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Zdeno Chara carries load, helps Bruins reach Game 6

Defenseman, 40, plays heavy minutes in double-overtime win against Senators

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- By the time it was all over, and Boston Bruins forward Sean Kuraly had worked his magic with a goal in the second overtime for a 3-2 win in Game 5 against the Ottawa Senators here on Friday, Zdeno Chara had played 36:46.

It was an eye-popping number for anyone, but even more so for a 40-year-old defenseman, even a player known for his training and his preparation in the way the Bruins captain has always been. Still, that was by far the most ice time he had seen this season, and the most he had played in a game in four years.

Every single second was needed, though, with the Bruins coming into the game already down three top defensemen -- Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Adam McQuaid -- and coach Bruce Cassidy relying heavily on Chara to get them through a must-win Game 5 and on to Game 6 in this Eastern Conference First Round series at TD Garden on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports). The Senators lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Senators series coverage]

 

They got to Game 6, thanks to Kuraly's two goals and to the minutes that Chara was forced to play. Not that he didn't have his blips, including a decision that led to the springing of Jean-Gabriel Pageau for the Senators' second goal, 30 seconds into the second period.

But he recovered and the Bruins recovered, and they needed it.

Of course, Chara's numbers were dwarfed by those of Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who played 41:51. But Karlsson, who was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy the same day, is 26 years old, a full 14 years younger than the Bruins captain, with fewer miles, fewer aches and pains, fewer worries about breaking down.

Not that Chara seemed worried after the game. 

"I enjoy it," Chara said. "It's not easy, especially when you end up making those big [penalty] kills and you take probably the bigger chunk of those two minutes. And if you have a couple in a row, it's challenging. You feel it. But that's my job. I take a lot of pride in that.

"That's why I train in the summer so hard so I can benefit from that at this time of the year. It's not something that I'm specifically looking at. It's just whatever the team needs I'm willing to help and whatever minutes I get, I'm taking a lot of pride in that to do my best out there."

The last time Chara had topped 35 minutes was June 12, 2013, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, a game that went to triple overtime. Chara played an astounding 45:05, two games after he had played 42:05 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, another double-overtime game.

But there is a long way between 36 and 40, especially for an NHL player. 

And even that one number - 36:46 - does not entirely tell the story. Because of those minutes, 7:55 were played on the penalty kill, high-stress, hard-driving minutes with the Senators repeatedly threatening to score.

The Bruins put themselves at a distinct disadvantage over and over and over, especially in the final minutes of the third period and into overtime. With 5:08 remaining in the third, Dominic Moore committed a delay of game penalty. And then, with 2:28 left in the third, the Bruins were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty. 

They killed each of them.

They also killed an interference penalty 36 seconds into double overtime that put their best penalty-killing forward into the box, in Patrice Bergeron.

These were difficult minutes, for Chara, for anyone.

"You can sense that the pace kind of slowed down a little bit for both teams," Chara said. "You can probably see that in some way the fatigue was part of it, but at the same time I think both teams were careful not to take some gambles or unnecessary risks. 

"So that kind of maybe slows down the pace a little bit, but other than that, the physicality was there, the sacrifices of blocking shots, making plays, that's always there. The will of pushing yourself beyond being tired."

There is, in some ways, bit of an art to that. The players, Chara included, have to give everything they have in the moment, or there might be no more moments. They also have to make there is something, some energy, some extra motivation, in reserve. 

Because one overtime could turn into two, could turn into three. 

"You can't be really going on the ice thinking, 'Well, I'm going to save myself this shift,'" Chara said. "If there is a puck in your area or your corner, that's your job to win the battle and that's your job and you have to go full-out. If the puck is there for a full minute, you have to obviously be ready for that. 

"But at the same time when the puck is going up the ice as a defenseman, you can see that if they have the numbers you're not going to be sprinting there. You're going to be closing the gap, but be smart about it. So at times you have to be smart, at times you see the chance and you've got to go."

That is why he trains the way he does, making sure that he is as fit as, or more fit than, just about anyone else on the Bruins, even as he has five or 10 or even 20 years on them, as he has on rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who played the fourth-most minutes on the Bruins in Game 5, behind forward Brad Marchand (31:43), defenseman Kevan Miller (33:59) and Chara. 

Those players are in their 20s, or in the case of McAvoy, 19. 

Chara is 40. He played 36:46 on Friday. And after the game, his lip turning purplish, he was still standing and talking and, yes, smiling. 

This is what he prepares for. This is what he loves.

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