There are more than a couple reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks were able to defeat the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals. One of the most significant, though, was their targeting of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
Often heralded as the best defenseman in the NHL, Chara looked incredibly gassed midway through the six game series against Chicago. There was no hiding it, and the Blackhawks knew it, publically stating their goal was to try and wear down the Bruins giant. It worked, and it did so flawlessly. Boston was up 2-1 in the series, and then lost the next three games. The writing was on the wall; if the Bruins want to go on a successful Cup run, they need to do so with Chara as close to full strength as possible.
Which is why last night was a questionable one for Boston. In a 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chara logged 27 minutes of ice time. He did so after playing over 22 minutes the night before against the Detroit Red Wings. For the year, Chara has only missed three games, and his season average for ice time (24:46) is on par with what he’s done in the past few campaigns, just ten seconds fewer than last year.
So, despite coach Claude Julien claiming the team needed to monitor Chara’s minutes this past offseason, it doesn’t look like a ton is changing. And where last year we saw the hulking blue-liner looking completely deflated near the end of the playoffs after a 48 game season, now the team is gearing up for the postseason after an 82 game campaign. Chara isn’t getting any younger, and despite being a fitness freak, will he be ready if Boston goes on another run? Or will opposing teams see what Chicago did? A monster defenseman who halfway through the Finals looked like a stiff breeze might tip him over.
This all highlights the need for Chara to start getting some nights off in these last weeks before the playoffs begin. The Bruins have all but locked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference, so there are no longer any remaining games on the schedule where Chara’s presence is needed. Boston has shown solid depth on the blue line throughout the season, and though it may not hold up without Chara come playoffs, it’ll certainly allow the team to survive five meaningless regular season games. And you’d like to think there isn’t a player in the Bruins locker room who would question the need for their best defenseman to be well-rested.
With Boston finishing up their season next week playing the likes of the Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils, it makes all the sense in the world to use this time to let Chara catch his breath. The entire league has seen how ineffective the Bruins can be when he’s out of energy. If Boston heads into the playoffs without resting Chara, they risk seeing their season end the same way it did last year, with their captain doubled over in exhaustion while the opposing team is hoisting the Stanley Cup.