BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins are used to having an imposing force leading the way on the defensive end.
That force is Zdeno Chara, their 6-foot-7 captain who, even at the age of 37, can cause nightmares for opposing offenses.
But as they wake up Friday morning, the Bruins are the ones who have those cold sweats from a nightmare. Only that nightmare is a very real reality: They’re waking up and realizing they may have to get used to life without that force for the next month-plus.
Chara left Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders midway through the first period with a leg injury, and did not return. The Bruins hope to learn the extent of the injury in the near future, but early reports say Chara will be out for 4-6 weeks. There still remains the possibility the injury will require surgery, and Chara could be lost for the remainder of the season.
For a Bruins team who is already dealing with injury woes on the blueline, the loss of Chara is going to be a mighty big hole to fill — for however long he’s out.
“He’s not just big in stature but he’s the leader out there,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after the game. “He’s the heart and soul of this team, so whatever it is I hope he’s back soon.”
“He’s a presence in all aspects of the game,” said Bruins forward Chris Kelly. “He’s a captain for a reason. He’s played in 1,000 games. We’re going to miss him.”
Since becoming the leader of the Bruins in 2006, Chara has never played fewer than 77 games in a season. While his overall play may have declined the last few years as the seasons grew older and the competition ramped up in the postseason, Chara was still a force to be reckoned with for the opposition’s top players.
Now, Boston will have to fill that void any way they can. With Kevan Miller also on the shelf with a shoulder injury, and Johnny Boychuk now in an Islanders sweater, their depth will be tested. Even more pressure will be placed on Seidenberg — returning from a torn ACL and MCL he suffered last December — third-year blueliner Dougie Hamilton, and lower line defensemen like Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski to step up their games to a whole new level.
And they’ll have to do that without their leader on the ice.
“He changes the game for us,” Hamilton said of Chara. “He calms the game down for us. That’s a big part of our team.”
“When you lose your captain and one of your better defensemen, there’s no doubt it’s going to have an effect on your team,” said head coach Claude Julien. “You’re going to lose guys during the season; those things happen. How you react to it and how you respond is what’s important.”
“We have to embrace the opportunity and play better,” said Seidenberg. “We have to make up for that – if possible.”
Sitting at 4-5 in the young season, an extended loss of Chara could be a debilitating injury for the 2014-15 Boston Bruins. They’re already in need of a top-line right winger, and adding a top-line blue liner to that list will likely be too much to overcome.
But the Bruins are not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
“It’s hard to see when anyone goes down, and when it’s your captain it’s really hard to take. That being said we’ve dealt with adversity in the past and it shouldn’t be an excuse,” said alternate captain Patrice Bergeron.
It shouldn’t be an excuse, because Chara wouldn’t allow that.
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