Chara unplugged: Bruins big man chats with the Zize

Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal with teammate Jarome Iginla #12 in the...

Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal with teammate Jarome Iginla #12 in the third period against the Detroit Red Wings during a game at TD Garden on April 20, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images/AFP)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:25 PM ET

In the fabled land of The Bleu Blanc Rouge, Public Enemy No. 1 is a 6-foot-9 behemoth who wears the hated black and gold.

And Zdeno Chara knows it.

He knows he is loathed by Habs Nation because he plays for the rival Boston Bruins.

He knows they despise him because he can dominate games, all the while playing a physical style that biased opposing fans feel borders on being "dirty."

And he knows they have not forgotten the Max Pacioretty affair, the incident on March 8, 2011 in which a Chara hit caused the Canadiens forward to collide with the stanchion at the end of the bench at the Bell Centre. Pacioretty was taken off the ice on a stretcher after laying motionless on the ice for several minutes, having suffered a fracture to the 4th cervical vertebra and a severe concussion.

A criminal investigation by Montreal police resulted in no criminal charges being laid. Chara was not fined or suspended for his actions. And several months after the incident, Pacioretty said he thought Chara regretted his actions and that he forgave him.

Maybe. But loyal Habs supporters certainly haven't.

And their venom towards the Bruins captain will be on display in the upcoming second round series between Boston and Montreal, a delicious matchup in which the spotlight, as usual, will be on the towering Chara, a finalist for the 2013-14 Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman.

For his part, Chara, who embraces the historical significance of a Habs-Bruins rivalry that is on the cusp of a 34th all-time playoff series, has a simple message for his detractors, like him or not.

"I am not the type of player that tries to hurt people," Chara told the Toronto Sun this week.

Let the debate begin. Or, in this case, continue.

Truth be told, with his overwhelming physique, Chara could have left a swath of maimed opponents splattered throughout NHL arenas if he had a goon mentality. That certainly hasn't been the case. Of course, you might have a hard time convincing diehard Montreal puck lovers of that.

Either way, Chara, as he usually is, will be a huge key in determining which team wins this series.

Keeping that in mind, as the much-anticipated clash with the Habs approaches, the Bruins captain engaged in a 1-on-1 candid interview addressing numerous subjects ranging from Pacioretty to P.K. Subban to the Habs rivalry to being booed in Montreal to the Norris Trophy, just to name a few topics.

Just call it "Chara Unplugged."


ON BEING THE TARGET OF HABS FANS: "I Don't Blame Them."

He's heard the Bell Centre jeers before. He'd have to be deaf not to.

"You get used to it," Chara said. "Of course I'm aware of it. But you have to focus on what is going on on the ice. You can't control things on the outside so you can't concern yourself with it.

"I don't blame them. It shows how passionate they are."


ON L'AFFAIRE PACIORETTY: "We've Moved On."

Chara recalls calling Pacioretty a couple of weeks after the incident.

"We talked and I explained what happened from my viewpoint," Chara recalled. "We've moved on. The most important thing is that he recovered to resume his career. He's playing really well.

"Let's hope something like that never happens again. And the league acted well. Now those (stanchions) are padded. Hopefully that prevents a lot of injuries in the future."

As one of the Habs elite offensive performers, Pacioretty can count on seeing plenty of Chara in this series. It will be an intriguing matchup to watch, one featuring many layers.


ON THE 2014 HABS: Vanek Makes Canadiens Even More Formidable Foes

It's almost as if Habs GM Marc Bergevin knew a future playoff clash with Boston was in the cards when he acquired Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline.

In his career, Vanek has 30 goals and 62 points in 55 career games against the Bruins. A potential difference maker in this series, to be sure.

"He gives them a lot more depth, certainly," Chara said. "They are a very deep team now.

"But that's not just up front. They are very deep on the back end too. That's a very important feature.

"We feel we are a deep team too, so it should be a good matchup."


ON THE HABS-BRUINS RIVALRY: History and Passion

Whether you read the history books or see the enormous swarm of media covering this clash, all players know this is just not "another" series. Far from it.

"We know what to expect," Chara said. "If you look at it, every time we play them it seems to be a big game. Either one team can jump over the other in the standings or it's a big two points, it always seems to be that way.

"We've played them quite a few times in the playoffs. We know it's going to be a battle, it's going to be loud and the fans will be passionate.

"We are all aware of the history too. These are two Original Six teams. People's parents and grandparents watched these two teams play. The tradition cannot be ignored."


ON THE 2011 HABS-BRUINS SERIES: Horton's Heroics

The previous playoff clash between these two teams was a memorable first-round matchup in 2011.

The Bruins may have gone on to win the Cup, but not before the Habs forced an overtime in Game 7. Only a Nathan Horton goal in extra time kept Boston's Cup hopes alive.

"What I remember most about that game is that I was standing right behind Horts," Chara said. "I had the perfect angle to see the winner go in.

"I remember jumping up and down and celebrating."

Just like the entire city of Boston.


ON P.K. SUBBAN: Skilled Superstar or Habs Hot Dog?

For every jeer Chara hears in Montreal, Subban can count on receiving the same treatment in Boston - and then some.

Apart from both being despised by opposing fans and both having their names engraved on the Norris Trophy, Chara and Subban are quite different in terms of how they conduct themselves on the ice. Chara is hulking and physical, Subban quick and flamboyant. Yet, in the end, each are the foundations of their respective defence corps.

In Subban's case, that job resume includes rattling opponents until they become unglued. And Chara understands that.

"He's a great player," Chara said. "He plays his own style.

"He gets under the skin of a lot of players. He's good at it. And he uses it to his advantage."

Kind of sounds like the same blueprint used by Chara's teammate Brad Marchand, doesn't it?

Now let's see if it works.


ON THE HANGOVER OF THE 2013 FINAL: Hungry To Make Amends

Rather than suffer a letdown after their Stanley Cup final heartache at the hands of the Blackhawks a year ago, Chara and the Bruins are more determined than ever to again sip from hockey's Holy Grail, a drinking session they enjoyed back in 2011.

Difficult as it might be to recover from that Game 6 nightmare which saw the Hawks score twice in the game's final 90 seconds to win the title, the Bruins have rebounded with a vengeance.

How?

"It's a mindset," Chara said. "You have to set a standard goal.

"We feel like we deserved a better fate. We came back very strong, very determined, very focused. Management did a great job filling in the holes like bringing in (Jarome Iginla).

"We feel like we still have the team to do it. Now we have to go out and prove it."


ON BEING A NORRIS FINALIST: Father Time Is Ticking ...

At age 37, Chara, the 2009 Norris Trophy winner, realizes the clock is running out on his chance to win a second Norris as the NHL's best defenceman.

On Monday, the league announced that Chara, Chicago's Duncan Keith and Nashville's Shea Weber are the final three for this year's award. Chara finished the season with 17 goals, 23 assists and was a plus-25.

"You actually appreciate (the nomination) more as you get older," he said. "It's a huge honour.

"There are so many good young "D" coming up who immediately put themselves into contention for the award. You just try to play your best and hope your performance will be acknowledged while you are still competing at a high level."


ZEE'S NORRIS SCOUTING REPORT: Duncan Keith, Blackhawks

Keith won the Norris in 2010, one season after Chara did. Many observers figure the Hawks blueliner is the favourite this time around.

"Duncan has been on the top of his game right from the start of the season," Chara said. "He's had a strong season. He's been near the top of defencemen scoring all year.

"Duncan is probably more of a puck carrier than Shea and I."



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ZEE'S NORRIS SCOUTING REPORT: Shea Weber, Predators

While Keith and Chara both have hoisted the Cup in the past three years, Weber has played with a far less-talented supporting cast in Nashville during his career. The fact that he has been nominated says a lot to what a key cog he is to the Preds.

"Shea started the season a bit slower (than Keith), but he really finished strong," Chara said. "I think Shea and I are similar in the way we play the game."

In other words, hit anything that moves?


ON JAROME IGINLA: The Quest For That Elusive First Ring

When Iginla vetoed a potential trade to the Bruins 13 months ago while accepting a swap to the Penguins instead, questions arose last summer when the former Flames captain subsequently signed with Boston as a free agent concerning how he would be accepted.

In the end, there have been no issues. Far from it. In fact, Chara feels the Iginla-Bruins marriage has been a near-perfect match.

"How do I feel about Iginla being here? Oh my God, where do I start?" Chara said. "I mean, he is such a humble guy and so easy to talk to. He's fit right in.

"At first he was a little nervous. He was also frustrated that he wasn't scoring more right away. But he was getting chances. And he was doing other things like blocking shots. Next thing you know he's got 30 goals.

"He's just a true competitor and a great guy."


ON DOUGIE HAMILTON: Future Norris Contender?

Prior to Hamilton's first regular-season NHL game -- the season opener of the strike-shortened 2013 campaign - Chara delivered high praise for the young defenceman, a former first-round selection taken with a pick acquired from the Maple Leafs as part of the Phil Kessel trade.

"He's got all the tools to develop into a Norris Trophy candidate," Chara told the Toronto Sun at the time.

More than 15 months later, Hamilton is playing with much more confidence, registering a goal and three assists in the Bruins five-game first-round elimination of the Red Wings.

How does the captain evaluate the development of Hamilton, still just 20?

"He's getting better, but not through the sky," Chara said. "What I do see is consistency. He's producing at a more consistent basis, and that's important.

"The key that he's learning is to be prepared, be ready and never be surprised. I've tried to tell him 'D first, 'O second. You can see progress there.

"He's making big strides. And I still believe he'll be a Norris finalist one day."

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger

 


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