Bruins, Hawks both great teams, but only one has Zdeno Chara

Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara shoves Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw during Game 1's first period...

Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara shoves Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw during Game 1's first period Thursday. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 PM ET

CHICAGO - No one had an explanation that made any sense.

Not Claude Julien. Not Zdeno Chara. Not anyone in the Boston Bruins dressing room one long day after the evening spectacle that was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.

Where was Chara in the final period of Game 1? Where was the Bruins’ ice-time leader?

He played only three minutes and 37 seconds of a third overtime period that lasted 12 minutes and eight seconds.

Seven Bruins played more. Three of them defencemen. It doesn’t add up.

When asked why Chara had played so little, for him, in overtime, Julien wasn’t concrete with his answer: “I don’t know,” the head coach said. “I think, again, it was depending on matchups.

And then he said: “At the same time you have to have be able to rely on the other guys, especially the further you go. The tougher it gets on the those guys with the heavy minutes ...You have to rely on other guys.”

Which isn’t exactly Julien’s style when it comes to ice time for his defence or for Chara. Chara typically plays half the game.

Chara insisted there was nothing physically wrong with him in the third overtime period and seemed surprised by the question asking about his ice time late in the game. “I was trying to do quick shifts. Everybody was taking turns,” he said.

In the most significant minute, when Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw deflected Dave Bolland’s tip past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, Chara was in a least likely place.

He was on the bench.

If you break down Game 1 by numbers, Chara played a game-high 57 shifts for a total of 45 minutes and change. While he was on the ice the Bruins outscored the Blackhawks 3-1.

The three Chicago goals scored to make it 3-2, 3-3 and eventually 4-3 to win the game in triple overtime – the first two goals coming in the final 12 minutes of the third period – all came with Chara not on the ice.

And thus Saturday night’s Game 2 of the best-of-seven Cup series is really two games in one for both the Bruins and the Blackhawks. It is the game played when Chara is the on the ice: advantage Boston. And it is the game played when he isn’t on the ice: advantage Chicago.

No one player, goaltenders aside, can influence and alter the result the way Chara can and for the Blackhawks the challenge is both exhilarating and daunting.

If you assume Game 2 will be a 60-minute hockey game and assume there was nothing more than fatigue preventing Chara from playing more in the third overtime period, then expect 30 minutes of ice from the giant Bruins defenceman. That leaves Chicago half the game to try and win with their speed and depth up front.

They will have to take advantage of the time Chara doesn’t play, just as they did in Game 1, in order to win this series.

The Bruins have had a tough go with their defence in the playoffs, having been forced to use nine different blueliners. At different times, rookies like Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski have contributed greatly and the depth on the blueline has been a tribute to the work done by general manager Peter Chiarelli and his staff.

But minor leaguers tend to be minor leaguers for a reason. In Game 1, Krug, the only one of three youngsters playing regularly now, looked like he had hit some kind of wall or maybe had trouble responding to the fastest team he’d faced in the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs were fast, the New York Rangers were not and the Pittsburgh Penguins never got their game going. And now this Bruins defence, especially when Chara and Dennis Seidenberg aren’t on the ice, are facing all this speed at a time when the rather deep Bruins appear to be breaking down ever so slightly.

It started in Round 1 with the injuries to veteran defencemen Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Seidenberg, but the Bruins worked through that.

Now, if there is any kind of problem with Chara that no one is talking about – and he seemed in somewhat of a surly mood Friday for no reason in particular – then the law of diminishing returns could affect the Bruins.

And not just on defence. One of Julien’s strengths as a coach is his consistency and willingness to play all four lines up front. He has the best fourth line in hockey.

But effective centre Gregory Campbell is gone, having suffered a broken leg blocking a shot, and first-liner Nathan Horton has an unspecified shoulder injury and may not be able to play, and the Bruins’ depth at forward has been eroded by circumstance.

If Horton can’t play, the wayward Tyler Seguin will be elevated to the first line. If Horton can play, he might not be at his best. And the Bruins’ third line of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Seguin has contributed almost nothing offensively throughout the playoffs.

So the four-line Bruins are suddenly the two-and-a-half-line Bruins.

And while there’s no shortage of undisclosed injuries at this point – as per usual this time every year – Boston appears to be running out of bodies quicker than the Blackhawks.

Yet, you can’t write Boston off. Not yet. They have battled through too much to be here. They still have lines led by David Krejci line and Patrice Bergeron, terrific professional forwards. But most importantly they have Chara.

If the end of Game 1 was any kind of anomaly, he changes the game, the landscape, maybe the series just by shrinking the Chicago opportunities. The onus switches to the Bruins’ second and third pair of defencemen. All they have to do is not mess up and Boston’s better players can win the series.

Both teams have had terrific goaltending in the playoffs. Both teams have explosive top end forwards. Both teams are very well coached. But only team has Chara, assuming he is healthy enough to play in the 30-minute range for a 60-minute game.

He won 3-1 in his time on the ice in Game 1 and still ended up losing. The Bruins can build on that. The Blackhawks have the other 30 minutes to try and take a two-game lead and maintain home ice advantage.

Strategically, in a very different and electric way, this series has started to take shape.

WEARING DOWN?

BRUINS WHO PLAYED MORE THAN CHARA IN THE THIRD OVERTIME PERIOD

  • Dennis Seidenberg, 5:18
  • Andrew Ference, 4:55
  • David Krejci, 4:33
  • Rich Peverley, 4:31
  • Tyler Seguin, 4:06
  • Chris Kelly, 4:01
  • Torey Krug, 3:43

*Chara played 3:37 of 12:08


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