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Bruins' Chara committed to protecting own end first

by Matt Kalman

BOSTON -- When he won his only Norris Trophy following the 2008-09 season, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had 50 points. In the three full seasons since, the award has gone to defensemen with no fewer than 62 points for a full season.

Last year's winner, the Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban, had 38 points in 42 games during the shortened season. That put him on pace for 74 in an 82-game schedule.

Still, Chara, who was among the three finalists for the award in three of the past four seasons and finished eighth in 2009-10, hasn't altered his approach to the game to suit the desire of the voters to throw their support behind defensemen with a little more offensive punch.

Zdeno Chara
Defense - BOS
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2
SOG: 12 | +/-: 0
This season the voters have once again rewarded Chara by making him a finalist along with Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. Chara had 40 points, while Keith was second among NHL defenseman with 61 points and Weber was third with 56. Weber also led all defensemen with 23 goals.

"I said it many times that I'm not going to be a guy who's going to put up some highlight-reel goals or plays. I have once in a while, but I'm not going to try to run around the ice and chase the points, or I'm not going to be taking risks," Chara said during a press conference at TD Garden on Monday.

"Playing against top lines, I want to do it the right way and I want to play the game the right way. I always take a lot of pride in my defensive game. I want to be always strong defensively and take care of my zone before I jump up and help the offense. Obviously you have to be able to do both, but I'm not going to be taking chances just because I want to be getting more points. I like to work really hard and I enjoy competing against top lines, top players in this League. So I want to do it the right way and that's the way I think it's always been for me."

Chara, who had 17 goals this season, just came off a five-game Eastern Conference First Round series during which he helped limit Detroit Red Wings star center Pavel Datsyuk to two even-strength goals. Chara will most likely be tasked with slowing down the Canadiens' top line of David Desharnais centering wings Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek in the upcoming Eastern Conference Second Round series, which will start at TD Garden in Boston.

It will be ironic if Chara's offensive numbers help win this award, because for the first time this season he padded his stats by playing up front on the power play. Ten of his goals and 15 of his points came as a net-front presence. Over the course of the season, he improved at screening the goaltender, retrieving the puck in the corners and even distributing the puck from the wing during rotations.

The change in position spiced up the season for Chara, who turned 37 in March.

"So it was definitely something new and some new challenges for me, but I look forward to those," he said. "Before every season, I always say that I want to be better. I want to improve, and sometimes these kind of new things brings more motivation and kind of a little spark, and I try to do my best in whatever position I'm in, whether it's power play, PK, 5-on-5. If I'm thrown in different scenarios, then I have to make sure that it's my job to do my best to be good at it."

Chara's power-play position change wasn't the only thing different he had to deal with. There was flux on the Bruins' back end when they started the season with a younger defense corps after Andrew Ference's departure in free agency.

Dougie Hamilton, who was a lineup fixture during the regular season but played sparingly in the playoffs last season, and Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, who didn't get a true shot at the NHL until Boston's run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, were all expected to be part of the top six this season. Hamilton and Krug filled that role from the start, but Bartkowski didn't get into the mix until the Bruins' defense group was shaken by the loss of veteran Dennis Seidenberg to an ACL/MCL injury Dec. 27.

Chara did his part to tutor the younger defensemen and make sure Boston didn't panic without its No. 2, Seidenberg.

"Well, it's a fine line or balance that you do have to take some responsibility and take a little bit upon your shoulders, but at the same time, you don't want to be doing too much that it's actually costing your own game," he said. "You still want to be helping younger guys with their development and getting more … or speed up the development or the experiences they might not have yet. But at the same time, you don't want to be doing a job for them and then not doing your job.

"So it's kind of a balance that you want to help, but you want to make sure you focus on your game and let them, at times, figure for themselves how to play. They do a really good job; all the young guys we have, they really made huge strides from the time they got here, or they got called up, or trades. They made really smooth adjustments."

The Bruins' success as a team allowed coach Claude Julien to manage Chara's minutes, and he averaged 24:39, his lowest since 2003-04. He was plus-25 for the season.

"To me, his game hasn't really changed," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "He's the best defender in the League. I don't think anyone's close defending. And I thought this series, this past series [against Detroit], he was terrific. Now that was after the voting, but I thought he was just terrific.

"He still gets up when you play a team with a real star. And he really takes that as a challenge. I think his skating is good and maybe you don't see him shoot as much because you're used to seeing him on the one-timer, but he still blasts it.

"I think he deserves the nomination, I think he deserves that award. And it's no offense to the others."

There's plenty of offense, and defense, to go around this year's three Norris finalists. It will be determined in June if the voters preferred Chara's blend of both to that of Weber and Keith.

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