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Letang leads Chara in battle for best playoff blueliner

by Shawn P. Roarke

The two best defensemen halfway through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kris Letang of Pittsburgh Penguins and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, will go head-to-head in the third round.

Entering the Eastern Conference Final, Letang holds a slight lead on Chara in voting by a nine-member panel of writers, 23-20.

Each panelist was asked to name three players for the recognition in order of preference. A first-place vote was worth three points, a second-place vote was worth two, and a third-place vote received one.

Letang was on all nine ballots and received six first-place votes in compiling his 23 points. Chara also was on all nine ballots and received the remaining three first-place votes. Five other defensemen were named, but none received more than three points.

Letang has been dominant in all phases of the game this postseason.

He has three goals and 16 points in 11 games to provide some punch at the offensive end. He is the key to the Pittsburgh power play, with two goals and nine points in man-advantage situations.

Defensively, Letang is used extensively as well. He plays 27 minutes per game, is a mainstay on Pittsburgh's highly effective penalty kill, and is plus-7.

"Kris doesn't get a lot of notoriety for his defensive game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "With the way he skates, the way he moves the puck, he's more viewed as an offensive guy. But if you overlook his defensive play and how he can play defensively against the other team's good players, you're really overlooking a part of his game as well."

Those are certainly lofty numbers, but Chara is living in the same neighborhood.

Nobody remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs plays more per game than the 29-plus minutes Chara logs -- and most of that time is spent plkaying against the opposition's top offensive players.

Despite all that defensive responsibility, Chara has found a way to generate offense. He has 11 points, 42 shots and is a plus-7.

"Aside from the obvious differences," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said, "they're pretty similar -- in the way they control the game, the minutes they play, the situations they play in. He's their best player on their defense and [Letang] is our best player on the back end.

"They're both outstanding defensemen."

Others receiving votes: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles 3; Slava Voynov, Los Angeles, 3; Duncan Keith, Chicago, 3; Dan Boyle, San Jose, 1; Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh 1

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