BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara's return to practice for the Boston Bruins on Monday was greeted with optimism ahead of the Stanley Cup Final.
Although Chara would not say definitively that he would play in Game 1 of the Final, against either the San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues at TD Garden on May 27 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS), the news is promising.
"I feel good," said Chara, who missed a 4-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final because of an undisclosed injury. "It was nice to be out there again. Skated [Sunday] and skated with the team [Monday]. So it was a good practice, good pace."
Add that to what general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday, "I expect he'll be fine, but I'm not going to sit here and make a proclamation, make promises," and it sounds like the Bruins should have their captain available by next week.
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Although it was likely the right call to sit Chara in Game 4 of the conference final with the Bruins leading the best-of-7 series 3-0, that didn't make the decision any easier for the defenseman to watch from above.
"I'm not going to lie, watching games are not fun," Chara said. "You want to play them, and you want to be involved. For sure, it was something that [I] was feeling that kind of anxiousness to play, but the guys did a great job winning that game."
Once it was over, Chara dressed in full uniform, including skates, took part in the handshake line, where Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour, who played against Chara many times throughout his NHL career, could be heard saying, "Lots of respect for you. You can't keep doing this. Good for you. Good luck to you."
Chara posted the exchange on his Instagram account with the caption, "Rod is a true leader and was a tough warrior to play against. At last night's handshakes his words meant a lot to me. Balancing respect and intensity are what playoffs are all about."
He had more praise for Brind'Amour on Monday.
"I played against Rod a lot," Chara said. "I came into the League when he was in Philadelphia and obviously, had a number of years, a number of battles against him. He's a true warrior, great leader and captain and obviously, for the Carolina Hurricanes, he was very valuable in 2006 (when the Hurricanes won their only Stanley Cup championship).
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"I really appreciated what he said. We have mutual respect and he's doing an amazing job as a coach in very similar way he was as a player. He's leading. I wish him all the best."
Chara said the reason for coming out on the ice after the game was to show his respect to the Hurricanes, to what they had done and what they had accomplished. He said he had been impressed by the strides Carolina made this season, from the coaching staff to management to players to the way they played on the ice.
"I think they made great big steps forward," Chara said. "They had great, passionate fans, so I want to pay respect to players I play against. We battle against each other, and obviously, want to be part of it with the guys and just be there with them."
Now, Chara will use the Bruins' extended layoff -- they will have had 10 days off when the Cup Final begins -- to get back to full health, or at least as close to it as possible this deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 42-year-old defenseman is doing his best to make use of that time, with the team taking Friday and Saturday off. After skating before practice Sunday and then practicing Monday, Chara and the Bruins are scheduled to have Tuesday off and then practice Wednesday, when coach Bruce Cassidy said more would be known about how Chara was doing.
"He got through practice, no issues," Cassidy said. "He'll get some rest and get ready to go for Wednesday."
And after that, they hope, Game 1.