position. With the series tied at 2, it's a best of three for the Stanley Cup, with two of those games on home ice.

"I think that we're in a great position. They're in a great position," said Marchand. "We're both best of three for the Stanley Cup. We're all excited. If you give any team in the league the opportunity at the start of the year, every team is gonna jump on that.

"We're not gonna sit back on that and rely on it, but we're excited about the opportunity. There's three games left in the season and we're gonna give it our all and hopefully it goes in our favor."

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