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Bruins' Chara adding offense to shutdown defense

by Matt Kalman

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The man widely known as the most dominant defensive defenseman in the NHL might not have put up the gaudy offensive numbers in the regular season that capture the attention of Norris Trophy voters.

However, entering the Eastern Conference Final, which begins Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), he's putting up the type of postseason points that might be able to power the Boston Bruins to another Stanley Cup championship.

Through two rounds of the 2013 playoffs, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has 11 points (two goals), second to Kris Letang of the Penguins (16 points) among NHL defensemen.

Zdeno Chara
Zdeno Chara
Defense - BOS
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 11
SOG: 42 | +/-: 7
Chara's postseason explosion comes after a regular season that saw him struggle to accumulate points, like most of his teammates. The Bruins' offense fell to 13th in the League with an average of 2.65 goals per game, and Chara had 19 points in 48 games. That was an 82-game pace well short of the career-best 52 points he scored in 2011-12.

The offensive drop-off didn't slow Chara in the defensive end, where he was plus-14 while playing nearly 25 minutes per game, mostly against the opponents' top lines. When the Norris finalists were announced, he was not among them for the first time since 2010, the year after he won the award.

"My priority always is playing well defensively and shutting guys down. If I can help out offensively and contribute, obviously on the power play, it's a big plus," Chara said one day after he practiced in preparation for Boston's series with Pittsburgh. "But like I said, if the whole team is not scoring, it's tough to really produce something as an individual."

Even an NHL All-Star defenseman who posted back-to-back plus-33 seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12 can get a little frustrated with a scoring slump. Chara wasn't immune to the pressure to chip in, especially with the Bruins in search of more scoring almost every night.

"I'm sure he [gets frustrated]," Chara's perennial defense partner, Dennis Seidenberg, said. "Usually I think when he doesn't score, he likes to take 500 shots to figure something out. But that's what everybody does. When you get annoyed, when the puck doesn't bounce your way, you go on the ice take some more shots, try anything to have the luck go your way. And [Chara's] no different, maybe a little more stubborn than anybody else."

Bruins coach Claude Julien knows Chara yearns to help the team in all facets of the game.

"During the season, I would say maybe [he was frustrated] a little bit. Not because he wants to be perceived as an offensive defenseman," Julien said. "I think for him, he feels the responsibility to be able to bring a little bit of everything, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself to bring that year after year. That's why he's such a good player."

Chara's expanded point total in the playoffs, which has already surpassed the nine points (two goals) he had in the run to the 2011 Stanley Cup, aren't a product of any change in his approach, according to Julien.

"But I think, if anything, everything is falling into place with him," the coach said. "It's not so much that you see him rushing the puck. A lot of it is about his decision-making with the puck. He's moving it quick, his shots are getting through, his quick releases against New York really helped him a lot. When things start going your way, the confidence certainly plays a big role in that. It's a function of a lot of different little things."

The Bruins might need Chara to continue to produce points because they know the Penguins are likely to get plenty of offense from their defense. The group is led by Letang, who unlike Chara was among the Norris finalists this season along with Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.

Chara's accepted that sometimes he can get overlooked by voters because of lesser offensive totals. And he appreciates what he's seen from Letang.

"Well I know he's a super-skilled defenseman and he's playing really great hockey. And for sure he's one of the top defensemen in the league," Chara said.

It's no secret that regardless of his offensive output, Chara will be under pressure against the Penguins. Whether the Bruins match him up against a line centered by Sidney Crosby or one with Evgeni Malkin in the middle, Chara's going to have to exceed the shutdown jobs he did in the first two rounds while averaging 29:13 of ice time, the most by any player still in the postseason. Against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, Chara limited Phil Kessel to three even-strength goals in seven games. In the next round against the New York Rangers, Chara held Rick Nash to one goal in five games.

The Bruins will need more of the same in order to defeat a Pittsburgh team that won all three games against Boston in the regular season.

"They have a lot of offense, they have a lot of skill," Chara said. "But it's not like we haven't been playing them before. We have close games against them. So we just have to be careful what we do on the ice against them in certain situations. We don't want to obviously give them much opportunities of exposing their offense."

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